The AAVision, the Forefather of Modern Mercedes-Benz SUVs, Turns 25 This Month

Mercedes AAVision 9 photos
Photo: Daimler AG
Mercedes Benz AAVision ConceptMercedes Benz AAVision ConceptMercedes Benz AAVision ConceptMercedes Benz AAVision ConceptMercedes Benz AAVision ConceptMercedes Benz M-Class in Jurassic ParkMercedes Benz M-ClassMercedes Benz M-Class
Recognizing the potential of an untapped vehicle segment, the German carmaker developed the AAVision, a near-production prototype unveiled for the first time in January 1996. It's a highly significant concept becase it became the popular M-Class a year later.
Mercedes-Benz is no stranger to off-roaders, building the legendary G-Class since 1979, but the growing popularity of the sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment in North America during the 1980s encouraged the manufacturer to develop one too.

In early 1991, the Stuttgart-based carmaker announced plans to build such a vehicle through a joint venture with Mitsubishi Motors.

Using the Montero/Pajero platform as a base, they intended to develop a model that would be sold both as a Mercedes-Benz and as a Mitsubishi, but it all got canceled a year later with the companies citing "technical problems."

Even though this promising project was abandoned, development continued in Stuttgart, and by 1993, Mercedes had laid the groundwork for the new model, which would be built both in Europe (in Graz, Austria), and the U.S. (at a newly-commissioned plant near Vance, Alabama).

Mercedes Benz AAVision Concept
Photo: Daimler AG
It took another three years of design work, engineering, as well as rigorous testing for a near-production prototype to be built, and in January 1995, at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, the AAVision concept was revealed.

Showcasing the carmaker’s vision of an all-activity vehicle (AAV), it premiered in Europe two months later at the famed Geneva Motor Show, using the M-Class nameplate for the first time.

After another year of arduous work and last-minute tweaks, the M-Class returned to the NAIAS, offering new details about the chassis, drivetrain, and the newly developed 3.2-liter V6 engine.

By this time, the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant in Alabama had been completed, and final preparations for the state-of-the-art assembly line were being made.

Mercedes Benz M\-Class in Jurassic Park
Photo: Daimler AG
The same year, Mercedes allowed the producers of the upcoming blockbuster The Lost World: Jurassic Park to use modified pre-production versions of the M-Class in the movie, as a way of promoting the new vehicle.

In February 1997, the production version of the first-generation W163 series M-Class was revealed in the United States for the upcoming model year, with sales beginning in September.

It was an instant hit, bridging the gap between luxury passenger cars and capable off-road vehicles. The M-Class provided a spacious interior with enough space to comfortably seat five adults while also offering an advanced all-wheel-drive system and high ground clearance.

Mercedes Benz M\-Class
Photo: Daimler AG
Mercedes vehicles are renowned for ride comfort, and the company’s first SUV made no exception. It used a sophisticated independent suspension system for all four wheels, and instead of conventional differential locks, it was the first vehicle in the segment to pack an electronic stability control system.

Additionally, the M-Class featured front and side airbags with advanced occupant detection for the front passenger seat, which helped it earn high safety scores in crash tests.

Mercedes quickly rose to the top of the SUV segment, as the new M-Class became extremely popular worldwide. It would lay the foundation for the carmaker’s current SUV fleet.

Since 2015, the model family has been renamed the GLE-Class due to a long-standing dispute with arch-rivals BMW, but it continues to be one of the most popular SUVs on the market, contributing to the astonishing rise in popularity of this versatile segment.
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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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