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Used Mercedes-Benz 190E review: 1984-1994

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Mercedes-Benz has always enjoyed a good reputation for prestige, quality, refinement and reliability in this country; it was one that was, and still is, well earned. The problem for most of us is that the price that came with it was way out of reach.

That was not only an issue for those of us who lusted after a 'Benz, but couldn't afford one, it was also an issue for the company if it was to build its sales in this part of the world. It had a good slice of the big-dollar prestige market, but that only got it so far; if it wanted to grow its sales substantially it had to appeal to buyers on a more limited budget. In short it had to take the three-pointed star to the 'burbs.

The answer was the 190E and it was pitched at the young professional who couldn't wait until later in life to drive a 'Benz. That same quality, refinement, reliability and prestige is now available to the used car buyer at a very affordable price.

MODEL WATCH

The biggest problem Mercedes had when introducing the 'budget 'Benz' was to avoid cheapening the brand in the eyes of its traditional buyers. It was a major issue for both the company and those buyers who were of the mind the company was abandoning the very things that made it what it was. The 190E was the first move Mercedes made into the sub-compact market that was then dominated by the BMW 3-Series. It was immediately successful being voted 'European Car of the Year'.

At the time it was regarded as a radical departure from what had come to be accepted as the 'Benz norm. It had a rather edgy look, with sharp lines, and a high boot line and tapered rear section, both of which were driven largely by the need for fuel economy. The Mercedes driver felt right at home at the wheel of the 190E, the dash layout was like the rest of the range, the seat was firm and flat like those in the bigger 'Benzes, the fabrics and fittings were also familiar.

There was generous accommodation inside and the boot was of a good, usable size. Underneath the suspension was conventional with MacPherson Struts at the front and a five-link independent arrangement at the rear. The steering was power-assisted recirculating ball, while the brakes were a combination of ventilated discs at the front and solid discs at the rear. ABS became standard in 1989. here were a number of engines used at various times in the life of the 190E.

Between the introduction in 1984 and 1990 there was a single overhead camshaft 2.0-litre engine that produced 89 kW and 175 Nm. For a little more punch there was a 2.6-litre six-cylinder single overhead camshaft engine available between 1987 and 1991, and that produced 121 kW and 225 Nm.

From 1990 to the model's exit in 1994 the base engine was a 1.8- litre single overhead camshaft unit producing 82 kW and 154 Nm. Also available between 1990 and 1992 was a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine producing 97 kW and 198 Nm, and from 1992 to 1994 there was a 2.0-litre engine with 89 kW and 175 Nm. Up to 1990 it was only possible to have a four-auto transmission, but after that some models were also available with a five-speed manual 'box.

While the 190E was aimed at budget conscious buyers it still featured air, power windows and a radio/cassette sound system. Later models, after 1990, generally also had central locking.

IN THE SHOP

The 190E is generally robust and reliable, little of a significant nature goes wrong with them. The body is strong and doesn't suffer from rust to any degree; the paint quality is also of a good standard such that they still sparkle if looked after. Inside, it had a high standard of fit and finish and the hardware stands up well.

Under the bonnet the early cars had a single row timing chain, later ones a double row that is better over the long term. Listen for any signs of a rattle that might suggest a worn timing chain, particularly in the earlier cars with the single row chain. It's most important to check the corrosion inhibitor that has been used; the correct inhibitor will mean trouble free running; an incorrect inhibitor will mean expensive trouble in the form of a corroded cylinder head.

Check under the intake manifold for a possible oil leak from the cylinder head gasket. It's not uncommon to find a leak, but it's usually nothing to be overly concerned about. Underneath the front suspension stands up quite well, it's worth checking for wear in the bushes; more importantly it's worth checking for wear in the rear suspension bushes, which can affect the handling of the car. Check for a service record to make sure the oil has been regularly changed, as well as important items like the coolant.

ON THE ROAD

The 190E was no fireball on the road, it was lethargic at best, but its saving grace was that it was quite economical. The ride was smooth and comfortable; it soaked up the bumps well and isolated those in the cabin from most of the nasties underneath. It also handled with aplomb; a natural understeerer, it was a safe and sound driver. Today, it's important to check for wear in the rear suspension bushes. Wear there can result in the rear trying to steer the car in a rather unsettling way. Worn bushes can be replaced quite cheaply if needed.

AT THE PUMP

Around town a 190E will do 10-12 L/100 km depending on the driving style, but out on the open road it's normal to see 8-9.0 L/100 km.

IN A CRASH

No 190E had airbags, owners had to rely on the renowned strength and integrity of the 'Benz body. ABS braking was standard on most models, the entry-level model between 1991 and 1994 being the one to miss out on this most important safety feature. Buying an old car today it's worth inspecting the seat belts for wear and tear, and considering replacing them.

OWNER SAYS

Tasmanian Anthony Williams has driven Holdens, Hondas, BMWs, Nissans and Toyotas over the years, but all of them pale in comparison with his 1985 190E. It still rides and handles smoothly and when he closes the door there's still the sold 'thunk' that spells quality. So reliable has it been that fitting new brake hoses recently was the first time he'd had to spend anything over and above the normal costs associated with running and maintenance.

LOOK FOR

  • 'Benz badge prestige
  • Very affordable quality built car
  • Modest performance
  • Very economical
  • Generally robust and reliable.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Quality build is shining through in later life with the compact 'Benz.

RATING

80/100

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
1994 $3,900 $6,380
1993 $3,500 $5,830
1992 $2,800 $6,490
1991 $2,800 $7,150
1990 $2,700 $7,150
1989 $2,600 $6,380
1988 $2,600 $6,050
1987 $2,600 $6,050
1986 $2,600 $4,840
1985 $2,500 $4,510
1984 $2,600 $4,400

View all Mercedes-Benz 190 pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

$3,500
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$2,600
Highest Price
$4,400

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
E 2.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,600 – 4,400 1984 Mercedes-Benz 190 1984 E Pricing and Specs
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist

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