I was at a local cars and coffee here in San Diego this week, and a Mercedes-Benz 190E Evo II showed up with a for sale sign and an asking price of nearly $200,000. I was reminded, at this moment, that this car is one of my all-time favorites, so I figured I’d write a little piece about it for people who don’t remember it.
For those who don’t remember the Evo II, here’s a brief history: The 190E was the entry-level Mercedes-Benz sedan throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, before being replaced for the 1994 model year by the C-Class. It was rear-wheel drive, but it was a rather lackluster performer — until they made the performance versions.
There were several performance versions. The 190E 2.3-16 was an early one, with a 2.3-liter, 16-valve engine (hence the name) that made 185 horsepower in foreign markets and 167 here in the U.S. A more powerful 2.5-liter engine came out later, which pushed power past 200 hp, which was big for the time. But then, BMW came out with the “M3 Sport Evolution,” and Mercedes-Benz felt the time had come for more.
The result was the 190E 2.5-16 Evolution I, which had roughly the same hp and styling as the regular model, but some other improvements, such as a higher rev limiter and an improved lubrication system, that made it a little faster. But the truly impressive model came next: The 190E Evolution II, with its crazy body kit that included massively flared fenders and a huge, memorable wing. This thing looked like a period DTM race car for the road, and its power now stood at 232 hp, along with 181 lb-ft of torque. Only 502 units were made, nearly all in a metallic black-gray color, and the car was made in just two years — 1990 and 1991.
These days, the 190E Evo II has become something of an icon, with collectors trying to add the car that foreshadowed the beginning of many high-performance models from the AMG — and a car that seemed emblematic of the start of the hp wars between BMW “M” and Mercedes-Benz “AMG.” It’s a special car, and it’s always a treat to see one — though it’s a decidedly uncommon treat.
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