Having proved an immediate success, the Mercedes-Benz 190 was superseded in 1993 by the entirely new C-Class (W 202). It was to be the last model series to adhere closely to the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy that had been introduced in 1980 and – in comparison to other automotive brands – strictly adhered to. With its brand-specific, moderately updated front end, it was harmoniously integrated into the guidelines for vertical affinity in the contemporary product range.
Fully aware of the growing complexity of the Mercedes-Benz value world arising from the forthcoming product drive, Bruno Sacco relaxed the strict application of his design philosophy. Differentiation of the radiator grilles was an attempt to achieve a simpler structure. At the same time, new product-specific headlamp and wheel-arch packages were bundled together by the designers with a view to reinforcing the independence of the model series. The watershed was made public with the appearance of the E-Class from the W 210 series in 1995, when the so-called four-eyed face of the coupe study unveiled at the 1993 Geneva Motor Show entered large-scale production.
The study unveiled at Geneva in 1997 resulted in the Mercedes-Benz CLK coupe (C 208) and surprised few skeptics at the time, who feared a diminution in the exclusivity of the Mercedes-Benz brand. What convinced them of the car’s existential right was its strong individuality, its harmonious integration of pure driving pleasure and its elegant appearance, but also the easeful way the four-seater had been integrated into the Mercedes-Benz product family. Introduced the following year, the CLK convertible served to underline this goal further. Now the Mercedes-Benz CLK had established a separate series.
Design trends arise as a result of imagination and the courage to take risks. With the M-Class (W 163) launched in early 1997, Mercedes-Benz dared to combine the elegance of a station wagon with the austere sportiness of an offroad vehicle. They succeeded in disguising high ground clearance, wheels in flared wheel arches and a raised seating position for passengers using a design language that drew to a significant degree on Mercedes-Benz sedans. The new Mercedes-Benz ML became a prestigious Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV).
Bruno Sacco went on record as having demanded from the designers of the Mercedes-Benz SLK (R 170 series) – the car that in 1996 caused a sensation on the sports car market – just as much vertical affinity and horizontal homogeneity as necessary. The new roadster imitated the aesthetic qualities of its elder brother, the Mercedes-Benz SL, and with its power domes on the engine hood even made reference to the stylistic features of the legendary 300 SL of 1954. Its stretched form and short overhangs front and rear seemed to symbolize the car’s forward urgency. In terms of formal creativity, everyday practicality and functional reliability, the innovative folding roof set new standards in modern automotive design.