Toyota introduced the Avensis nameplate on its new model, essentially an extensive revamp of the previous generation Carina E, which was launched at the end of 1997. Like its predecessor, the Avensis was based on the non-European Corona model and built at the Burnaston factory in Derby. At the same time, production of the five-door Toyota Corolla also started at this British plant.
The original Avensis had the option of four engines (1.6, 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol and a 2.0-litre turbodiesel) and three body styles (saloon, hatchback and estate). The station wagon was essentially the Japanese-market second generation Toyota Caldina. All of the range gave solid build quality, excellent reliability, a spacious comfortable interior, generous equipment, smooth ride quality and good refinement, but very little in the way of excitement. A facelift in the summer of 2000 (which saw the engines fitted with variable valve timing) made little difference to this, although a sporty Avensis 2.0L SR with bodykit and tuned suspension did become available.
The Avensis Verso large MPV was introduced in 2001, with room for seven occupants and 2.0-litre engines only. The Verso's platform previewed the Avensis second generation. The Avensis Verso won Australia's Best People Mover, where it is simply called Avensis, the other variants unavailable to that market.
The second generation Toyota Avensis was launched in early 2003 an all-new format; this time it offered more in the way of driver involvement and visual appeal. The 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol and 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines were carried over from the previous Avensis, and the 2.4-litre four-cylinder from the Camry was also added to the range. This was the first Avensis that is exported to Japan. Due to the Camry wagon ending production, the Avensis Wagon is exported to New Zealand, in both 1.8 and 2.0-litre forms. In Britain, there were no 1.6 versions available.