SOTW: Mercedes-Benz 190E

The concept of wafting is most commonly associated with barges of some girth, Tarmac-compressing burlmeisters like the 7 Series BMW, the Jaguar XJ or the Lexus LS400. However, if there was such an activity as mini-wafting, the Mercedes 190 would be an excellent choice for it.

This downsized Merc, model name W201, was introduced in 1982 as both a competitor for the BMW 3 Series and as a means of lowering the entry level of Mercedes ownership. Nearly 1.9 million were sold, many of them in the UK market, we Brits being well known in the trade for choosing the cheapest model in a premium range over a similarly-priced (and often objectively superior) car from a more plebeian marque.

Everyone's downsizing these days - even Shed
Everyone's downsizing these days - even Shed
Not that there was much to deride in the 190. No 'built down to a price' budget hack, it was made to traditional (ie. pre-Chrysler) Benz quality standards. Witness the 15,000 or so that remain alive in the UK, only around a fifth of them SORN'd.

Towards the end of its 11-year lifespan, the 190 became something of a senior citizen's favourite, with the result that you can still find well-loved examples like this one in parish newspaper small ads.

It came with a range of slightly anaemic four-pot petrols from 1.8 to 2.0, an in-line six 2.6 petrol, a clattery cloud of turbo and non-turbo diesel units, and of course the feelsome 2.3/2.5-16 twin-cams. Our very own Dan, an ex-2.3-16 owner himself, rates the 190 over the E30 BMW. "The multi-link rear suspension and aerodynamic styling were streets ahead," he says authoritatively, before zipping up his flak jacket.

While we've got Dan here, let's recall an interview he did with Mercedes design deity Bruno Sacco in which he (Sacco) nominated the 190 as one of his proudest achievements. He claimed that it was

The inspiration for the 190's styling - honest
The inspiration for the 190's styling - honest
heavily influenced stylistically and aerodynamically by the silver diesel offshoot of the C111 Wankel supercar. If our picture gnomes have done their job, there should be an image of it hereabouts. Now, even after a goodly half-hour's inhalation of fumes from his compost heap, Shed is yet to make the visual connection, but he is also happy to admit that the language of design is not his lingua franca.

The 190 does look quite good though, perhaps better now than it did when it was launched. Let's not pretend it's perfect: that clever (for the time) rear suspension plus the miniaturising process had predictably negative consequences on interior space, especially in the back. A 190 wouldn't be the number one choice for anyone having to carry four, or even three, adults on a regular basis.

Nor was the 2.0-litre 190E a fast car, as the PH Essentials show, but it's a pleasant thing to amble about in. The four-speed auto on this car is definitely the preferred option, if only because Mercedes has not made a decent manual transmission since 1902.

Auto - obviously - and trad 'taxi' Merc wheel
Auto - obviously - and trad 'taxi' Merc wheel
Dan's still here by the way, and boyishly keen to big up the 190's Monoblade single wiper, which was indeed a very neat solution as long as you kept it lubed. Which brings us to the list of shame: what goes wrong.

Not that much, in truth, not for a 30-year-old design anyway, and certainly nothing bankruptcy-threatening. The first two words you need to know are 'water pump', a component that German manufacturers seem to have a problem with. Timing is by chain, which is a good thing, but it will jump out of its guides if the tensioner's a bit lacking.

Check the gearbox coolant pipe that runs from the top left corner of the radiator. It can corrode under your rad and drop the transmission oil. New pipes are less than £50, and easy to fit. Cracked fuel pump relays will introduce you to the joys of hesitation under load and hard starting. Poor idling could be down to that relay too, although it might also be the idle control valve, a well-known 190 weakness. Fuel pumps themselves will let go, as can injectors and head gaskets, but of course none of these difficulties are exclusive to the 190.

Mud accumulating around the rear tow hook hanger will rust out the boot floor: not a structural area, so by no means a disaster. Rot can strike near the bottom of the rear window frame, doshing more H20 into your boot. Front strut top mounts might be a bit brown, but replacements are dirt cheap from GSF or your local equivalent. Rear jacking points also merit a poke around with a sharp metal stick, or screwdriver as the experts like to call it.

As tweedy in character as the seats are in upholstery
As tweedy in character as the seats are in upholstery
Electrics? Again just the normal items that start off as fit-and-forget but which become consumables over time, things like the alternator, starter motor, electric window and aerial motors and heater blowers.

The interior is tough as old boots, and the same colour too in this car. Ignition barrels can jam, and that auto 'box will eventually start to slip, but you'd be unlucky to have that happen in a 74K car that seems to have been pretty well looked after.

That's the key to happy 190 ownership, really. Look after it, and it will look after you. Shed reckons the 190 is one of those cars that could come back round for a second spell in the sun. Mind you, he thinks the same thing about those two-tone violet loon pants in his wardrobe.

Here's the ad.

Mercedes 190E Auto 1990 with just 74000 miles on the clock. I have owned this car for the last 4 years and she has never let me down in almost 20000 miles. Very solid, a couple of parking dents and a couple of scratches on the boot lid but structurally it is perfect. I am the 4th owner and I have loads of receipts, original manuals and old MOTs.

MOT to 10 May 13, Tax to end April 13. Metallic smoke silver, brown cloth interior. Everything works as it should. Electric sunroof and 4 electric windows, central locking, front and rear armrests and sony iPod/Cd player, heated mirrors.

4 good Continental EcoContacts plus brand new spare.

Only selling as I don't need to commute anymore.

£975 ono


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Comments (209) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Martin 480 Turbo 08 Feb 2013

    The best car Benz ever built. Period.
    And that comes from a man, who still cares for an E30.

  • hman 08 Feb 2013

    Am I worng that this could be a great, solid first car for a new driver?

    would it be insurable?

  • BL Fanboy 08 Feb 2013

    Lovely thing. I want! Seats that look like they are made form an Americans trousers too.

  • sleep envy 08 Feb 2013


  • ADP68 08 Feb 2013

    I had a 3 year old one back in '96. It was the first 'posh' brand and I thought I was the bees-knees at 28 years old !! My mates were really impressed too. It was a great car, well-built and comfy. Mine was pleb spec manual, with manual sunroof (you needed arms like Arnold to slide it) and cloth interior with manual back windows; not even air conditioned, but I loved it!!

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