The Mercedes-Benz F100 was revealed at the 1991 Detroit motor show, looking almost production ready. However, it was, in fact, a technologically advanced concept packed with remarkably prescient ideas, including some that wouldn’t appear in Mercedes-Benz production cars for another 20 years.
The F100 was in many ways the ancestor of today's Mercedes executive models. Features such as cruise control, blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, voice recognition and a collision avoidance system all featured on the concept.
After scrutinising the car in Detroit, Autocar’s Peter Robinson described it as “a mobile test bed for impending technologies and, not least, an effective generator of publicity”, as well as “a complex and complicated camouflage, interesting in its own right for its problem-solving potential”.
At the time, the US was Mercedes’ largest export market, absorbing 78,000 cars a year – 13% of annual production. Hence the Detroit debut for the F100, which was “plucked from the depths of the advanced research department to act as a focal point for Mercedes’ stand”.
Somewhat against the grain for 1991, the F100 was a “rakish MPV”, and it impressed Robinson. Styling, he mused, was “superbly finished, tall but sleek, and original”, while the interior, accessed by “open to the touch, electrically powered doors”, revealed “bucket seats for only five occupants, despite an overall length of 4869mm”.
The front three seats were positioned in a layout similar to that which appeared a year later in the McLaren F1, with the driver in the centre. “Crash test research proves the centre of the car is the safest position,” explained Robinson. “Since Mercedes’ statistics show that, on average, cars carry only 1.3 passengers in commuting driving, priority was given to driver protection in frontal offset crashes and side impacts.”
Under the bonnet sat a 2.6-litre, 90deg V6. It was not new, however, having been designed in the mid-1980s, but the 1991 Detroit show was its first public appearance. Focus on new components was instead diverted to “blending into one concept car the various techniques and systems developed within the giant Daimler-Benz group of companies”.
Of the cabin, Robinson was enthusiastic about the excellent vision afforded by the huge windscreen, while video and radio systems eliminated blind spots and allowed the F100 to maintain a predetermined distance from the car ahead. This was technology that wouldn’t appear on a Mercedes-Benz road car until 2005.
Somewhat prophetically, Robinson went on: “Mercedes’ research suggests that in the future, cars will combine independent movement with integration into traffic flow via onboard computers that use satellite information to show where you are, how to get to your destination, where to park and how to avoid congestion.” The Japan-only Mazda Eunos Cosmo became the first car with sat-nav in 1990, but it was still a novel idea when the F100 appeared and didn’t become common until the 2000s.