If you’re looking to buy a reliable, modern classic or a daily driver with a difference, then relax: you’ve just found it. The Mercedes- Benz 190 is an old-school Merc of unimpeachable quality designed to sell in big numbers. (Almost two million were sold during its 11-year run, from 1982 to 1993.) Mercedes spent over £600 million developing the model, declaring the result to be “massively over-engineered”, a phrase that should be music to the ears of anyone seeking a 190 today.
Prices go from £1000 for bare runners to £15,000 for 190s with the lowest mileages and in the very best condition. Around £5000 will buy a nice 190 2.0 E auto or rare manual (the E means it’s fuel injected) with a reasonable mileage. Beyond these cars lie desirable rarities, including the 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 Cosworths, whose prices can easily exceed £25,000 and which we’ll save for another guide.
You can have your 190 in any bodystyle you like, so long as it’s a saloon. Even by today’s standards, it is comfortable, smooth and agile, with light and accurate steering. Injected versions merely enhance this impression. Safety kit is good, with airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners fitted as standard. Anti-lock brakes were optional.
From launch, the petrol engines ranged from a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre (it produces a modest 89bhp) to the powerful 2.3 and 2.5-litre 16-valve engines in the 190 E Cosworths. In between is a six- cylinder 2.6-litre petrol that delivers 164bhp. The one diesel engine is a naturally aspirated five-cylinder 2.5-litre producing 89bhp. Far from being a noisy, old-tech oil-burner, it’s actually very quiet, so much so that Mercedes named it the ‘whisper’ diesel. It’s pretty much unbreakable, too, and will run on anything. For example, 190 expert Mark Taylor claims to know someone who runs his on a 50:50 blend of old engine oil and paraffin, refreshed from time to time with a tank of diesel.
However, the star of the engine line-up, and the most common today, is the 121bhp 2.0-litre injected petrol. A good auto will do the 0-62mph sprint in 10.9sec, which even today is pretty competitive. In 1990, an injected version of the 1.8-litre engine replaced the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre unit. It makes 107bhp for a 0-62mph time of 12.3sec – slower but still reasonable. We found a cracking 1993-reg, one-family-owner example with 49,000 miles and a full service history for £7295.