The story of how the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 came about – or the 190 Cosworth as it’s colloquially called – is well known, but it’s still worth repeating. In the early 1980s Mercedes decided its new small saloon, the 190, with its low-drag body and sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, would be the ideal base for a rally car to outfox the BDA-powered Ford Escorts and the Talbot Lotus Sunbeams that dominated rallying at the time.
To give the 190E enough poke, Mercedes employed Cosworth to develop new parts for one of its cast-iron-block four-cylinder engine. The Northampton-based engineering firm designed a new head, and all the necessary equipment to go with it, to create a twin-cam 16-valve competition engine. As per the rules of the time, a homologated road-going version would be also need to be built to allow the rally car to be eligible to compete.
Then Audi changed the whole face of rallying with its four-wheel-drive, turbocharged Quattro, rendering the rear-drive 190 Cosworth totally inadequate before it even had chance to kick up some dust or carve through some snow. Still, Mercedes persisted with the road car and launched the 190E 2.3-16 in 1983, but the Stuttgart firm retained its ambitions to turn its performance saloon into a competition car, only this time as a Group A touring car.
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 in detail
The phrase ‘homologation special’ is almost always a guarantee of a spectacular road car, and that is definitely the case with the 16-valve 190E. Okay, so it may play second fiddle to the M3, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t blessed with good pace and a fine balance.
Using the same basic chassis as the regular 190E, with its strut and separate spring suspension at the front and multi-link arrangement at the rear, the Cosworth version gets different damper and spring rates and also gains hydraulic self-levelling rear suspension, driven off a pump at the front of the engine.
The same hydraulic pump powers the Cosworth’s optional ASD (Automatisches Sperrdifferential, or Automatic Locking Differential). A conventional plate LSD is standard, but the ASD takes things a step further. In regular driving it operates as an ordinary open diff, but when the car detects that one of the driven (rear) wheels is rotating at a higher speed than the non-driven (front) wheels, it assumes wheelspin is occurring and closes the clutch packs in the diff to lock the rear wheels together.
The evo view
It doesn’t take very long to recognise that the 190E Cosworth was built when Mercedes over-engineered its cars and really, deeply cared about build quality. There’s a solid clunk of the small door as you close it behind you, and the feel of the seats, the switches and the controls make it abundantly clear you’re in a 1980s Mercedes.
But that doesn’t necessarily bode well for its performance characteristics: solid and heavy rarely translate to something fast and lively. But the engines are strong, and despite the rumours, the 2.3 feels torquey enough for a classic four-cylinder. It revs eagerly, too, but taking it right to its 7000rpm red line is a little taxing – it’s best change up at just after 6000rpm.
What you aren’t treated to is much noise – it’s certainly more hushed road-car than barking DTM racer. There’s no tearing induction note to get you writhing in the leather seat in excitement, just a modest parp from the exhaust if you use lots of throttle and allow the engine to rev as high as you dare.
What to pay
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 & 2.5-16
Manual cars are worth slightly more than the automatics.
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evo
$133,000 to $200,000
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evo II
$333,000 to $400,000
|Engine:||4-cyl, in-line, 2299cc||4-cyl, in-line, 2498cc||4-cyl, in-line, 2463cc|
|Max power:||182bhp @ 6200rpm||204bhp @ 6750rpm||235bhp @ 7200rpm|
|Max torque:||173lb ft @ 4500rpm||177lb ft @ 5500rpm||181lb ft @ 5000rpm|
|Transmission:||Dog-leg five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential||Dog-leg five-speed manual or four -speed automatic, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential||Dog-leg five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential|
|Front suspension:||Struts, separate coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, separate coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, separate coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension:||Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar, hydraulic self levelling||Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar, hydraulic self levelling||Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar, hydraulic self levelling|
|Steering:||Worm and wheel steering box, PAS||Worm and wheel steering box, PAS||Worm and wheel steering box, PAS|
|Brakes:||Front vented discs with single-piston calipers, rear solid discs with twin-piston calipers, ABS||Front vented discs with single-piston calipers, rear solid discs with twin-piston calipers, ABS||Front vented discs with four-piston calipers, rear solid discs with twin-piston calipers, ABS|
|Wheels:||7J x 15in forged||7J x 15in forged||8J x 17in forged|
|Tyres:||205/55 R15||205/55 R15||245/45 R17|
|Top speed:||232kph (claimed)||236kph (claimed)||250kph (limited)|
This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk
Copyright © evo UK, Dennis Publishing