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The significance of the W 201: The compact vehicle successfully opened up a new market segment for Mercedes-Benz

The significance of the W 201: The compact vehicle successfully opened up a new market segment for Mercedes-Benz

Jan 17, 2014
Stuttgart
  • The impetus for the W 201 came from the USA
  • A typical Mercedes-Benz in all respects – uncompromising in terms of safety, comfort and design
The decision makers at Daimler-Benz AG thought long and hard about introducing a compact model series below the executive segment in the 1920s and 1930s and then from the early 1950s onwards. Several projects were conceived, some of them very advanced, but for one reason or another they never came to fruition.
In the early 1970s, the idea of a compact Mercedes-Benz then got an unexpected boost: the Clean Air Act introduced under US President Jimmy Carter specified the fleet fuel consumption for the vehicles of all manufacturers on sale in the USA. This was know as the “Corporate Average Fuel Economy” (CAFE). For the year 1985, it was 27.5 miles per gallon (8.3 litres per 100 kilometres). This was a challenge for many car brands, including Mercedes-Benz, since the model range available in the USA, long one of the Stuttgart brand’s key export markets, was in the luxury market segment and at the high end of the power spectrum, with a resulting fleet fuel consumption above the specified limit. So the impetus to develop a new, more compact and therefore more fuel efficient model series to reduce fuel consumption came from an export market.
In January 1974 Head of Development Prof. Hans Scherenberg defined the key requirements for such a Mercedes-Benz. This is how he phrased it: “It’s clear that this must be a typical Mercedes-Benz. So we are not able to make too many compromises in terms of refinement, safety and the associated Mercedes-Benz characteristics.” The first specifications book he signed for model series 201 specified the following as early as 4 February 1974: “The aim with this product is not to penetrate the medium-size-category markets, which have been occupied by brands such as Opel and Ford for many years. Moreover, the 201 model is to be deliberately distinct from these due to the trademark characteristics customers expect in terms of quality, safety and refinement.” Prof. Werner Breitschwerdt, who succeeded Scherenberg as Development Chief in 1977, didn’t feel the need to change any of this.
This meant that the brief was almost akin to squaring the circle: traditional Mercedes-Benz brand values such as comfort, safety, longevity and reliability, which had previously been implemented to perfection in larger vehicles across all generations, now had to be transferred to a compact vehicle without exception. This major engineering feat was a massive challenge. So no wonder the expectation among journalists was huge when the new compact vehicles in model series 201 were unveiled to the world’s press in Seville, Spain in November 1982. And they were not disappointed.
The first surprise was the design. A vehicle that was unique yet unmistakably a Mercedes-Benz was produced under the guidance of Bruno Sacco. Furthermore, the compact Mercedes-Benz had a low drag coefficient (Cd value) of 0.33 and a sophisticated, uncomplicated design with an undeniably youthful and dynamic elegance.
Active and passive safety have been key quality aspects at Mercedes-Benz for generations. And model series 201 set the standards in this respect, too, when compared with both Mercedes-Benz models and competitor models. The active safety system, in which a key role was played by the multi-link independent rear suspension with five links arranged at various levels, was remarked upon in issue 1/1983 of German car magazine “ auto motor und sport” with reference to the 190 E model: “When configuring the suspension, the Daimler-Benz engineers focussed on conveying the highest possible degree of driving safety without losing any of the pleasure associated with the car’s dynamic aspects. The 190 E thus had the best cornering ability of any Mercedes-Benz, with largely neutral understeer/oversteer characteristics, very high possible, almost fully absent load changes – and it offered immense driving pleasure. [...] The effortlessness with which the 190 E takes bends is nothing short of astonishing. For the normal 190 E driver, the reserves offered by the suspension can have a calming effect.”
One of the major factors behind this was the multi-link independent rear suspension conceived by Dr Kurt Enke and, following his early death, designed by Manfred von der Ohe. It became the standard for all subsequent rear axles designed by Mercedes-Benz. But outside of the company, too, it became the blueprint for many other rear axle designs over the years. Model series 201, a relatively small Mercedes-Benz vehicle, therefore continued the tradition of being a trendsetter for innovative design ideas.
Model series 201 was just as uncompromising when it came to passive safety. This made it the safest vehicle in its class and put it on a par with the S-Class of the time, model series 126. Even in 1991, a model series 201 vehicle displayed exemplary passive safety when compared to far newer competitors in an offset crash test.
Making model series 201 a typical Mercedes-Benz in all respects without compromising on the key brand values - an objective that had initially seemed like a utopian dream - therefore became a reality. This not only paved the way to success for all the “190” model variants, it also successfully opened up the smaller vehicle segment for Mercedes-Benz. From May 1993 onwards, the brand continued the world-wide success story with model series 202, the first to bear the C-Class name. Having started out as the “Baby-Benz”, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is today one of the most popular vehicles in the premium segment.
2007M688
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 model, experimental vehicle (W 201) with electric drive, 1991.
  • Release date
    Apr 29, 2020
2007M687
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 model, experimental vehicle (W 201) with electric drive, 1991.
  • Release date
    Apr 29, 2020
A92F1733
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 model (W 201), electric-drive experimental vehicle in large-scale test on the island of Rügen, 1992 to 1996.
  • Release date
    Apr 29, 2020
D90F163
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II (W 201). The high-performance vehicle was produced in 1990 in a limited edition of 500 as a homologation model for motorsport.
  • Release date
    Mar 12, 2020
D90F166
