The Mercedes-Benz W201 was the last incarnation of the Mercedes-Benz 190 nameplate. It was a compact executive car 4-door saloon/sedan produced by the Mercedes-Benz division of Daimler-Benz. It was replaced in 1993 by the C-Class.
Dubbed "the Baby Benz", the W201-based 190 was the most affordable model in the marque's lineup, being designed to fill the gap in the range below the W123, the equivelent a modern Mercedes E-class. Amongst the items that were a first for Mercedes was the 190's patented 5-link suspension at the rear, used in subsequent E- and C- class models, and developments used today in Mercedes road cars. It had front and rear anti-roll bars, and anti-dive, anti-squat geometry. The 190 was available with airbags, ABS brakes and seatbelt tensioners, and other advanced safety features.
£600 million was spent researching and developing this car with Mercedes-Benz acutely aware that a failure of this model could easily bring down the rest of their model range and the entire company's reputation. Mercedes-Benz later said the 190 was 'massively over-engineered'. The W201-based 190 was introduced in November 1982. The UK market was kept waiting up to 12 months longer than mainland Europe in order to stimulate sales.
Local 'red tape' in Bremen (which produced commercial vehicles at the time) prevented Daimler-Benz from building the 190 there, so production was started in Sindelfingen at a capacity of just 140,000 units per year. Eventually after just the first year, Bremen was cleared for production of the 190, replacing its commercial vehicle lines, and there the 190 was built with the first running modifications since its release
Following the 1980s trend for 16 valve models, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the 2.6 model in 1986. This was fitted with a new 2.6 L six-cylinder M103 petrol engine from the new W124 E-Class model range, and produced 160 bhp (119 kW). Being a straight six, it had smoothness lacking from four-cylinder petrol or diesel engines. Although it might look superfluous alongside the similarly powerful 2.3-16 valve, it was intended as a less sporting alternative to the 16 valve models. The late motoring journalist LJK Setright once rated the 190 E 2.6 as one of his favourite cars.
Back in the late 1970s, Mercedes competed in rallying with the big V8-powered Coupé's of the R107 Series, mainly the light-weight Mercedes 450 SLC 5.0. Mercedes wished to take the 190 E rallying, and asked British race car engineering company Cosworth to develop an engine with 320 bhp (239 kW) for the rally car. This project was known as project "WAA" by Cosworth". During this time, the Audi Quattro with its all wheel drive and turbocharger was launched and made it apparent that the 2.3-16v would not be competitive.[vague] With a continued desire to compete in high-profile motorsport with the 190, and also now an engine to do it with, Mercedes turned to the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM) (German Touring Car Championship) motorsport series instead. Cars racing in this championship, however, had to be based on a roadgoing model. Mercedes therefore had to put into series production a 190 fitted with a detuned version of the Cosworth engine. This high performance model was known as the 190 E 2.3-16, and debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September 1983, after its reputation had already been established. Three cars, only slightly cosmetically altered, had set three world records in August at Nardo, Italy, recording a combined average speed of 154.06 mph (247.94 km/h) over the 50,000 km endurance test, and establishing twelve international endurance records.