- “Baby Benz” heralds the brand’s model initiative of 1982
- It sets new standards using technically sophisticated solutions in the compact class
- Around 1.9 million vehicles in the W 201 series built over a period of more than ten years.
The presentation of the Mercedes-Benz W 201 series on 8 December 1982 was an event eagerly anticipated by public and trade press alike. The W 201 did not follow a predecessor series, but added a third saloon line to the passenger car range along with the S-Class and E-Class – and caused something of a sensation at the time. Together with the SL-CLass and G-Class, the W 201 was the fifth passenger car series by Mercedes-Benz and as such heralded the launch of the brand’s model initiative. The first models were the 190 and 190 E.
The new model series was noted for its more compact dimensions, reduced weight and increased economy; nevertheless, it did not compromise on aspects such as handling characteristics, safety and reliability. The W 201 series existed exclusively as a saloon during its lifetime, earning it the prefix “W” as an in-house series designation.
The W 201 series was initially nicknamed “Baby Benz” by customers from North America. Nevertheless, its external bodywork concealed genuine qualities. Pioneering features ensured high standards in terms of passive safety, the drive system and other aspects of automotive technology. In 1982 the brochure for the 190 series promised “Top-class Mercedes technology in compact form.” The series fulfilled its promise, and the C-Class – whose tradition it established – has been doing the same ever since.
One element of this was the joy of technical innovation. For example, the W 201 series benefited from a chassis with multilink rear suspension, was designed using weight-saving high-strength steel, had an aerodynamically optimised body and featured a high degree of passive safety. It was also extremely economical, since a range of measures – including the use of lightweight materials and an aerodynamic body optimised in the wind tunnel to give a drag coefficient of cd=0.32 to 0.35 (depending on engine size) – guaranteed low fuel consumption.
The series also set new standards in terms of engine design – a sealed diesel unit that earned for the 190 D model the name “whispering diesel” and four-valve petrol units that turned the compact class into high-performance athletes.
All these aspects also turned the W 201 series into a modern classic. For it wrote automotive history, showing that in design and engineering terms those values previously the preserve of larger vehicles could also be realised using more compact dimensions. It enabled the company to expand its model range and diversify into a hitherto unrepresented vehicle segment. For many customers it was the compact Mercedes-Benz they had been yearning for as a principal car, for others it was the perfect second vehicle to own alongside one of the brand’s larger saloons.
These qualities have enabled the W 201 series to make a statement in the current automotive landscape. Those who drive it as a modern classic – in whichever version – are not only demonstrating a sense of tradition but also keeping one eye on the future. For the key indicators for this compact Mercedes-Benz are as valid today as they have ever been. A further bonus for everyday operation is the comprehensive parts supply via the Mercedes-Benz service organisation – which still guarantees availability for virtually every replacement part. And Mercedes-Benz Young Classics in Stuttgart even has a number of first-class complete vehicles for sale or hire – and all with a manufacturer’s warranty.