W 201 (1982 to 1993)

The Baby Benz:  the W 201 series (1982 to 1993)Mercedes-Benz 190 E, W201

  • A Mercedes-Benz below the long-established mid-range series
  • Brilliant engineering achievement: no compromises in safety, ride comfort and space
  • Multi-link independent rear suspension setting new standards in chassis technology

When the 190 was first presented in December 1982, it didn’t look particularly revolutionary. Yet the Mercedes-Benz mid-size Saloon, designated internally as the “compact class” and positioned below the E-Class, S-Class and SL-Class, became a milestone for the future development of the Mercedes-Benz model portfolio. Its strong, clear lines matched its product claim as a genuine Mercedes-Benz, an embodiment of progress, about to step out into a new car category.

With its clearly defined wedge shape and finely chiselled light-catching contours, there was nothing reticent about the new model series, proudly taking its place in the Mercedes-Benz family. The man responsible for the fresh linear design was Bruno Sacco. The first models in the W 201 series were the 190 and 190 E which quickly became a major success and role models. As well as providing the basis for subsequent C-Class generations, the 190 Saloon, known affectionately as the Baby Benz, also became the first shot in Mercedes-Benz’s product drive.

The Mercedes-Benz compact class – or C-Class as it became known as from the subsequent W 202 series, according to the nomenclature introduced at the time – clearly aimed to replicate the virtues of its bigger relations in terms of handling, passive safety and reliability. Along with its smaller size, the new Mercedes-Benz was also lighter and very economical.

To reduce fuel consumption, the Mercedes-Benz engineers optimized the aerodynamics of the body and also used high-strength sheet steel and other innovative materials to reduce the weight of the car. As a result, the 190 weighed just 1180 kilograms (2601 lbs), without any reductions in passive safety. One of the features providing passive safety commensurate with the S-Class Saloons was the forked-member structure of the front end. This design, taken from the S-Class from the 126 series, ensured that the 190 also met the requirement for an asymmetrical frontal collision at 55 km/h with 40 percent overlap.

New standards set by the multi-link independent rear suspension

Multi-link independent rear suspension

The 190 model also had a revolutionary new chassis design, developed specifically for the new model, which proved a great success. The main feature was the multi-link independent rear suspension. Each of the rear wheels was located by five independent links for optimum wheel control, with lateral and longitudinal forces effectively balanced in all driving situations. This improved steering precision and ensured very well-behaved handling characteristics. The new rear axle design was also lighter and more compact than its predecessors. The front axle featured shock-absorber struts located by individual triangular wishbones and anti-dive control. This gave the W 201 excellent straight-line stability, and being a relatively flat structure it also left a lot of space under the hood.

Mercedes-Benz 190 E, (W 201)

Compact quartet: Compact Mercedes-Benz sedan models from the 201 series: 190 E 2.3-16, 190 E, 190 D and 190 (from front to rear).

These chassis innovations delivered their benefits only once the car was on the road, but there were some other surprises in store for Mercedes-Benz drivers used to the S-Class and mid-series as soon as they entered the car. Instead of having a foot-operated parking brake, as used in all Mercedes-Benz passenger models made in Stuttgart from 1968, the W 201 model series had a conventional parking brake, operated by means of a lever between the front seats. The engineers saw this as a way of saving space in the foot well, and in any event, little effort was required for applying the parking brake in the compact class car because of the latter’s lighter weight.

The 190 was built in Sindelfingen and Bremen. Production began in Sindelfingen, with the assembly line in the Bremen factory starting up later, in November 1983. The plant had had to be modernized for production of the Mercedes-Benz compact class in a long and expensive process. The mid-series Estate (S 123) had been manufactured in Bremen from early 1978.

Production of the new compact class was organized as a joint operation between the two locations – the first time in the company’s history that such an arrangement was used to this extent. One of the routine requirements for this cooperation at a distance of several hundred miles was the exchange of body components. For example, Bremen produced the engine hoods, floor assemblies, fuel tanks and doors, while all other sheet metal components came from Sindelfingen. Along with this interchange of components between the two locations, engines, transmissions, and axles were shipped to both plants from Untertürkheim, and the steering gear assemblies were sourced from Düsseldorf.

Start of production with the 190 and 190 E

190 E 2.3-16

Mercedes-Benz started production of the 190 and 190 E models in 1982; the 190 D and 190 E 2.3-16 followed in 1983 and 1984, respectively. The first two models, both petrol-powered, were fitted with four-cylinder engines with a displacement of 1,997 cubic centimetres, delivering 66 kW (90 hp) and 90 kW (122 hp), respectively. The units from the M 102 family of engines were based on the engine used in the Mercedes-Benz 200 (W 123) introduced in 1980. For the 190, engine power was trimmed back from 80 kW (109 hp) to 66 kW (90 hp) by reducing the size of the intake and exhaust ducts and fitting a modified camshaft and smaller valves. At 90 kW (122 hp), the engine of the 190 E delivered significantly more power thanks to petrol injection. This was the first time the Mercedes-Benz engineers used the mechanical electronically-controlled Bosch KE-Jetronic injection system, giving the compact 190 E a top speed of up to 195 km/h (121 mph), and “Mercedes-style spiritedness,” as the 1982 brochure put it.

190 E 2.3-16 dashboard

Just one year later, the 190 D came along with a completely newly developed four-cylinder diesel engine with a displacement of 1997 cc – a configuration that intrigued people. With its exemplary encapsulation, this engine prepared the ground for state-of-the-art diesel technology in Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. Known as the “whisper diesel,” the engine emitted only half the noise of comparable power plants. The new diesel, which also had a respectable power output of 53 kW (72 hp) and low fuel consumption, proved to be a highly successful innovation and was soon in high demand. A total of 463,366 units of the 190 D were built over the ten years it remained in production.

Sport interior of the 190 E 2.3-16

In 1984 the new 190 E 2.3-16 made its debut at the top end of the model series. Even in appearance, the new model was very different, with a clear profile as a compact sports car highlighted by features such as the wing-type spoiler at the rear. For the engine, the company’s engineers went back to the W 123 series. The four-cylinder engine with 2,299-cc displacement as used in the 190 E 2.3-16 had a newly designed cylinder head with two intake and two exhaust valves. These and other modifications boosted engine power from 100 kW (136 hp) to 136 kW (185 hp), with acceleration from standstill to 100 km/h (62 mph) in just 7.5 seconds. The car’s top speed was 230 km/h (143 mph).

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