The Mercedes 190e 2.6 Is The Best Of the Bunch
With 2.3 Cosworths now reaching dizzy prices, is the 2.6 finally due some recognition?
I've been lucky enough to be wafting about in this wonderful 1989 Mercedes 190e 2.6 Auto finished in Smoke Silver with an immaculate cream interior for the past few weeks, and to say I am slightly smitten is a bit of an understatement
I had a choice of 3 190e 2.6 Mercedes’ that were in stock, and where the silver example and the red Sportline models are both great cars, there’s just something about the colour and style of this all-original example that just appeals to me a little bit more. Every time I start it up The Killing Moon by Echo and Bunnymen starts playing in my head and I’m instantly lost in a daydream, pretending I’m wafting about in the late 80s in true city-boy style. From the outside, every angle, every little detail, the original amber side indicators, the 15″ bottle top alloy wheels, the old chrome grille just scream “proper” Mercedes. From a time when Mercedes were notorious for their reliability and over-engineering.
I’ve always loved Mercedes and the cars they make. I’ve owned 3 and often look back on all of them with great admiration and hope to one day own more, but lately, I feel that they, like most manufacturers in this market segment, have started to lose some of the soul and build quality that made them so popular and desirable in the past. You can slam a door on a 190e and it will make a hugely satisfying “thnnk” that assures you that nothing inside or out will fall off, it just feels solid. Everything now seems to have a slightly cheaper plastic feel to it like it was designed to last maybe 10 years at a push before bits start to fall off or lose their finish, where this car is 31 years old and looks and feels like brand new inside. There are no nasty plasti-dipped buttons peeling away, no faded air-conditioning control switches, or creaking snapped cup holder cubbies.
The 2.3-16v Cosworth 190e may be the true collectors choice of W201, but just a quick glance at the classifieds will probably scare you off with prices shooting up over the last few years, but the 2.6 inline-six really is an absolute peach of an engine, and for me, the one to buy now as there is only one-way values will go on these. When you start up the M103 engine, it burbles into life with no strain whatsoever and you are then greeted to that wonderful straight-six rumble as it idles. Old engines just seem to sound better than new ones. I don’t know if it is due to the older, less restrictive exhaust systems, or if they were just built better, but they all just sound better. It’s the same with the BMW 2.8 M52 engine, it’s just lovely. And it doesn’t stop with the sound, the Mercedes may only produce 160hp, and after over 30 years and nearly 120,000 miles it’s probably significantly fewer now, but it pulls like it just rolled off the production line. It is far from rapid and the throttle response may be considered slightly lazy, but that’s not what this car is about. If you want hard acceleration and straight-line speed, spend more and get an E38 M3 or the Cosworth 190e, or buy something newer, but if you want something that sounds great, pulls smoothly, and can still sit on the motorway in the fast lane with no shakes or rattles, this engine really is spot on.
Obviously, as with performance, handling is not also not necessarily this car’s strong point. It will go round a corner with decent pace and you shouldn’t end up in the cow field opposite, but it also won’t leave you feeling like you just tackled Imola in an F1 car, but that’s fine. The slight body-roll gives the car character and a more luxurious feel as instead of spine-shattering stiff suspension, the ride is beautifully supple. It’s how I imagine driving a toffee would feel. Everything about the driving experience says comfort. The steering wheel feels enormous and boat-like, the 4-speed automatic transmission is so smooth you can barely tell when the car has changed gear and the seats are big and well sprung and very comfortable and with being from a time when more glass was best, your visibility around the car is perfect with only the smallest of blind spots. No big chunky A-pillars and bath-like doors here.
Another joy of living with a car of this era is the complete lack of things that can go wrong. I used to own a 2007 W221 Mercedes S Class LWB, and it was sublime to drive and, generally speaking, it was a brilliant car. However, it was laden with tech and gadgets that no person really needs in their car for day-to-day driving and because I’m cheap and love a bargain, mine was 10 years old with 100k on the clock which meant inevitably, over the 2 years I kept the car I had spent over £3,000 having electrical issues fixed. Electrical issues I didn’t even use. The rear roller blind stopped working once, the massaging drivers seat motor packed up, at one point I lost all infotainment, driver mode, and HVAC use because of a fuse blowing. All this new tech in cars is amazing and great when it works, but when it goes wrong, it’s crippling. In the 190e the only real things to look out for with the electrics are the windows and sunroof. Simplicity really is key. I genuinely don’t think a new C/E class will be as solid and reliable in 30 years’ time as the 190e is now. They just aren’t built to last in the same way.
The Mercedes 190e is fast becoming a modern classic and collectors are already starting to snap up clean and un-modified examples and the 2.6 is probably the pick of the bunch now that the Cosworth examples are in a completely different price bracket. I do strongly recommend that if you are in the market for something like this or a similar era BMW, you give the 190e a go. It has such a lovely character and I personally think they are only getting better looking with age.
So the big question is would you rather go out and buy a brand spanky new C-Class with all the bells and whistles in, or use that PCP deposit money to buy one of these and life the simple life?