The cars we loved.
Long before the Japanese led by Acura, then Lexus dominated the entry-level near luxury market, it was the Germans who started and refined the category. Mercedes Benz to be exact. When the compact 190E was introduced in the early Eighties, there were virtually no smaller true luxury cars. BMW and Audi had their entries in 3 Series and 4000 guise, but they were more small performance sedans with spartan luxury appointments. Even Cadillac got into the game with a hastily conceived and ill executed Cimarron, but it was the 190E that defined compact luxury in the 80’s.
The angular look of the 190E (code name W201) was a product of Mercedes design philosophy that stressed the evolution of shapes as opposed to brash changes from generation to generation. Due to this design direction the 190E look as much a Mercedes and any other car in it’s lineup and it’s size did not diminish the fact that this was just a smaller version of the W123.
Afectionetly called the “Baby Benz”, the 190 anchored the lower end of the Mercedes line up in America and most of Europe. The car was innovated in that it was the first production vehicle to incorporate a multi-link suspension. Other innovations included anti-squat geometry and advanced safety features taken for granted today like air bags and ABS brakes.
The 190E’s front and rear anti-roll bars insured responsive performance, while suspension was tuned for comfort. Initially introduced with 2.6 l 160hp straight six cylinder, displacement grew to 3.3 L. Like it’s rivals from BMW and Audi, the 190E came in many variations catering to the luxury and performance buyer alike. Standard cars were more luxury, but could reach 60 mph from a stop in less than 8 seconds. Because of its versitility,the 190E became a popular German Touring Car entrant with versions campaigned by Mercedes and independent tuners. Of the tuners, the most famous was AMG, who was an independent company during the time that the 190E was produced (Mercedes later bought the company in 1991).
AMG versions featured larger wheels, special ground effects and were tuned to produce more power (usually about 25 or more over that standard engine). Customers could by AMG performance products to enhance the looks and performance of their car directly from the dealership, if choosing not to buy the full AMG branded car.
Other noteworthy tuner editions include the 320hp all wheel drive Cosworth cars developed by the famous British company. The EVO was a Cosworth version of the car designed to compete with BMW’s new M3. It’s 2.5 L 16 valve engine produced 202 hp and was distinguished by a more aggressive ground effects package compared to the earlier Cosworth editions.
The 190E was replaced by the C Class in 1993. Due to the popularity and ruggedness of the 190’s solid engineering, it’s still possible to see many on the road today.Many consider it a classic (although it may be a little too early to claim that now), it was no doubt one of the most important cars of the 80’s and many fan clubs have sprout up devoted to this one car. Recently Mercedes demonstrated the efficiencies of its new BlueEfficiency common rail diesel engine by fitting one into a 1992 190E. The 201 hp diesel was lighter, more powerful and more efficient than the original while moving the car from 0-60 in 6.2 seconds.