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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - 190E sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Adheres to traditional Mercedes virtues of engineering excellence, durability and sheer quality
Room for improvement
Cramped rear seat, leisurely performance, costly to service

18 Jun 2003

A MERCEDES-BENZ, like a Ferrari or a Rolls-Royce, used to be a car most people only dreamt about owning.

Of these three makes, the Mercedes-Benz is the most attainable because, while the Italian and British marques cater only for the seriously rich, at least there are Benzes in the model range that the man in the street can realistically own.

In its home country of Germany, Mercedes is a direct competitor to BMW, Audi and, to a lesser extent, Opel.

Since 1983 the company has competed in the most popular class (medium-size 2.0-litre sedan) with its 180 and 190 series models and it is these lower priced models which are within the reach of those looking for prestige at an affordable price.

The 190E four-door sedan was sold in Australia between 1986 and 1994.

This review deals with the 1986 to 1990 model which is powered by a 2.0-litre, single overhead cam engine driving the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual gearbox.

Despite modern trends which dictate a transverse front engine/front wheel drive layout for ease of assembly, the German firm has retained the front-engine, rear-drive layout which gives better balance.

Primary safety - the ability of a car to avoid an accident by having superior handling and braking - is one of the key Mercedes-Benz engineering principles.

Suspension in the 190E is all independent by MacPherson struts with coil springs at the front and coil springs and a five-link arrangement at the rear.

Brakes are power-assisted discs all round and the tyres are 185/65 radials on 15-inch rims.

The addition of anti-lock brakes as standard in 1989 made an already excellent braking system even better.

Steering is by power-assisted recirculating ball, a departure from the usual rack and pinion.

The Mercedes has distinctive styling with the traditional near vertical grille topped by the three-pointed star emblem the feature.

The high boot line and tapered rear section are also distinctive. Body finish is impeccable.

Inside, the seats offer good support but feel hard and the rear seat is rather cramped for taller passengers for both head and leg room.

Three round dials house the comprehensive instrumentation and, unusually for a European car, the indicator stalk is on the right of the steering column.

Luggage space is good thanks to the high boot line.

On the road, the Mercedes has a split personality.

In the city, the car is slow off the mark or during low speed lane changes, particularly with the automatic, which is slow to respond to driver demands. Unless the accelerator is floored, the auto will move off from rest in second gear - a fuel-saving feature - which can be frustrating to the driver.

On the highway, however, the car shows its true European character and performs very well. Germans demand good high speed autobahn performance, which means high gearing, and with a small capacity engine the low speed performance suffers as a result.

Handling and braking cannot be faulted, the Benz riding quietly and smoothly over a variety of road surfaces including gravel.

The steering is precise and well weighted and the handling is neutral and stable in all situations.

Brakes are powerful and fade free.

Standard features include air-conditioning, power steering, power windows and a radio/cassette player.

When looking for a car to purchase, check the service books to ensure it has been serviced by an authorised Mercedes dealer or agent. Servicing is not cheap but if it is carried out correctly the car will be trouble-free.

Also keep in mind that although you will pay considerably less for a second-hand car, the spare parts prices are relevant to a $70,000 car.

The highlight of a Mercedes-Benz is its build quality. Look closely at a 20-year-old Benz and you will find that the chrome work, fittings and mechanisms are still like new, and the doors close with the same satisfying clunk as the day the car was made.

This and the priority given to engineering excellence and safety by the designers are what give the make its intrinsic value.

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