Since the early 1980’s, Mercedes-Benz has been presenting research vehicles that fascinating to look at but at the same time, Mercedes was pioneering new methods of vehicle safety and power. The range of innovative solutions found in these research vehicles, from the C111 to the F 125!, gives us a glimpse at the foresight that Mercedes-Benz engineers are able to develop.
We’ve compiled a list of the top 15 Research Vehicles over the last 30 years, which one would you consider the most ground-breaking?
Mercedes-Benz C 111:
At the Frankfurt International Motor Show in September 1969 Mercedes-Benz presented the C 111. The world queued up to see this “test lab on wheels” with its wedge-shaped body and upward-opening gullwing doors. The color, orange metallic, originally described as “rosé wine”, also helped attract attention. Less conspicuous, but no less unusual, were the technical innovations. The body consisted of fibre-glass reinforced plastic and was riveted and bonded to the steel frame-floor unit.
Mercedes-Benz Auto 2000:
In the late 1970s the Federal German Ministry for Research and Technology launched the Auto 2000 project, in which several carmakers participated. Fuel consumption was not to exceed eleven litres per 100 km (21.3 mpg) for a vehicle with a cerb weight of up to 2,150 kilograms – a very ambitious target in those days – and the maximum for vehicles weighing 1,250 to 1,700 kilograms was 9.5 litres/100 km (24.7 mpg).
The Auto 2000, first presented to the public at the 1981 Frankfurt International Motor Show and was meant to accommodate four people. It had an aerodynamically optimised body with a very low Cd (drag coefficient) of 0.28. As many as three different engine concepts were tested in this vehicle. An automatic cylinder cutoff system was premiered in a 3.8-litre V8 petrol engine. When only little power was required, four of the eight combustion chambers were temporarily shut down – today this is a feature of several large-displacement petrol engines built by Mercedes-Benz. The 3.3-litre diesel engine tested in the Auto 2000 had exemplary accelerating power thanks to its six cylinders and two turbochargers; it offered an excellent range of 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres (about 31.3 mpg) at a speed of 120 km/h.
Mercedes-Benz short-distance vehicle NAFA:
Congested streets, a lack of parking space, and long tailbacks raised new questions in motor vehicle research. Mercedes-Benz answered them in 1981 with a concept study labelled “Nahverkehrsfahrzeug” or NAFA for short – the short-distance vehicle. With an overall length of 2.50 metres and an overall height and width of 1.50 metres, the innovative two-seater contradicted everything the company had been known to stand for to date.
The NAFA study did not fall into oblivion. The insights it produced were incorporated into the design of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the prototype of which made its debut in 1996. In the smart city coupé, introduced in 1997, the concept of the compact urban car celebrated its coming of age. It has been manufactured in large numbers ever since.
Daimler-Benz deliberately chose the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 1991 – the first major trade show of the year – to present a very special automobile: the Mercedes-Benz F 100. This research car gave tangible expression to the vision of engineers and market strategists for the automobile of the future. Never before had so many ideas and innovative technologies been realised in a fully operational car.
In the F100, the driver was seated in the middle. Statistically, a car is occupied by 1.2 to 1.7 persons – driver included. So the driver deserves the safest place, which is the centre position, with its large distances to car body parts. Furthermore, the driver can always get out of the car on the off-traffic side.
With all its qualities, the Mercedes-Benz F 100 was not simply a test mule for the engineers – it represented a new type of automobile. It anticipated the future of mobility, which has partly become reality since the car made its debut in 1991. At the same time, it emphasised the fact that the customer is the focus of technical progress when a research vehicle is designed.
In Group C, during the 1990 racing season, Mercedes-Benz, in cooperation with the Swiss Sauber team, fielded the C 11. The car proved to be a great success, and the team was crowned world champion at the end of the season. The triumph was an inspiration for the Mercedes-Benz engineers. Looking for a way to test active dynamic handling systems for series-production cars, they came up with the C 112, a high-performance sports car. It was powered by a six-litre V12 engine that generated 300 kW (408 hp) and put 580 Newton metres of torque on the crankshaft. The challenge was to stretch the physical limits while transferring this performance to the road and meeting the highest levels of active safety.
The C 112 was the first vehicle since the C 111 to feature gullwing doors. Ever since the 1950s, they have been a symbol of Mercedes-Benz sports cars. The 300 SL coupé (W 194/198 series from 1952 and 1954 respectively) was the first to have them – a car whose excellent technical qualities made it stand out in its day. The C 112, with its streamlined body, followed suit.
The C 112 was also the first car to afford active suspension labelled Active Body Control (ABC). Each wheel is equipped with a combination of a spring and hydraulic servo cylinder. Sensors detect all the vehicle’s motions – vertical displacement, roll and pitch. To eliminate the unwanted motion, computers evaluate the data and control the active suspension elements accordingly. The result: an unprecedented level of stable roadholding.
