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Following up on the 1993 Mercedes-Benz 300CE Sportline from a few weeks ago, I thought I might look at another chassis that the Sportline option was available on, the W201 190E. For the model years 1992 and 1993, the 190E Sportline featured the M103 2.6 liter, suspension lowered by 21 mm, stiffer springs and shocks, 7 x 15-inch alloy wheels with wider tires (205/55 R15) and the seats from the much more expensive 2.3 16-valve model. Like the W124 Sportlines, a nice little package if you didn’t want to commit to the top of the line models. Even better, the 190E Sportline was offered in a 5-speed manual if you didn’t want the 4-speed automatic. This 1993 up for sale in Texas unfortunately isn’t the manual, but is one of the nicer examples I’ve seen in a while. Problem is, it is mighty expensive.
When I got my first job out of grad school, I needed a cheap daily driver to commute to work. Everyone told me to just buy a Honda and be done with it. But I knew that wasn’t going to work. I wanted something unusual, safe, classy and preferably German. And that’s how I came to buy a W201. I didn’t really know much about them at the time. But a nice looking example popped up for sale near me, and as soon as I drove it I was hooked. The 190E rides like a shrunken S-class: luxurious, sturdy and solid. The straight six motor is creamy and robust. And the design of the car is really quite handsome, under-appreciated even, especially when seen from the rear three-quarter angle. True, the 190E is not fast, the KE-Jetronic fuel injection system is a real pain when it goes wrong and, owing to the gearing on the old school four-speed automatic, the 2.6 is not as fuel efficient as it should be (the 2.3 isn’t much better either). Still, a nicely kept W201 can be a neat and satisfying entry point into budget-friendly German motoring. Provided you pick a good one.
I’m a purist at heart. I like older cars that have survived into the present while remaining practically bone stock and unmodified. But I also realize that there are many different ways to love and appreciate cars, and the stance scene – with its lowered ride heights, deep dish rims and negative camber – is just another of them. So even though I don’t quite understand it, or find it all that appealing, I respect the craft, and the obsession that goes into creating these cars. This modified 190E caught my eye on the Benzworld classified forum. It’s riding low, but not too low, and while the wheels really don’t quite fit, they are at least very handsome. And with an “Avantgarde” interior taken from a European spec car, the inside on this one’s a bit of a treat too.
Good examples of the Mercedes-Benz 190E are getting harder to come by. This was Mercedes first foray into the compact luxury segment but are revered today as having the old school build quality that long term fans of the marque know and love. Even more uncommon are late model 190Es decked out with the Sportline option, which came with a sportier suspension and upgraded interior. This 190E 2.6 for sale in Pittsburgh has 77,000 miles on the clock and in addition to having the rare Sportline option, has the even more rare 5-speed manual gearbox hooked up to the silky smooth M103 2.6 liter inline-6.
It’s no secret that several of us here at GCFSB are fans of the W201. The last time I wrote one up, I mentioned my habit of scouring the internet for nice examples, a form of self-torment since losing my own car to an accident earlier this year. While the 2.3-16v Cosworths have some serious 80s DTM street-cred, most of the ones for sale are tired and in need of a lot of work. The Sportline models, a limited run of mostly stock W201s upgraded with stiffer suspension, tighter steering, lower ride height and some interior trim tweaks, are a tempting alternative. But sellers often demand large premiums for these cars on the basis of their relative scarcity. To tell you the truth, I don’t think they are worth the extra money. I test-drove one prior to buying my own 190, and I thought the harsher ride was ill-suited to the car. Since the engine and gearbox are unchanged from the ordinary models, the sporting pretensions of the Sportline just don’t make a lot of sense to me. No, to my mind the best W201s are the stock, low mileage and unmolested examples that show up from time to time in seemingly mint condition. They represent the W201 at its best: a classy but affordable form of basic transportation.