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Mercedes-Benz 190E

Mercedes-Benz 190E Published: 17th Apr 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mercedes-Benz 190E
Mercedes-Benz 190E
Mercedes-Benz 190E
Mercedes-Benz 190E
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Designed to take on the mighty BMW 3 Series, the 190 possesses star quality of its own

The concept of a small Mercedes-Benz isn’t unique, and each was made for its time. In 1983, the new 190 (codenamed W201) was a clever blend of the marque’s strengths compressed into a compact saloon. That it was a thoroughly modern car underneath its traditional styling seemed some sort of statement against compromise.

It works, though. In the era of fuel injection – that’s the E of ‘190E’ on all but a few early carb fed models, innovative use of materials, and increasingly sophisticated suspension, the boundaries of compromise were shifting. The 190E set new standards for its class and even made a blueprint for a more modern line of Mercedes-Benz to come. So how does it drive?

On the move

There is much discussion on the ideal engine for the 190. Shoehorned six cylinders, Cosworth-fettled fours, cake-andeat- it-too five-cylinder turbodiesels, but the reality is that the fuel injected 2-litre, eight valve four-cylinder was the most popular. It suits the car, and it’s the one that we’re testing here.

Sitting longitudinally under that flat bonnet, it produces 122bhp and 131ft/lb. Sink into the seat that has softened pleasingly with age, watch those embellished dials flicker into life – including the classic oil pressure gauge, navigate the distinctively stepped plane from Park through to Drive, and lift off the wide brake pedal. There is a five-speed manual, but the 4G-tronic works so well that it’s no surprise that it was a revelation at the time, and even today remains the top choice for most. Including us because Mercedes gearboxes of this era are none-too slick.

Smooth and decisive at the right times, it keeps the engine in its preferred mid-range where it hums along contentedly. Ride the torque peak at 3500rpm and forward progress belied by geography quietly rushing past the windows is greater than you’d expect even though only the Cosworth can be considered quick, their grunt nullified by the very high gearing employed, fine for cruising if not overtaking. If you’re looking at buying a 190 try to home in on the six-cylinder 2.6 variant as it packs 166bhp (only 19bhp less than the ‘winged’ Cosworth) in a silky six pot fashion making one a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing sports saloon.

The 190 weighs only 1108kg, meaning ride is then even more impressive, particularly the absorption of bumpthumps from the more serious of road imperfections. The fittings are solid too; the seats make the odd vintage creak, but squeaks and rattles generally remain as elusive as when new. Throw in progressive brakes, effective too for discs and drums, and there’s proper ground-covering ability twinned with that old school unbreakable Mercedes feeling.

Round the corners

New to Mercedes-Benz, the five-link rear suspension defied the usual trade-off for ride and handling. Ride compliance and passive rear steering are delivered together by subtle fore and aft movement of the rear wheels, while other links keep the camber and toe-in geometry consistent through the coil’s well-damped travel.

Tackle a B-road and the 190E remains consummately tidy. In fact, the only thing that might mar the experience are the outrageously large steering wheels: 410mm diameter in early cars, 400mm by the late 80s, with Sportline and later air-bag equipped models eventually bringing about a wieldier 390mm rim. That said, the chassis rewards fine not dramatic movements anyway. Even those tweaked, sharper Sportline equipped cars are stability focused, adding only a little extra dynamic feel. In short, the 190 was as good as the vaunted BMW 3 Series in its day if not quite so deft and smooth.

Try to rush the car and, while kickdown is obediently delivered, the thrash at high revs will seem out of character. With a long-travel floor mounted throttle and heavy flywheel, particularly noticeable on manual cars, the engine encourages measured inputs. With a brutish approach, you won’t end up going much faster and will only interrupt the flow of the car. It’s better to appreciate the other components working in harmonic character: the subtle sensations of the suspension aiming the torque through corners, the careful balance of its controls.

Fortunately, the Mercedes coaxes its preferred driving style out of you. Perfect the approach and you can savour a rich driving experience. The special talent of the 190E isn’t just one element; it’s everything put together, with high-strength steel, modern box-sections, and Mercedes-Benz conviction. It’s that it resolves impossible compromises, except maybe leaving some for the unfortunate rear passengers.

Go or no go

Car said of the 190 in 1986 that on top of the usual established Mercedes virtues was “a drivers’ car par excellence” and the judgement still holds true today. Since the car’s only serious criticism in period was on showroom prices, now is the ideal time to consider some compact class as you can buy a good mainstream one for less than £5000 – treble that for any Cosworth version – making this Mercedes a bit of a bargain. But the word’s already out so don’t let the thought of owning one linger for too long.

Quick spin

PERFORMANCE Best served with momentum

CRUISING Quiet, isolated, but no S-class in terms of pure comfort

HANDLING Focused on grip and stability

BRAKES Easily modulated and capable, with optional ABS

EASE OF USE Typically spartan and German, but still a nice place to be


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