Thirty-eight years ago, Mercedes-Benz presented a highly revolutionary model that initiated a foray into an entirely different vehicular segment, the W201-series 190 and 190 E. The internal aim of the 190-class was clear to the Stuttgart marque, which was to create a saloon more compact in dimensions and more fuel-efficient than any car that had preceded it, while retaining all of the monumental safety innovations and secure driving characteristics that had defined their larger models for almost a hundred years.
The 190's inception came at the time of the fuel-crisis in Europe and North America that had threatened the very existence of larger more luxurious models around the globe and hence Mercedes-Benz desired to produce a model that protected their future as a luxury vehicle manufacturer. While the repercussions of the fuel crisis had largely diminished by the time of the 190's release in 1982, its highly impressive technological capabilities still provided quite the impact.
Penned by Mercedes-Benz’s chief designer for almost twenty-five years, Bruno Sacco, the 190 series adopted a highly minimalistic and aerodynamic aesthetic, with an exceptionally low drag co-efficient of 0.34cd, lower than any other Mercedes-Benz model upon its debut in 1982.
The 190 E’s avant garde approach to design and harmonious combination of form and function extended to one of its most important attributes, exceptional active and passive safety for a compact vehicle. Mercedes-Benz themselves, claimed that the 190 series had been designed to be just as safe in an accident as even the larger 126-series S-Class which was achieved through intelligent design characteristics that make it a highly competent performer, even today. A host of modern safety innovations were implemented into the “Baby Benz” including the independent multi link rear suspension, that continues to be a widely used design in contemporary vehicles along with ingenious structural design that allowed the car to protect its occupants in the advent of an offset collision and the utilisation of optional airbags, ABS brakes and seatbelt pre-tensioners.
The 190 E wasn’t just praised upon its excellent safety-conscious design and efficiency but also on its more sporting potential. The inauguration of the performance variants of the W201 rose out of Mercedes-Benz’s desire to take their new compact class vehicle onto the world rally stage, to replace the highly capable yet overweight C107 Coupes, and thus had British tuning firm, Cosworth, develop a 320hp four cylinder engine that would make the 190 E a formidable opponent within its class. However, when the Audi Quattro entered the rallying scene with its revolutionary combination of four-wheel-drive and a turbocharged five-cylinder engine the 190 series was considered unworthy of entering and hence the performance 190E was catered to an all new class of motorsport, the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (German Touring Car Championship).
Even more excitingly, the competing vehicles had to be based upon a road-going variant and hence, the 190 E 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 were born, which provided the Stuttgart marque with a foray into the compact sports saloon world, with its advanced engine, dog-leg Getrag transmission and impressive suspension geometry. Over the years, the range of the 190 class expanded to encompass multiple drivetrain configurations, ranging from more pedestrian 2.0-litre diesels to the aero-adorned Evolution II variant.
The 190 series eventually metamorphosed into the W202 series at the end of its life cycle, now with the nomenclature of ‘C-Class’, and to this day has amassed an enviable reputation for dependability, safety and technological innovations. Thus the Mercedes’ first “Baby Benz” was proof that great things, really can come in small packages.
Encapsulated by the words of the owner of this particular example, "The 190E was the smallest Mercedes-Benz at its time, combing ahead of its time technology with timeless design". Many thanks to the very fortuitous custodian of this 190 E 2.0, Vehicle Engineering Student Shareen, for submitting this entry this week. You can follow her journey through 190 E ownership over @shareenqueen.