Remember when model designations meant something?
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I love old Mercs, owned a couple in my time, romanced by their German-ness (I’m of German heritage), reliability and build quality. I’ve owned a W123 generation 230 and a W123 gen 280CE. More recently, as in last week, I bought a W210 generation E320 (and yes, there will be Project Car updates soon).

Thing is, just by looking at the numbers on the bootlid, I know exactly what’s lurking under the bonnet. My old 1976 Mercedes-Benz 230 featured Merc’s M115 2.3-litre inline four cylinder petrol. Similarly, the 280CE was powered by Merc’s trusted M110 2.8-litre inline six. And the most recent acquisition, the E320, is powered by a 3.2-litre inline six.

Simple nomenclature, and easy to work out.

And it was that way for ever.

Today, though, the numbers in a car’s model designation don’t mean shit. Let’s stick with Mercedes-Benz for a moment to compare and contrast.

Using the logic of that past 70 years or so, today’s Mercedes-Benz E300 should be powered by a 3.0-litre engine, and in all likelihood, a V6 or inline-six. Except, it isn’t. Instead, it’s motivated by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder mill, the same engine also doing the hard yards in the E350 and the E200 (at least they got that one right).

Mercedes isn’t the only culprit. BMW once made identifying model variants hellishly easy. A BMW 318i denoted a 3 Series with a 1.8-litre fuel-injected engine. It was a simple logic one could follow all the way to the 850i which signified an 8 Series powered by a 5.0-litre mill. In between, a host of 3-, 5-, 6- and later 8 Series cars all with their engine displacement proudly on display. Yay.

Now though, a BMW 330i means nothing other than it’s a 3 Series slightly more powerful than a BMW 320i. Boo!

Audi too, has fallen foul of this naming convention. Where once the four-ringed cars from Ingolstadt boasted simple naming conventions like A4 2.0 TSI which denoted a 2.0-litre petrol engine. Apply that to an A4 2.0 TDI, and the change to ‘D’ from ‘S’ signified diesel power. Simple.

Now, what even is an A4 35 TFSI or an A6 45 TFSI? About all we can glean from the badge on the back is that it’s an A4 or an A6 with really no indication to what’s lurking under the bonnet.

The Germans aren’t the only culprits, with any number of brands utilising meaningless letters in their model designation. Take Toyota and its venerable Corolla, which can be had as an Ascent Sport, SX, or ZR. What does that even mean?

Or, back to the Germans, how about Volkswagen’s range of Trendline, Comfortline and Highline models? And don’t get me started on the Passat Business or Passat Elegance models.

As for Porsche using Turbo and Turbo S designations on its all-electric Taycan range…

Yes, I get Porsche’s model naming conventions, but when every petrol-driven model is now turbocharged, shouldn’t they all carry the ‘Turbo’ designation? And wouldn’t that make the Turbo models in the range Turbo Turbo?

Then there’s anything with GT in its naming convention that isn’t a front-engined, rear-wheel drive coupe with a 2+2 seating arrangement and capable of high-speed, long-distance driving. I’m looking at you, Kia

Look, I acknowledge that a lot of time and money has been spent on research and focus groups to come up with these naming conventions. And that’s fine. After all, a carmaker has to do what it can to distinguish not only models within its own ranges, but also to stand out in a crowded market. But, they also remain meaningless in a broader context.

For now, though, I think I’ll stick to my 1996 Mercedes-Benz E320 and its gloriously simple E Class with a 3.2-litre engine under the bonnet.


How about you? Do modern model designations confuse and frustrate you? Or is it just me? Let us know in the comments below.