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II (W 201). The high-performance vehicle was produced in 1990 in a limited edition of 500 as a homologation model for motorsport.
  • Release date
    Mar 12, 2020
82F166
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz W 201 model series, crash test
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
82F187
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz saloon of W 201 model series
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
82F188
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz compact class saloon of the W 201 model series
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
82F203
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz compact class saloon of the W 201 model series
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
83F201
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 D (W 201 model series). Noise level measurement in the soundproof chamber
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
83F78
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz compact class saloon of the W 201 model series
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
82F192
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    Mercedes-Benz (W 201 model series). 1982 photograph
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
83F79
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz compact class saloon of the W 201 model series
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
84F124
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 (W 201 model series)
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
84F6
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz saloon of W 201 model series
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
84F115
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz model series W 201, development history. The series-production vehicle is equipped with an independent multilink suspension, a pioneering design. Previously advanced engineering had tested and evaluated numerous types of axles in special driving machines in order to achieve the best result
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
84F114
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz model series W 201, development history. The series-production vehicle is equipped with an independent multilink suspension, a pioneering design. Previously advanced engineering had tested and evaluated numerous types of axles in special driving machines in order to achieve the best result
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
84F81
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 (W 201 model series)
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
84F86
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 (W 201 model series)
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
84F92
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 (W 201 model series)
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
86F52
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz model series W 201, development history. Winter testing of a camouflaged prototype
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
88F329
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 E (W 201 model series)
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
86F53
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz model series W 201, development history. Winter testing with prototypes and near-production bodywork
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
88F467
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 D 2.5 Turbo (W 201 model series)
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
A91F1878
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz saloon of W 201 model series
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
88F466
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 D 2.5 Turbo (W 201 model series)
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
88F440
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 (W 201 model series)
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
B89F234
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution (W 201), 1989
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    Jan 17, 2014
88F491
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz W 201 model series, crash test
  • Release date
    Jan 17, 2014
84F68
  • Legend
    Engine parts of the Mercedes-Benz M 102 E 2.3-16 engine with four-valve technology, 1984.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
2007M691
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 model, experimental vehicle (W 201) with electric drive, 1991.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
84F75
  • Legend
    Engine parts of the Mercedes-Benz M 102 E 2.3-16 engine with four-valve technology, 1984.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
A92F1736
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 model (W 201), electric-drive experimental vehicle in large-scale test on the island of Rügen, 1992 to 1996.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
A92F1734
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 model (W 201), electric-drive experimental vehicle in large-scale test on the island of Rügen, 1992 to 1996.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
A93F1404
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 (W 201) model, experimental vehicle with electric drive and nickel-cadmium battery in large-scale test on the island of Rügen, 1992 to 1996.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
A93F1408
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz 190 (W 201) model, experimental vehicle with electric drive and nickel-cadmium battery in large-scale test on the island of Rügen, 1992 to 1996.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
A95F1339
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W 202), experimental vehicle with electric drive and ZEBRA battery, 1993.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
A95F1343
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W 202), experimental vehicle with electric drive and ZEBRA battery, 1993.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
A95F1344
  • Legend
    Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W 202), experimental vehicle with electric drive and ZEBRA battery, 1993.
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013
A99F3034
  • Legend
    In 1997 Mercedes-Benz opened a pioneering chapter in the history of passenger car diesel engines with direct fuel injection on the common-rail principle (CDI).
  • Release date
    Dec 13, 2013


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