At the end of November 1982, Mercedes-Benz presented the 190 and 190 E models from the W 201 model series to the press. The compact and technologically groundbreaking saloon supplemented the Mercedes-Benz passenger car product line with a third model series, alongside the mid-range series and the S-Class. With this step towards a broader model series portfolio, the 190/190 E clearly showed the way forward into the future of the entire brand. This is because it not only marked the start of the segment designated internally within the company as the compact class, which subsequently came to bear the designation C-Class from 1993 with the launch of the W 202 series. In fact, with this fresh and advanced saloon, it also marked the start of the great model offensive from Mercedes-Benz.
Some 30 years after making their premiere, the saloons of the W 201 model series continue to demonstrate their strengths to impressive effect: to this day, their clear lines still delight with their timeless modernity. In retrospect, the vehicle technology too has also been characterised by a host of innovative ideas and concepts.
Besides the modern design, for which Bruno Sacco was responsible, the affectionately named "Baby Benz" as the 190 model was known also scored well in terms of its high degree of passive safety and modern suspension technology, good aerodynamics and intelligent lightweight design. Among other features, Mercedes-Benz specifically developed and patented independent multilink rear suspension for the 190, in which each rear wheel is supported by five independent links, thus helping to ensure equally high levels of ride comfort and handling precision.
Designers and engineers drove the compact class even further forward into the future with two model facelifts in 1988 and 1991. More than 10 years after the market launch, in February 1993 the Sindelfingen plant ceased production of the first generation of the compact class. The 190-models continued to be produced in the Bremen plant until August, mainly for export. The total number of vehicles produced – some 1,879,629 – reflects to impressive effect the resounding success which the new compact class enjoyed for the brand. In May 1993, Mercedes-Benz presented the C-Class (W 202 series) as the successor to the "Baby-Benz".
The evolution of the W 201 model series
Following the presentation of the new model series, initially in 1983 only the 190 and 190 E models were available with 2-litre four-cylinder petrol engines (66 kW/90 hp and 90 kW/122 hp). In the autumn of 1983, Mercedes-Benz presented the 53 kW (72 hp) 190 D "whisper diesel" at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, which caused something of a sensation as a four-cylinder diesel engine which was not only more efficient but also particularly quiet due to engine soundproofing.
Also making an appearance in 1983 was the 190 E 2.3-16 model, whose engine featured a newly developed four-valve cylinder head and produced 136 kW (185 hp). This top-of-the-range model in the W 201 series promised a special level of sportiness – and in fact in the summer of 1983, the Saloon clocked up several long-distance world records in Nardo in Italy, including runs over distances of 25,000 kilometres, 25,000 miles and 50,000 kilometres, at average speeds of almost 250 km/h.
In the years which followed, Mercedes-Benz consistently expanded the compact class model range. Additions included export models such as the 190 D 2.2 and 190 E 2.3 models, specifically designed for the North American market. Overall the performance potential of the W 201 continued to grow beyond the production period with a number of new models: for example the five-cylinder 190 D 2.5 (1985, 66 kW/90 hp) and, as the first six-cylinder compact class model, the 190 E 2.6 (1986, 122 kW/166 hp).
The pinnacle of performance was ultimately marked by the 190 E 2.5-16 (143 kW/195 hp) in 1988, and the further stages of development derived from this vehicle which took output up to 173 kW (235 hp). At the same time they also formed the basis for the motor sport touring cars with which Mercedes-Benz achieved a great deal of success in the world of motor sport – right through to the victory in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) in 1992 by Klaus Ludwig in the AMG-Mercedes 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II.
"No other car has generated anything like the curiosity as this new development from the world's oldest motor manufacturer", wrote specialist magazine "auto, motor und sport" in 1983 about the new compact class. A modern, fresh feel, combined with technical leadership aspirations in what for the brand was a new segment, filled the public and specialists alike with enthusiasm at that time. The W 201 has retained this sense of flair. Today, some 30 years after its premiere, it still comes across as a young, modern classic.