Mercedes-Benz Vario Research Car:
The Mercedes-Benz Vario Research Car is really four cars in one – variability was the design focus of the Vario Research Car (VRC) by Mercedes-Benz, a car that attracted great attention at its premiere at the 1995 Geneva Motor Show. Within just a few minutes, the VRC can be transformed into a different car.
For everyday driving, it’s a saloon. For longer journeys, the load capacity of an estate car is available. In the summer, the sun invites you to take an open-top ride in a convertible. And for heavy loads, there’s the pickup with its open cargo space.
It has a one-piece body that consists of a roof, side walls and rear section; the body can be lifted off and exchanged for another variant. All that is needed is a few simple operations that take just 15 minutes. The Vario Research Car was a vision: customers would not themselves own the bodies but would drive up to a rental station. While they drank a coffee, service technicians would exchange the body. A few minutes later, the customer would be on the road again. The driver could decide how long to use a particular body variant, because the rental system would be just as flexible as the car itself.
Mercedes-Benz F200 Imagination:
The Mercedes-Benz F 200 Imagination, presented at the 1996 Paris Motor Show, was created to test new ergonomic concepts based on drive-by-wire technology, cockpit design. It was powered by a Four-stroke spark-ignition engine with 12 cylinders, six litres of displacement, 290 kW (394 hp), offered rear-wheel drive with a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.
Small joysticks in the doors and the centre console for steering and braking – replace the steering wheel. The signals are exclusively transmitted electronically to the relevant components (drive-by-wire). The conventional mechanical control elements used by the driver are now linked to electric and hydraulic actuators, and electronic pulses carry out the desired actions.
Mercedes-Benz F300 Life Jet
How can the feel and cornering dynamics of a motorcycle be combined with the safety and comfort of a car? This was the question that initiated the design that eventually became known as the F300 Life Jet. Motorcyclists enjoy the freedom offered by their vehicles, they’re able to lean into bends, sense the power of the engine, feel at one with the elements, and experience the unbridled pleasure of the road. These are all things that the designers and engineers of the F 300 Life Jet strived to convey with their concept. Just as importantly however, it was also designed to offer the same advantages of a car: stability coming from three wheels instead of two. The top can be closed, and seat belts are provided. The motoring experience can be shared with a second person inside the vehicle, both unimpeded by protective clothing, helmet and wind noise. And air conditioning makes for pleasant temperatures.
Mercedes-Benz F400 Carving:
The F400 Carving, which gets its name from the sporty carvers on ski slopes, was debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2001 and was created with the plan to test novel dynamic handling systems. This led to the most conspicuous feature of the Mercedes F400 Carving, The tilting of its wheels. When cornering, the wheels on the outside of the bend tilt by as much as 20 degrees, which distinctly improves directional stability and roadholding, and reduces the danger of skidding. Electronics have been combined with mechanics to achieve this. Sensors measure the road speed, acceleration, steering lock and yaw of the car, and send control signals to the outer wheels’ hydraulic servo cylinders, causing them to tilt at a precisely defined angle. The kerb-side wheels, like the body, remain in their normal position.
Mercedes-Benz F500 Mind:
Presented at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show, the Mercedes-Benz F500 Mind proved that the future of auto industry will never cease to be exciting. The four-door car, designed as a modern hatchback saloon, served as a research lab on wheels and demonstrated over a dozen technical ideas for enhancing the safety, propulsion and comfort of future Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.
The F500 mind was designed to utilize different propulsion energies. If a great deal of power is required, a V8 diesel engine with 184 kW (250 hp) drives the F 500 Mind – and simultaneously charges the batteries, as the car also features a 50 kW electric motor that works either by itself or in conjunction with the internal combustion engine. An electronic control unit that adapts to the traffic situation and driving style perfectly coordinates the engine and motor.
The electric motor, for instance, powers the car when it starts up, in stop-and-go traffic and in other situations where the internal combustion engine, by virtue of its design principles, does not develop optimum efficiency. Should the driver require higher engine output, the V8 engine cuts in to provide dynamic acceleration. The electric drive’s 300-volt battery, located underneath the passenger compartment, is recharged during braking. All resulting in fuel savings of up to 20 percent.
Mercedes-Benz Bionic Car:
For the first time, the engineers specifically looked for a role model in nature, one that lends itself to an aerodynamically efficient, safe, comfortable and environmentally compatible automobile – not just in detail features, but also in its overall shape and structure. Their search led them to the boxfish.
This fish, which lives in tropical waters, has excellent hydrodynamic properties, despite its angular, cube-like body. Its shape is aerodynamically ideal. On a model representing a true copy of the boxfish body, the engineers measured a drag coefficient (Cd) as low as 0.06.
