Although the most direct way to interfere with the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) is at the level of the angiotensin II (AII) receptor, the currently available AII receptor antagonists are peptides still retaining significant agonistic properties with the obvious drawbacks of limited stability and lack of oral activity. We have characterized simple N-benzylimidazoles as weak, but selective AII receptor antagonists with a competitive mode of action. Chemical modification of these early leads led to EXP6155 and EXP6803, which show approximately 10- and 100-fold higher affinity. Oral activity was obtained for EXP7711, and in particular for EXP9654. This class of compounds displaces 3H-AII from its specific binding sites in various tissues. They competitively antagonize AII-induced responses in various in vitro and in vivo preparations, but do not influence AII-induced responses to KCl, norepinephrine, and vasopressin, nor do they affect converting enzyme or renin. In high renin models of elevated blood pressure, such as the renal hypertensive rat and sodium-depleted dog, these substances produce a sustained decrease in arterial pressure without changing heart rate after intravenous and oral (EXP7711 and EXP9654) administration. None of these compounds showed agonistic activity in any of the above test systems. In conclusion, the nonpeptide structures described herein are selective and competitive AII receptor antagonists and add another dimension to the arsenal of drugs manipulating the RAS.