In a somewhat surprising move, Mercedes-Benz imported a smaller sedan with some rally car characteristics into the United States in 1986 and 1987. This was quite a lively car with the Cosworth modified engine. This car, the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 16V, was something of a match for the BMW Series 3 cars of that time.
The Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 16V Sporty Sedan
In addition to the Cosworth modified engine, Mercedes-Benz made some suspension improvements, added wider wheels and tires, bigger brakes, and seats with good lateral support.
These Cars Had A Special Body Kit
The Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 16V came with a body kit including a front air dam and a spoiler added to the standard 190E body. The cars were only available in two colors – Blue-Black metallic and Smoke Silver.
Note the similarities in the body kits between the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 16V and the first generation BMW M3 cars as shown below.
The BMW M3 And the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 16V Had Similar Body Kits
Most of the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 16V cars that I have seen were the Blue-Black Metallic color not the Smoke Silver color that I saw in Virginia in 2010.
The Less Common 190E 2,3 16V Color Was Smoke-Silver
The standard engine in the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 cars was an inline single overhead camshaft 2.3 litre fuel-injected engine that produced 121 horsepower. The 190E 2.3 16V had the same basic engine, but modified by Cosworth to have two overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, a 9.7:1 compression ratio all of which produced 167 horsepower in the USA. This same engine in Europe had a slightly higher compression ratio of 10.5:1 and produced 185 horsepower.
Mercedes-Benz Used A Cosworth-Tuned Engine For This Car
In Europe just about all of the 190E 2.3 16V cars came with a five-speed manual transmission. With the cars imported into the USA, about half of these cars were fitted with a four-speed automatic transmission. The 190E 2.3 16V shown below had the 5-speed manual transmission.
The Interior Of The 190E 2.3 16V Was Typical For Mercedes-Benz
The standard Mercedes-Benz 190E was rated as a 5-passenger car, but the 190E 2.3 16V had revised back seat contouring which reduced the rear seat capacity to 2 people for an overall rating of being a 4-passenger car.
The 190E 2.3 16V Did Not Fit Well Into Mercedes-Benz Marketing In The Mid-1980s
Over the years Mercedes-Benz has occasionally ventured into rallying, mainly long distance or endurance rallying, but really I don’t think that Mercedes-Benz thinks that stage rallying is a market that is a good fit for them. I suspect that the 1986/1987 190E 2.3 16V car was an example of Mercedes-Benz sticking their toe into the rally car marketing water, but then withdrawing it a short time later.
Another thing that influenced the rather short life of the 190E 2.3 16V was the price. In 1986 the 167 horsepower 190E 2.3 16V cost $34,800 which was about $10,000 more than the standard Mercedes-Benz 190E with the standard 2.3 litre engine. In 1987 the price of the 190E 2.3 16V went up to $39,600. This was considerably more than comparable performing cars such as the 168 horsepower BMW 325iS at $26,990 or one of my favorites, the 175 horsepower Merkur XR4Ti at $16,360. The car was priced out of the market.
Catching Some Air!
Mercedes-Benz did build a couple of race/rally cars based on the Mercedes-Benz 190E cars, such as the car shown below which was driven by Didier Auriol in the Tour Auto event.
This Rally Car Was Driven By Didier Auriol
The car shown above was originally campaigned in numerous endurance races including the 24 hours of Spa in 1985 and 1986. This car was then modified as part of the official Mercedes-Benz rally team to compete in the Tour Auto with driver Didier Auriol where it finished second overall. Later this car took part in various rallies across France. This car has a Snobeck Group A engine that produces 285 horsepower at 6850 rpm.
These were interesting cars and hinted at what Mercedes-Benz could do if they had decided to get into the rally market in the late 1980s. Picking up a good used Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 16V, especially an European import, would be a fun car to drive and could be a good investment.