Well, that's how it was until it all suddenly changed when a new baby-Benz arrived. As with all new babies, the new arrival changed the Mercedes family forever. The all new Mercedes 190 (W201) first saw the light of day in 1982. Born in December of that year, the Christmas baby looked strikingly similar to its older siblings. Outwardly, there was nothing particularly revolutionary about this new addition, it just fitted in rather well. The Benz family seemed to carry on quietly and contentedly with their lot.

However, the new baby-Benz 190 "compact class" became quite the milestone for the Mercedes family of cars. The model became a new benchmark for the future development of the Mercedes model range. The 190's styling clearly matched that of its bigger siblings. This was a clear hint to 190 owners who might have been feeling a little bit reticent about their newfangled bijou Benz. The familiar styling was a cue that clearly signalled that 190 drivers were indeed sitting behind the wheel of a genuine pure-bred Mercedes. A marque that embodied the fine art of progress.

With its clearly defined Mercedes credentials, there was nothing reticent about the new model. The 190 comfortably took its place amidst the Mercedes family. The first models (the 190 and 190E) swiftly became a major success story. The 190 provided firm foundations for the subsequent C-Class (compact class). From concept, the venerable 190 baby-Benzes clearly aimed to replicate all the virtues of their larger siblings especially when it came to matters of handling, safety and bulletproof reliability. All these well-honed Mercedes-Benz traits were now beautifully presented in bite-sized form, providing a light Mercedes-Benz that proved to be as excellent as it was economical. This was a real game changer. An everyday luxury Mercedes that was beautifully designed, superbly crafted yet attainable.

To reduce fuel consumption, Mercedes engineers had created a surprisingly aerodynamic body considering its somewhat angular outward appearance (compared to modern cars). Mercedes also used high-strength sheet steel alongside numerous other innovative materials to help reduce overall weight. The 190 weighed less than 1200kg without compromising safety. Other safety elements were taken from the flagship S-Class, meaning that the 190 was a small, user-friendly saloon that came without any compromises.

The 190 boasted a brand-new chassis design which was specifically developed for the all-new model. The setup featured multi-link independent rear suspension which helped improve steering precision and ensured sure-footed handling characteristics. Modernised front and rear axles also meant superb stability ensuring the baby-Benz had some very grown-up road manners.

With road manners and agility assured, the 190 had plenty of other satisfying traits up its sleeve. These traits would delight even the most ardent Benz aficionados. For those lucky enough to have become accustomed to driving the likes of an S-Class or a mid-size Mercedes, familiarity reigned supreme as soon as they stepped into the 190's cockpit. Quality materials, familiar switchgear and typically Mercedes instrument layouts all made the 190 a reassuring addition to the Mercedes-Benz family.

Production of the 190 and 190E models began in 1982. The two initial models both featured 2.0-litre, four cylinder petrol engines. Later on, 190E models boasted significantly more power thanks to the introduction of petrol injection (EFi). This was yet another Mercedes milestone because it was the first time that their engineers had used the mechanical electronically-controlled Bosch KE-Jetronic injection system in any of their cars. This gave the 190E a top speed of nearly 122-mph and the kind of spirited performance befitting the three pointed star.

A year later, the Mercedes 190D was introduced. This model featured a newly developed 2.0-litre four-cycle diesel engine. The buying public were utterly fascinated by this exceptionally powerful yet remarkably refined diesel power plant. Known as the Mercedes "whisper diesel," the new engine produced less than half the noise of rival makers' diesels. The meticulously engineered silence was further enhanced by exceptional levels of sound deadening. This amazing new diesel engine heralded future development of further groundbreaking, state-of-the-art diesel technology in future Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. Low fuel consumption and respectable power delivery proved to be a highly successful combination amidst both private and fleet buyers.

The 190 "compact series" was certainly an overwhelming success story. 1984 brought us yet another incarnation of the 190E. This time it was to come in the guise of the 2.3-16 190E. This new sporty model was another very clear departure featuring the looks of a compact sports saloon. It even had a wing-type spoiler on the rear. The 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine came with a newly designed cylinder head with two intake valves and two exhaust valves. Alongside other modifications, power was significantly boosted, providing a 0-60 time of just 7.5 seconds. The car’s top speed was in excess of 142mph which was an astonishing figure by any standards. Spritely diesels weren't forsaken either. In 1987, Mercedes brought out the 190D 2.5 Turbo. This time the engine was a 122-horsepower five-cylinder turbo diesel delivering a top speed of 120-mph with an equally impressive 0-60 time of 11.5 seconds. The powerful turbo diesel variants were easily distinguished by stylish body embellishments and twin exhaust outlets.

During an illustrious eleven year production run (1982-1993) various improvements and design tweaks were made to keep the 190 model fresh and interesting to the buying public. As a run-out exercise, in 1992, Mercedes-Benz presented three special models of the 190. They were branded "Avantgarde" versions of the 190E 1.8, 190E 2.3 and the 190D 2.5 turbo diesel. These models had a more up-to-date appearance which created a more fresh and youthful style. The models were available in special paint finishes. But, production of the W201 ended in 1993. In all, 1,879,629 had been made during this period. The success of the compact Mercedes (or the baby-Benz) was assured. Mercedes had successfully managed to extend its branding into another segment of the market and by so-doing they'd created an absolute icon.


Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring. 

Douglas Hughes