Understated, compact, luxurious, and tough as nails
- Water pump replaced (previous owner used non-MB coolant and ruined it, ugh).
- Serpentine belt and belt tensioner replaced (replaced with water pump).
- Replaced all 4 shocks.
- A/C compressor, receiver/dryer replaced.
- Battery replaced.
- Radiator replaced (cracked neck - most likely caused by chronic overheating).
- Fan clutch replaced.
- Thermostat replaced and changed to a 68C unit (stock is 78).
- EGR valve failure (very rare - $300 job), replaced.
- Small exhaust leak from exhaust flange ($20 weld), fixed.
- Hood pad deterioration (even in a dry climate).
- Driver's side window switch no longer rebounds from "up" position, but still works.
- Driver's seat headrest no longer goes up and down.
- Driver's seat cushioning reinforced (all MB's from this era get soft seats after a while, but it's easily remedied).
- Steering wheel leather has deteriorated a lot.
- Partial separation of vinyl armrest trim on passenger side front door panel - very common in high temp climates (adhesive fails).
- Retracting antenna replaced.
- Fog lamp doors replaced (prone to cracking).
- Truck lid liner replaced (rotted out).
- Various interior bulbs burned out and replaced.
- Speedometer doesn't quite register correctly until 15MPH or so.
- Suspension bushings and ball joints are getting tired (I can hear squeaks over potholes and such), probably all need to be replaced eventually.
- Engine consumes 1 quart of oil every 1500 miles (small valve cover leak + likely worn piston rings).
- Transmission has hard / sticky shifts until sufficiently warmed up.
Any Mercedes-Benz worth owning was built before 1999 (and some built before that were definitely not worth owning, either).
Why? Because they're doggedly durable, tough cars, engineered to the very highest (and often unnecessary) standards. Don't confuse durability for reliability, though - they are not one in the same.
I bought my 190E 2.6 with 176k miles on the clock for $2500, which seems like a lot of miles for the price, but this is a pretty aesthetically pristine example. The white paint absolutely shimmers with a good wax, and aside from the standard LA door dings on the passenger side and bits of road tar near the wheel arches, it's clean. Mine also has the quite-rare Soft Leather Package, a $1500 upgrade that gets you seats in the style of the SL500 at the time.
Like any older Benz, reliability is all a function of preventative maintenance. Unfortunately, it seems my car wasn't treated to the very best, and the last owner got lazy with anything that didn't actually annoy him on a day to day basis (see: water pump).
The 4-speed automatic transmission on these cars suffers from hard shifts when cold, and as the car ages, it tends to get worse. The problem feels worse than it is - a combination of long-term engine wear (and thus lower power), transmission wear, and the temperament of Mercedes autos from this era all lead to this. It is not a sign of imminent transmission failure.
The engine is extremely reliable, but does require a top-end rebuild every 200-300k, depending on how hard it's been worked. If you're buying one, keep that in mind - the head gasket will go at some point, and expect to cough up at least $1500 for a top-end rebuild.
Engine mounts on this car tend to start leaking around 100-150k, and need to be replaced. Valve cover leaks are common, as are various other engine gasket leaks (they're predictable, and once fixed, stay fixed). Expect oil consumption, too. Mercedes' own official tech documentation on this engine says repairs should not be necessary unless consumption exceeds 1 quart every thousand miles.
If the car's cooling system is not properly maintained (right coolant, check level, address overheating issues before they get bad), expect a cracked radiator neck in your future. They're made out of plastic (even the OEM one), and continuous heat stress will break them. Fan clutch is another common cooling system failure.
A/C compressors are what they are - expect one that's 20+ years old to fail.
Suspension all depends on the driving environment. Mine, for example, needs an overhaul of various bushings and probably the ball joints after 20 years of LA streets.
My actual driving experience with the car is basically this: really, really good. You will like this car (buy one that WORKS and has good service records). The ride is great, this was the first Mercedes with fully independent rear suspension, and you can really feel the road through the wheel. Freeway driving is smooth and reassuringly stable. It's soft and has lots of body roll (it's no BMW 3-series), but is nimble enough to have fun with. It also has an amazing turning radius.
Power on mine is down probably 15-20% from stock, could use a rebuild, injector cleaning, plug wires, etc most likely. Still, you can easily cruise at 90MPH+ on the freeway and feel quite in control of the car. Mercedes designed its cars for long-distance, high-speed cruising, and it shows. Don't expect something fast.
The seats in mine are supremely comfortable (have never sat in the base level trim ones, though), and as far as I can tell, won't tear or rip any time in the foreseeable future.
I love this car. Despite spending over twice what I paid for it in repairs, it's been worth it. I'll keep it for years - I have no doubt that it's on its way to classic status, especially in the US, where not too many were imported because of poor sales.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 7th August, 2012