With its 3 Series, BMW pretty much had the small, entry-level luxury-car market to itself through the seventies. Mercedes-Benz could not let that situation persist.
To many in the early eighties, Mercedes’ reputation for engineering excellence and intimidating road presence seemed too big to be crammed into a small sedan. Would a small Mercedes be a real Mercedes? The 1984 190E (known internally at Mercedes as the W201) proved that what made a Mercedes a Mercedes wasn’t size.
From the three-pointed star atop its grille shell to the fluted lenses of its taillights, the 190E felt and looked like its bigger brothers. Initially the sole gas-fired powerplant available in North America was a 2.3-liter four making 113 hp, but that soon changed with the introduction of the 167-hp 2.3-16 model that capped that engine with a Cosworth-designed cylinder head for 1986.
Six-cylinder engines went on sale with the 1987 models. Eventually it evolved into today’s C-Class. If the Mercedes 190E hadn’t been a good product and solid sales hit for its maker, the BMW 3 Series would have had the small luxury market to itself. That’s never good.
The Mercedes-Benz W201 is a compact executive car manufactured by Mercedes-Benz from 1982 to 1993, positioned below the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class — and marketed under variants of the Mercedes 190 nameplate.
The W201 featured a patented rear 5-link suspension, subsequently used in E and C class models, front and rear anti-roll bars, anti-dive and anti-squat geometry — as well as available airbags, ABS brakes and seatbelt pretensioners.
The W201 enjoyed strong sales in Europe but fared poorly in the United States. Series production ended April 13, 1993 after the manufacture of approximately 1.8 million examples. The 190 and its variants were succeeded in the compact executive car segment by the C-Class, a newly created nameplate.
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