Automotive News EuropeBRUSSELS -Toyota's European-built family car has a new name, a new shape and improved performance.
The changes made to the Avensis are intended to take the car upmarket from the Carina E that it replaces.
The Avensis will go on sale across Europe in early January in three versions - sedan, five-door hatchback, and station wagon.
Toyota Motor Europe forecasts sales of 140,000 units by 1999, compared with the Carina E's peak of 114,000.
Toyota expects the Avensis, along with the new Corolla launched last summer and a new small car due in late 1999, to push sales in Europe to 600,000 units in 2000. Last year Toyota sold 330,000.
The Avensis marks the first product changeover at Toyota's plant in Burnaston, UK, where the Carina E has been produced since 1993.
The changeover has been smooth. Three days after the run-out of the Carina E, in late October, production of the Avensis began, said Alan Jones, deputy managing director of Toyota Motor Manufacturing in the UK.
Prices haven't been announced, but Toyota executives don't expect a large increase over the Carina E.
Executives at the Avensis launch here say the new model takes into account customer demands and criticisms of the Carina E. Performance, handling, road-holding and noise reduction have been improved, they said.
Like the Carina E, the Avensis was designed in Japan. But for the first time Japanese engineers turned over responsibility for design and parts sourcing of the interior and some other components to Europe, said Tsuyoshi Adachi, chief engineer for Avensis-sized cars.
European content of the UK-built Avensis is more than 90 percent. Japan will supply only the optional 2.0-liter gasoline and diesel engines and transmissions. The 1.6- and 1.8-liter gasoline engines are built in the UK.
All five engines, including two lean-burn units, have been carried over from the Carina E. They have been reworked to provide better power and torque with lower fuel consumption.
The Avensis shares the 2.0-liter engine and other components with the Camry sedan built and sold in the USA and the Corona Premium sold in Japan.
Interior styling was done at Toyota's new styling center in Brussels. Colors and materials were chosen to appeal to European tastes.
A new rear end and taillights are the major exterior styling differences. Inside, the instrument panel controls are now flush with the surface.
Crash safety is improved over the Carina E. Toyota has put more padding into the doors, cabin roof and upper frame. The dual front airbags are bigger than in the Carina E - 110 liters for the passenger and 60 liters for the driver. Front seat belts use electric pretensioners and force limiters. Side airbags are optional. Anti-lock brakes are standard on all models.
Ride and handling has been improved by placing the front and rear frame on rubber bushings. Toyota says the rubber mounts, combined with increased use of sound-damping materials, has also reduced road noise.
The front suspension has a front-assist link to give the car's steering a 'positive center feel.'
Overall dimensions have been reduced, but the cab-forward design has increased interior space compared with the Carina E. The wheelbase has been stretched, so the Avensis has shorter overhangs.
The shortened exterior and enlarged interior are part of Toyota's attempt to create a more recognizable and exciting image in Europe, said Alan Marsh, vice chairman of Toyota Motor Europe.
Toyota embarked on more radical styling with the new Corolla.
Marsh said Toyota abandoned the name of the Carina E because customer research showed 'the old name just wasn't liked.'
'People attributed all sorts of negatives to it,' he said. 'Avensis is a more stimulating and exciting name.'
Launch: January in major European markets
Platform: Modified Carina E
Competitors: Opel/Vauxhall Vectra, VW Passat, Ford Mondeo
Basic price: Not fixed
Versions: four-door sedan, five-door hatch, station wagon
Engines: 1.6-liter, 60ps, 16-valve DOHC; 1.6-liter, 55ps, 16-valve DOHC lean burn; 1.8-liter, 60ps, 16-valve DOHC lean burn; 2.0-liter, 68ps, 16-valve DOHC; 2.0-liter, 45ps, 16-valve DOHC diesel/electronic injection
Dimensions: 4490mm long, 1710mm wide, 1425mm high, 2630mm wheelbase
Standard: ABS, twin airbags, keyless entry