In a record market of 2.2 million new car registrations in 1988, it was the quality car sector which was particularly buoyant, accounting for 248,000 cars or 11 per cent of the market. This compares with 6 per cent of a smaller 1.6 million market in 1978, an advance of 150 per cent.
Although this trend has obviously benefited Mercedes-Benz in the UK, the competition from other manufacturers for this lucrative market has increased, particularly from the Japanese who, faced with import quotas, need to get the maximum amount for every car sold.
In Britain, where Mercedes is regarded as a status symbol anyway and there is little need for image building, the company is responding to this challenge by concentrating on servicing and customer satisfaction. That the policy appears to be successful can be judged by the constant increase in sales every year to reach 23,546 in 1988 of which the 190 accounted for 8000 cars. What is surprising is that there has been a lull in new Mercedes models and yet the sales still keep climbing. Unlike many other manufacturers, the model cycle is a lengthy ten years, and since the 190 range is now halfway through, it was considered time to introduce changes.
When the 190 was originally introduced in late 1982, it was criticised for its lack of rear legroom which the company has now sought to rectify. The rear seats have been redesigned and the legroom in the back increased by 20mm and headroom by 6mm. The hard plastic panelling at the back of the front seat remains, however, causing discomfort to the knees of tall people.
Rear passenger discomfort, however, is unlikely to put off many prospective buyers as it is less a businessman’s and more a young professional’s car, or at least that is what Mercedes likes to think. For driver and front passenger, it is a different matter. The front seats have been redesigned to increase lateral support, they are height-adjustable, and in the mid-series models the front edge of the driver’s seat can be raised and lowered through 40mm. The seatbelts are also height-adjustable for driver comfort and increased safety. Criticism that there was insufficient space between the steering wheel and the seat so that the rim rubbed against the driver’s legs has been met by decreasing the diameter of the steering wheel by 10mm.
It is doubtful whether the man in the street will spot the difference between the revised model and the one it replaces for the external alterations are quite subtle. The bumpers are bigger and stronger and moulded protective body panels have been added along the side. The redesigned front air dam has reduced lift around the front axle by 20 per cent and the depth of the rear apron has been increased by 35mm. Having driven the car in North Wales, there can be no doubt that the traction of the car is greatly improved over the older model, the roadholding aided by both the improved aerodynamics unwell as the hydropneumatic self-levelling rear suspension and the automatic locking differential.
The original 16-valve 190 was spoilt by its lack of torque. This has been largely overcome by increasing, the stroke from 80.25 to 87.20mm, increasing the engine capacity from 2.3 to 2.5 litres, while other components, such as the engine block, the crankshaft, the connecting rods, the pistons and the camshaft have all been redesigned. There is a slightly greater involvement from Cosworth Engineering, which now builds-up the heads whereas before that operation was done in Stuttgart from parts supplied by the Northampton firm.
The result of all this work means that the 190E 2.5-16 has now developed into a worthwhile model flagship. Its top speed at 140mph was never in doubt, but the increase of 17bhp translates into a top speed of 146mph, although some would argue that this high speed has been achieved at the expense of driveability. The lowering of the rear axle ratio from 3.46 to 3.23 accounts for this while allowing swifter acceleration from 38-75mph .
With an average petrol consumption of 26.5mpg, and with its 70-litre fuel tank, fitted as an optional extra on the rest of the range, the car effectively has a range of over 400 miles. The addition of a multi-function fuel mixture preparation and ignition system, it can run on leaded or unleaded fuel without the need for further adjustments unlike the 2.3 which needs workshop adjustment before it can run on lead-free fuel.
The brakes, disc all round and ventilated at the front, are very effective especially with ABS fitted as standard as it is also on the 190E 2.6. On all other models it is available as an optional extra for £550, well down on the former price of £1293.50. Needless to say, it imbues the model with a sense of safety which a car of this ilk should possess.
At £29,900 the new 2.5-16 is an expensive car and is different enough in its behaviour and manner from the 2.3 to almost warrant being called a Mark II. The five other versions of the 190 remain thoroughly competent and above average cars, and no doubt will help Mercedes-Benz increase further its total sales worldwide. WPK.