Driven: Mercedes 190E and Evolution II
by Guy Bird    15 Nov 2012
Cabin understated and built to last. Click for larger images
Evo II's appendages add serious attitude to sober 190E
Evo II still packs serious road presence
Interior far more restrained than the outside. Wood trim even more incongruous here

Inside, the understated elegance continues with three main driver's dials sitting under a cowl whose top edge gently slopes down to cover the centre stack before running parallel with the lower IP feature line towards the passenger door.

With a high-ish driving position and a large front windscreen vision is great and the cabin airy and spacious. A thin but huge pizza-sized steering wheel is easy to wield and driving the 90PS 1,997cc engine is a breeze.

Sunroof latch a rare indulgence
Stereo (and apple) optional
Six-spoke rims and wheel arch extension beef up the stance
Huge rear wing homologated for German DTM race series. Note how the top half of the rear screen is covered

Despite the basic nature of this 190, there are still some upscale touches like a fabric-covered sunroof with a metal corkscrew-style T-bar handle. The colour scheme is that shade of matt olive associated with domestic bathroom suites of a similar age, but with well-preserved vinyl trim, check upholstery for the seats and door cards, light green rubber floor mats (plus our carefully positioned shiny green Granny Smith apple by the handbrake!) all the elements co-ordinate perfectly. The only jarring note is a square of faux-look wood veneer below the gearstick.

The 1990 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II by comparison is all ‘jar', but still one hell of a car, despite its brash extras. Created to fulfil DTM rules insisting on a road-going version of its racing cars, the additional sporty elements have an unsurprisingly stuck-on feel.

With every feature exaggerated from the super-low front skirt and bulging wheel arches to the massive rear spoiler, it still exudes a swaggering confidence though, and after two decades it's somehow tempered with a newfound charm too.

Modern-day go-faster youngsters loved it and we got oodles of dual-carriageway love from one gold-wheeled Subaru Impreza driver on our test drive who undercut several other drivers before accelerating alongside us to wave and point his undiluted approval. As the second of the EVO editions and only made in tiny numbers (502 worldwide) its rarity only adds to the allure.

Progress from the 235hp 2.5-litre engine is predictably swift but surprisingly comfortable too. Inside, four sporty but very supportive seats hug the figure - even the rear passengers - while cool tartan door card upholstery references the VW Golf GTI. Outward vision is again excellent - you can clearly see all the car's corners for precise placement on the road.

A racing-style ‘dog leg' gearbox - with first gear down to the left - adds to the authentic sports feel but with a forgiving clutch it's easy to get used to. Adjustable suspension setting is another quirk of the car. Set at ‘standard' it made for a very bouncy ride but with comfort as an upside - a rarity in ballsy sports cars of any era.

And perhaps the best test of these cars' classic status, is that despite a long list of other gorgeous classic Mercedes vehicles to choose from at the special driving day - including a gull-winged 1955 SL300 and a mid-60s Pagoda - these two ‘young timer' 190s were in hot demand, suggesting designs of real clarity and distinction, with enduring appeal and longevity.

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