Alongside maximum aerodynamic efficiency and a lightweight concept gleaned from nature, the advanced turbodiesel engine with common rail direct injection (103 kW/140 hp) and novel SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) technology contributes significantly to reductions in fuel consumption and pollutant emissions. In the EU driving cycle, the concept car consumes 4.3 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres (54.7 mpg) – 20 percent less than a comparable production model. In line with US measuring methodology (FTP 75), the car does some 70 miles per gallon (combined) – 30 percent more than a production car. At a constant speed of 90 km/h (55 mph), the direct injection engine consumes 2.8 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres, corresponding to 84 miles per gallon in the US test cycle.
Mercedes-Benz F600 Hygenius:
The Mercedes-Benz F 600 HYGENIUS continued the series of fascinating and groundbreaking research cars. Powered by an 85 kW (115 hp) zero-emission fuel cell drive, the compact family car consumes the equivalent of just 2.9 litres per 100 kilometres (81 mpg) and has a range of over 400 kilometres on one tank filling of hydrogen.
The extensively reworked fuel cell of the F 600 HYGENIUS is some 40 per cent smaller than before, operates even more efficiently, and is exceptional for its good cold-start ability. The continuous output of the fuel cell drive is 60 kW (82 hp). Energy not required for driving the car is stored in a high-performance lithium-ion battery. The system therefore operates rather like a hybrid drive and selects the source of energy best-suited to the driving situation. The generous amount of energy made available by the fuel cell can also be used for the well-being of the passengers in the F 600HYGENIUS. The cup holders, for instance, cool or heat beverages with electricity generated by the environment friendly unit. Via a conventional power outlet, electrical appliances can be operated at normal voltage. If required, the fuel cell can also function as a mobile power plant: its electric power output of 66 kW is enough to supply several one-family houses with electricity.
The Mercedes-Benz F 700 presents the future of the superior touring sedan. It demonstrates innovative approaches and technologies for using resources sparingly, protecting the environment and permitting the driver and passengers to travel in a completely relaxed style.
At the heart of the F 700 is a novel powertrain. DIESOTTO combines the advantages of the low-emission petrol engine with the diesel’s fuel economy. For the first time, the diesel’s principle of (controlled homogeneous) charge compression ignition is incorporated in a petrol engine. Also, thanks to homogeneous combustion at reduced reaction temperatures, nitrogen oxide emissions are minimized. Moreover, the reduction in displacement and the number of cylinders improves the degree of efficiency. The F 700 is powered by a compact four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1.8 litres, which nonetheless delivers the superior performance typical of a luxury-class saloon. A two-stage turbocharger is responsible for the engine’s excellent response and high-torque accelerating power. In addition, on ignition, the hybrid module electric motor assists the internal combustion engine. The maximum engine output is 175 kW (238 hp); the electric motor develops another 15 kW (20 hp), and the system’s maximum torque is as high as 400 Newton metres. Acceleration from standstill to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds is testament to the dynamism of the F 700, whose top speed is limited to 200 km/h. Despite this outstanding performance, the F 700 has a fuel consumption in the EU driving cycle of just 5.3 litres (44.3 mpg), which corresponds to carbon dioxide emissions of 127 grams – an extremely low level for a car of this size.
Mercedes-Benz F800 Style:
The Mercedes-Benz F 800 Style research vehicle showed us the future of premium automobiles from a new perspective. As a five-seat upper-range sedan combining highly efficient drive technologies, unparalleled safety and convenience features we didn’t even know we needed, the F800 Style became a stylish-sporty interpretation of the new Mercedes-Benz design. The exterior was complete with LED headlights that offered exciting, distinctive details, a spacious interiorm despite compact outer dimensions and a modern sense of lightness on the inside.
The F 800 Style is suitable for use with a variety of drive system options thanks to its flexible multi drive platform, as the following example with two technically independent variants demonstrates:
- As the Plug-in Hybrid, the F 800 Style offers electric mobility with zero local emissions in urban settings. Over longer distances, a gasoline engine equipped with the latest-generation direct-injection technology is supported by the hybrid module, thereby enabling a high-performance and efficient driving experience.
- The F-CELL variant is equipped with a fuel cell unit that runs on hydrogen for electric driving with zero local emissions. The only emission from electric cars powered by a fuel cell is water vapor.
The F 125! research vehicle was designed to anticipate future trends and prepared the way for implementation of an innovative premium concept for large, luxurious automobiles. In the F 125! Mercedes-Benz rigorously followed its vision of emission-free driving with hydrogen power, underlining the potential of H2 as an energy source for the future. While previous Mercedes-Benz research vehicles had “looked ahead” by roughly one vehicle generation – seven to eight years – the F 125! as the latest technological visionary went a whole step further, by more than two generations to the year 2025 and beyond.
The F 125! was created as an innovative four-seater luxury saloon with a powerful, emission-free electric drive system based on the fuel cell technology developed to series production maturity by Mercedes-Benz. This study combined pioneering and highly efficient storage, drive and bodyshell technologies with unique control and display concepts. The research vehicle also presented itself with an expressive design which transfers the classic Mercedes design idiom into the future.