The Mercedes-Benz 190E, quickly dubbed the 'Baby Benz', brought the prestigous marque within the purchasing reach of many. While this model featured nearly all the safety features of its bigger brothers, and corresponding build quality, the one model everyone seeks today is the 2.3-16
Created in response to BMW's M3 and the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, Mercedes decided to create a more spirited version of its popular entry level car by fitting it with a new 2.3-litre 16-valve straight four. The new DOHC motor developed 185bhp, thanks mainly to the fact that it was designed and built by British engineering expert Cosworth. Secretly, Mercedes really only developed this car with the intention of racing it.
Subsequent competition in the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) saw it lose to the(similarly Cosworth-engineered) Ford Sierra. While Mercedes did not achieve the race track success that it sought, the motoring public were rewarded with a truely spirited luxury car, featuring unmatched build quality and naff touches such as individual rear leather bucket seats.
The Evolution II was modified by AMG, who were able to get the 2.5 litre engine to develop 235 bhp at 7200 rpm (in race car form this figure jumped to a staggering 373bhp @ 9500 rpm). Unfortunately AMG built just 500 cars to meet the minimum requirement of racing regulations.
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6
Mercedes-Benz would never have admitted to being influenced by any other car manufacturer in any way. And even less influenced if that other manufacturer happened to use a spinning propeller as its corporate symbol. The fact remained, however, that the 2.6 t litre six cylinder version of the 190 was the closest thing in Australia to a Benz equivalent of a specific BMW model.
The 190 2.6 was first seen at the Frankfurt motor show in 1985
but took a little time to reach Australia. Looking at the first car in the automobile
hall of one of Europe's most significant shows, it appeared the six cylinder engine was a bit of a squeeze inside the 190's short engine bay. Thoughts of a 2.3-16 style Benz rocket ship were rife at the time, but the 190 2.6 turned out to be a different animal altogether. Its intentions were rather different to those of the indecently-fast twin-cam 2.3 litre four.
The six cylinder 190 fitted into the range in a typically-restrained Mercedes way. Identifying the car was only possible by reading a small badge on the right hand side of the boot lid. But there was many an AMG-kitted four cylinder 190 running around that would be extremely embarrassed if it happened to mistake an enterprisingly-driven 2.6 for a four cylinder at the traffic-lights. Everything the four cylinder 190 wasn't, the 2.6 was. Well, nearly everything. The 190 was still not a large car inside, which was fair enough considering its position in the Mercedes range - although a complete redesign of the rear seat area improved things enormously over the first model. But for those that thought the four cylinder 190 was not expensive, the six certainly was. It came only with automatic transmission
and the sticker price at launch was a whopping $87,600 with options like metallic paint and alloy wheels
, although both the six and the four were fitted with ABS braking and an upmarket Becker sound system as standard.
It was a pity in some ways that Mercedes decided to only bring the auto equipped version to Australia. Sure, it was a smooth, silent, supremely capable car, but the sporting edge remained a little dulled. Regardless of transmission
, however, the 2.6 remained a very quick four door sedan, undoubtedly the most nimble and sporting of all Mercedes sold in Australia at the time. It would cover the standing 400 metres in not much more than 16 seconds, and would reach 100 km/h in just over nine seconds. And while the suspension
coped with the irregularities of Australian roads in the traditional, wonderfully controlled bump-absorbing Mercedes way, the 190 2.6 offered a remarkable amount of grip and stability. It seemed strange to many owners that they had purchased a Benz that they could throw around, but once they became familiar with the car they would quickly learn how to best heel into a fast corner, and realize it wasn't going to degenerate into anything nasty. Indeed the 190 2.6 really was a sporty little package.
The four-disc braking allowed you to go deep into the comers and with the six cylinder engine, providing you used the auto firmly, instructing it clearly that you wished to hustle along, allowed the straights to be swallowed up quickly. The ride quality for a car of this size was remarkably good, much of the credit going to the effective multi-link rear suspension
which not only controlled brute forces effectively, but also ensured the tyres
remained in contact with the bitumen under just about any conditions. The four speed automatic, once one of the better systems available, was when fitted to the 190 starting to show its age. By comparison to the electronically-controlled iterations then going, such as that fitted to the VS Commodore
for example, the Mercedes system felt sluggish and not capable of extracting the best from the car.
The mini-Benz, which has established itself in Australia and overseas as a legitimate member of the family, underwent some important changes in 1989. Most significant of these was a major redesign of the rear compartment which improved accommodation in an area which has drawn criticism since the 190 was first released in 1983. Mercedes improved the rear seat legroom by 20mm via a major redesign which involved the rear cross member, the rear firewall, the floor above the axle and the fuel tank. The rear seat cushions were also redesigned to give a softer feel and used foam, rather than spring construction. Front seats retained springs for their better air circulation properties, but were made softer and better-shaped. The effect of all this was to make the rear seat of the 190 available for serious use by adults. Previously, to carry adults in the back, you had to compromise front seat legroom.
The updated 190s could be easily picked from outside too. Both models had redesigned front and rear aprons which improved the aerodynamics
. The new front apron was claimed by Benz to reduce lift by 20 per cent while improving crosswind and straight line stability. The 35mm deeper rear apron also improved airflow over the rear of the car. The side view of the 190 was also changed, with deep colour-keyed polyurethane side panels extending down from the previous rubbing-strip to improve resistance to stone-chipping and simplify repair of minor dents or scratches. The whole panel could be clipped off and easily replaced.
All these things were very subtle, but were in keeping with the philosophy employed at Mercedes: don't change anything without good reason. All the changes to the 190 added up to make it a better car than before and although the prices remained at a level which required a deep in-taking of breath before you phoned the bank manager, they were at least unchanged in the 1989-spec models compared to 1988.