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Concept Car of the Week: Mercedes F200 Imagination (1996)

Fri, 08 Aug 2014

The F200 Imagination was designed at Mercedes' Advanced Design studio in Tokyo, in response to the question 'does the car of the future still have a steering wheel and foot-operated controls?'

Take a look at the car's interior and the answer was fairly emphatic, as the steering wheel and pedals were replaced by joysticks, called Sidesticks, that operated the throttle, brakes and steering by wire.

There were two sticks to choose from, one on the left of the cabin and one in the center console. However, both had the same function – push forward to accelerate, left or right to turn, and back to brake – so either of the front passengers could control the car.

The amount of steering lock, acceleration or braking required were adjusted automatically according to sensors monitoring the car's speed and the condition of the road.

Mercedes was convinced enough of the Sidestick technology that it built a working prototype, based on the R129 SL, that was tested throughout 1998.

The stick fitted to the show car also incorporated buttons to control the indicators, horn, lights and wipers, while the drive selector buttons for the five-speed automatic gearbox, HVAC and electric window controls were located on the center console.

The mirrors were replaced by five cameras – four in the roof pillars and one in the rear bumper – with images from these displayed on screens either side of the dash, and in the roof.

Other technology highlights included voice recognition for mobile-phone commands. This debuted in production form as the appropriately vocal LINGUATRONIC in the 1996 W140-series S-Class.

The concept introduced window airbags, which arrived in the 1998 W210 E-Class, while its Active Body Control (ABC) active suspension system made production a year later in the C215 CL.

Technology shown on the F200 continued to arrive into the new millennium, too. Its electro-transparent panoramic glass roof appeared on the Maybach 62 in 2002, its xenon lights with adaptive beams featured on the 2003 E-Class, while the swiveling gullwing doors were used on the SLR McLaren that same year.

Although primarily focused on tech, the F200's exterior previewed the face of the 1998 W220 S-Class, while its full-size two-door coupe bodystyle confirmed a new CL was imminent. Perforated metal details like the grille and wheels are also reminiscent of the Burmester stereo grilles that are used on the high-end stereo option on today's C- and S-Class.

First seen 1996 Paris Motor Show
Length 5,105mm
Width 1,915mm
Height 1,385mm
Wheelbase 2,945mm
Engine 6.0-liter V12, 389bhp

What else happened in 1996?
The top-grossing movie was Independence Day, while Wannabee by The Spice Girls scored the most number ones worldwide. Dolly the sheep became the world's first cloned animal, while kids everywhere were consumed by keeping their Tamagotchi alive.

By Tom Phillips