The Mercedes of the early 1980s was very different from the current one. It was a luxury brand, very tied to traditions, which only dealt with large sedans, limousines and sports cars, although the G-Class was also recently born. The smallest car to carry the Star on the bonnet was the Series 200, that is a three-volume long well over four and a half meters. Thus, when the
190 – codenamed W201 – the rules of the game in the Stuttgart field changed forever. The new car was still a classic sedan, but more compact and of a lower category than previously proposed. For everyone it immediately became the “Baby Benz” and its success was global. Its competitor of choice was the BMW 3 Series, since the Audi of those years was not yet that of today and the 80 was not considered at the same level.
The 190 project started in 1976, in the middle of the oil crisis, when the German executives realized the opportunity to expand the range downwards. The style was signed by Bruno Sacco, who had just been appointed head of the Style Center and would later design the most beautiful Mercedes of that decade and the following.
The car was ready at the end of 1982, with a first-rate technical data sheet that respected the tradition of the brand, but without offering the station wagon variant which remained exclusive to the upper segment. The look of the 190 was modern, clean and essential and recalled some solutions recently introduced by the S Series W126 such as the mirrors and door handles in plastic material. Aerodynamics were also great with a CX of 0.32. The 190 used high-strength steels for the chassis, while the body plates were galvanized to prevent rust.
The engine was longitudinal and rear-wheel drive, the front adopted the McPherson scheme while the rear made its debut with a very refined multi-link. At the debut there were three naturally aspirated two-liter engines, petrol engines with carburetors or with injection (90 and 122 hp), as well as a lethargic 72 hp diesel that could travel over 500,000 km without making a bend. Later came the 2.3 and 2.6 petrol engines (4 and 6 cylinders), but also the 94 HP 2.5 Diesel and then finally the 126 HP turbodiesel. The legendary 2.3 and 2.5-16 designed as the basis for the touring championships deserve a separate discussion, considering their engines of over 200 HP designed by Cosworth.
In 1988 the restyling arrived with a slightly revised aesthetic and better standard equipment, while the production ended in 1993 after almost two million units sold, making it one of the most popular Mercedes ever.