– Built like a tank
– Good handling
– Available luxury features
– Pricey with options
– Lower models are slow
– Some hard cabin plastics
People say that Mercedes-Benz does not build cars like they used to anymore. And they are right. The last of the super-strong, reliable and stately Benz cars were built in the early 90s, after which cost-cutting measures and unproven computer technlogy gave birth to some of the most unreliable cars to ever come out of Germany.
The 190 E was the baby Benz of the 80s range. Even though it has a compact interior and exterior, it did not look too small thanks to an attractive boxy body that still looks stately today.
The 190 E came only in the sedan body style, with various engine choices over the years. The earliest models came with a 2.0L, 2.3L or high-performance 2.3-16V 4-cylinder engines. Later engines include the 1.8L and the rare 2.5-16V.
The 2.0 is the most common model around, offering great rear-wheel-drive handling but weak acceleration. The 2.3 is better, but still not a dragstrip contender. The best of the four-cylinders is the 2.3L 16V engine tuned by Cosworth, which offers blistering performance but eats through the wallet in maintenance costs. In the late 80s, the 2.0L was replaced by a 1.8L engine, while the 2.3-16V was replaced by the more powerful 2.5-16V. All models came in automatic form as well as a rare manual version.
The 190 E 2.6L six-cylinder version of Mercedes’ W201 body style came in 1987. The 2.6 was the fastest of the bunch, except for the special high-performance 190 E 2.3-16, powered by a slightly smaller, 166 hp version of the six-cylinder twelve-valve engine from the acclaimed 300 E. Enthusiasts who go searching for one should note the lineup changes throughout the late ’80s for the W201. The 2.6 was offered with a five-speed manual beginning in 1988. The in-line six, while blistering in the late Eighties, is a bit labored these days and greatly benefits from the manual transmission if you can find one. The automatic slightly slows down the honorable 2.6 around town. As a result, this model feels better on the highway, stretching its legs as it cuts through the wind with 1980s boxiness. Oddly enough, the automatic starts off in second gear from standstill, shifting to first only if the throttle is floored or the auto gear lever is manually shifted in first.
In 1988, all models got a facelift which dramatically improved the looks of the 190 E. Most models included at least cruise control and ABS. Options included electric seats, sunroof and leather. Combined with rear-wheel-drive, four-wheel disc brakes and quick-shifting auto gearbox, these cars rival new sports sedans, especially with the stronger 16V or six-cylinder engines.
The automatic 190 E models, however, is probably the only version you will find in the Middle East most of the time. Currently, there are more Japanese-imported Mercs running around Dubai and Sharjah than GCC ones. There are also AMG-style models with larger rims and body kits. These Jap cars are generally in better shape than the sun-worn GCC cars, but be warned that the A/C, while adequate, will not keep your ice-cream frozen.
Like most Mercedes-Benzes, the 190E is built like a tank and will run nearly forever if properly taken care of. Engines will generally outlast the automatic transmissions. Check for oil leaking at the rear of the head gasket. The tensioner for the timing chain should be replaced at 200,000 kms, and brake rotors often need replacement at 80,000 km intervals. With high mileage, the bushings in the five-link rear suspension begin to wear out. Make sure the A/C system is functioning properly. The 2.6-liter six-cylinder engine is a tight fit in the 190E engine bay, which creates some accessibility problems for mechanics. There might also be numerous electrical issues like non-working power windows, wipers and such.
Ten thousand dirhams can get you an 1988 2.0L model in near-excellent condition. History dictates that a second-owner can outlast most other cars, and the three-pointed star on the hood dictates the car will have some style left when it comes time to look for your next car.