There are still quite a few W201s around in Japan. One reason may be that these were made back when buying a Mercedes actually guaranteed you ownership of a comfortable car for decades, if you took halfway decent care of it. And folks here take care, they’re known for it. But with so many W201s, yours truly was in a pickle as to which car would be post-worthy. After all, CC has had its share of W201 love-letters. Then I saw something black and shiny one day and, as I got nearer, I knew I had something worth everybody’s while.
To be entirely truthful, I’m not a huge fan of the W201’s brutalist styling. Just like the W124 and the W140, I find this era of Benz styling is best defined as “square snout / cubic butt.” And the smaller the Benz, the harder it was to make this gambit pay off. The S-Class manages to make the design work decently well, but the Baby Benz is just too Lego to work for me. However, having been in one of these a few times and having learned a little bit about Daimler-Benz’s production values prior to the Chrysler mishap, I do understand that one should look beyond the exterior to appreciate the W201. Even more reason when dealing with this Cosworth version!
So what do we have here, then? As I’m sure many of you will know, the W201 was born in late 1982 and was made, as a four-door saloon only, until the end of MY 1993. Almost 1.9 million were built – an unqualified success for its maker. The smallest Benz’s power options included 2.0 and 2.3 litre 4-cyl. petrol engines initially (the base carbureted 2.0 was replaced by a fuel-injected 1.8 in 1990). There were several Diesels available: a 2.0 and a North America-only 2.2 litre 4-cyl., as well as a 2.5 litre 5-cyl. that could be ordered in turbocharged form. At the very top of the range – the regular one, in any case – reigned the 2.6 litre 6-cyl.
But this was the ‘80s and BMW were snapping at Daimler-Benz’s heels, especially with those M variants. So there was a secret menu for the W201 as well. AMG took the 6-cyl. range-topper and turned it into a fire-breathing 3.2 litre 231hp monster that could reach 240kph (150mph). But those were extremely expensive and very rare (200 units made). The Cosworth version, based on the 4-cyl. W201, was probably a better M3-fighter.
The initial Cosworth version was the 2.3-16, which was unveiled at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show. The British engineering firm took the 136hp SOHC 8-valve 2299cc M102 engine and cast a completely new alloy head for it. Light-alloy pistons were also fitted, turning the M102 into a DOHC 16-valve engine producing 183hp. This was mated to a Getrag 5-speed (the very same one as the BMW M3). In late 1987, this was superseded by the 2.5-16, whereby the engine’s displacement was increased to 2498cc and timing chains were reinforced, bringing the cavalry to either just over or just under 200hp, depending on whether catalytic converters were fitted or not, (all markets ended up using the catalytic version by MY 1989).
With a claimed top speed of 235kph (146mph) and a 0-100kph time of 7.5 seconds, the W201 2.5-16 necessarily had a few aerodynamic improvements included – notably the front air dam and wing extensions, but really the whole car was kitted out for increased slipperiness and downforce. Inside, sports seats were fitted front and back, turning the car into a strict four-seater. Additionally, the centre stack received three extra dials (oil temp, voltmeter and a stopwatch) and the steering wheel was smaller than the standard-issue W201 item.
A bigger petrol tank, an electronically assisted limited slip diff and a thoroughly revised suspension (self-levelling at the rear) were also part of the package. All in all, this is a pretty different car from the run-of-the-mill 190E. If that wasn’t exclusive or sporty enough, though, one could get a “power pack” from AMG to increase the 2.5’s output to about 225hp for road use and up to 350hp for racing.
There were also limited-run Evolution models: the 1989 Evo 1 introduced better brakes and an adjustable suspension system, more body kit bits and a redesigned (but about as powerful) Cosworth engine. This was followed by the 1990 Evo II (above), which included the Evo 1 mods, plus the AMG power pack and a huge rear spoiler. The Evo II is the true apex of the W201 range, but with 502 units made, finding one on the street is a pretty tall order (never say never, though).
So in the meantime, our feature car will have to do. It really isn’t my bag – I’d be far happier with a W109 saloon, frankly – but I’m sure there are plenty of CConnoisseurs out there whose salivary glands are working overtime right now. To them, I say there are at least two Benz heavens in this world: one is a museum located on Stuttgart’s Mercedesstraße and the other is the capital of Japan. And only one of those has an entrance fee.
Curbside Classic: Mercedes 190E (W201) – Das Beste oder….Baby!, by Perry Shoar
Car Show Outtakes: 1986 Mercedes-Benz W124 and W201 – Both With Go Fast Cladding, by Johannes Dutch
CC Outtake: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 190 D – Parked In Front Of A Farmhouse, How Appropriate, by Johannes Dutch
Snowyside Outtake: Mercedes-Benz 190E – In Ein Winter-Wunderland, by Brendan Saur
CC Outtake: 1993 Mercedes-Benz 190E – Green With Envy, by Brendan Saur
CC Capsule: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 190E (W201) – Snow White And The W124 Dwarf, by Brendan Saur
1986 Mercedes 190E 2.3: Junk Or Fix? (Updated), by PN
At the other end of the W201 index of desirably was the 180E, an Australia-only version sold between October 1991-June 1994. A 1.8 litre stripper, it was about a third cheaper than a 190E and was a response to the Commonwealth government’s “luxury car tax”, a form of industry assistance with the threshold set according to the price of the locally produced luxury cars. The price reduction was made possible by including some local content and deleting most of the convenience items (power windows, cruise control etc) and the ABS although the air conditioning remained.
As an American, I often get peeved at the automotive regulatory situation in this country, especially the USA’s refusal to get on board the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations that just about the entire rest of the world (Canada excepted) subscribes to, which as a result severely limits available models and brands sold in the U.S. It’s easy to forget that many other countries have odd automotive regulations too – certainly Australia, NZ, France, Japan, and Brazil to name a few (and I won’t even mention communist bloc countries).
That’s interesting. Were they CKD assembled or did they ship Aussie parts to Germany just for those?
I do think the least desirable one would be the North Korean copy.
I don’t recall any Oz parts in the 180Es, maybe the air inside. Came in complete.
The luxury car tax still exists, it is 33% on every dollar over $71K or $84k for a fuel efficient car. Even a tradie ute gets wanged. Also chase you for extra LCT if you sell a car up to 2 years old for more than it was new. Greedy buggers.
The W201 was a real breath of fresh air – kind of an interesting wedge design but still retained the classic Benz looks. Build quality was of a high standard. Only drawback was having a really cramped interior, especially the back seat.
I’m not sure what the $$$ numbers were, but I believe that 190 series, was targeted against the BMW E21/320i in US spec. And I’m a long time BMW nut, but it sure seemed like you got much more car in this MB. (I’ve had several BMW E21s) My recollection is there were a whole lot more 2.3-16’s here than M3’s, and familiarity does breed contempt, or at least less of an impression. But they did seem like a pocket hot rod for us Euro fans, and that’s always good.
I’ve long said that if you want a car to see you out, nut with which to enjoy yourself and get rea satisfaction, then a 190E 2.6 should fit the bill, unless you have a serious bulky equipment hobby.
I’d have one, if you’ll pay for the fuel.