One car that I absolutely adore these days is the Mercedes Benz W124 series. These cars were produced from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Built like bank vaults, these Benz's have already reached a kind of motoring icon status due to their reliability, solidity and durability. We’ve seen TV shows like 5th Gear trashing a W124 (the wagon version) to bits and it still performed admirably. We still see them ply the streets of London, Berlin, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur and everywhere it was sold. Some of these cars have 300,000-500,000 km mileage on them and are still going strong. In fact, the youngest of these cars are almost 15 years old. I believe it is time we reviewed one of these on Car Throttle. I have to add however that I am not reviewing one of those fire burning 500Es that was basically built by Porsche for Mercedes or a really nice to drive 300E (albeit with the typical W124 idiosycracies – like the two step throttle pedal, lack of steering feel and very understeering handling), which still has enough poke (0-100km/h in about 8 seconds) to scare off some modern day hot hatches. I am going to review what you could do to a basic run of the mill 200E from 1990 which basically was the entry level W124. Why so? I have reviewed this car before, but not here on CarThrottle. So, since this car is an 'upgrade' project which was recently completed, showing us what could be done to add some oomph to a twenty year old car, it now falls under a posting that is truly worthy of this magazine. The grey-silver Mercedes Benz 200E you see here was recently purchased by Adlis K from his dad (so basically he got a very very very good deal for it). His dad had recently taken posession of a current model Toyota Estima (gasp) and didn't feel the need of having another car lying around. Since he wanted to sell the car, he gave Adlis K an offer he couldn't refuse. Adlis K wanted a decent daily driver as his other car was a Nissan 350Z Fairlady. He had recently got rid of a classic 1974 Mercedes Benz W115 230.6, which whilst a good reliable classic car, couldn't really take the day to day hassle of the daily metropolitan commute. And the thing about the Fairlady, while it is a really nice car to drive is that it lacks a certain degree of practicality if you have to use it for your daily commute to and from the office. So 4 doors, a big boot and the ease of driving comes into play. And this old W124 200E has all of these in spades. The 1990 spec 200E came equipped with a 119bhp/172Nm 2.0liter 8 valve 4 cylinder engine. It is rear wheel drive and the power is transmitted to the wheel via a 4 speed automatic gearbox. There is a 5 speed manual option for this entry level Mercedes, but most opt for an automatic as this sort of transmission suits the wafting, easy going nature of the W124 series in the first place. Of course, handling is tuned for safe understeer, and if you push it, mega understeer arrives in the 200E. You do not have the power to really pull it out because there is none. 120bhp can only do so much in a car that weighs 1350kg. This car has really Progressive Understeer (which is a scientific term for 'really boring handling'). The more you want to turn the more you have to turn the steering wheel and the engineers at Mercedes basically tuned in the understeer to make things easy for the drivers – more understeer equals more steering inputs and slower cornering speeds. That is until you reach a point where you're almost wrestling with the steering wheel trying to make the darn car turn. It actually is a 'play safe' kind of handling. Mercedes seems to make it in all of its cars (to an extent even to this day) as it wants everyone in the car to be cossetted and feel comfortable instead of making the car handle like a dream but make its passengers puke at all the lurching and heaving as the car takes a corner. Things got better when Adlis K stuffed 17inch AMG monoblocks with 215/45/17 tires. The understeer is there, but things have improved a notch in this car. It is more responsive yet the ride is still good. It was much worse in the days where Mercedes were still conservative and basically concentrated on important stuff like quality, quality and quality. And when you actually add that three pointed star on the bonnet, you can tell you're driving something that's an icon, an institution with tons of pedigree. Even though it is 20 years old. These cars were never meant to out handle a BMW 5 series in the first place but rather engineered to make the driver and the passengers to be cocooned in comfort. I have yet to experience coming out feeling tired from any mid to large sized Mercedes sedan build over the last 20 or so years. Every time I had the experience of taking a long ride in a Mercedes, I would feel just as fresh as when I first got into the car. The ride is THAT good. A twenty year old W124 with its suspension and engine mountings in good whack still gives a crushingly good ride and cruising (or wafting) along in one at around 100km/h is still a serene experience, with no unwanted vibration and a high level of refinement. So how do you make a slightly dull, yes, dull yet iconic car into something better or more relevant to a motorhead? Well, you do so on a few fronts. The looks, the handling and then maybe, the power. But not necessarily in that order of course! Take a look at the photo above and compare it to the earlier ones. The same car has undergone a character change in a couple of months. Stay tuned for the next part, where I get into the details of this surprisingly good 1990 200E.
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