The Mercedes-Benz 190 (chassis code W201) is one of my favorite cars of all time, and easily one of the best, if not the best sedan Mercedes-Benz has ever produced.
The W201 was launched as an all-new small class of car in 1982 (interestingly, the same year as BMW's similar E30). Some aspects were classic Mercedes-Benz: four doors, rear-wheel drive, radiator-grille, three-pointed star on the hood. Other aspects were totally new, including the compact size, sleek aerodynamic body, utilitarian unpainted bumpers, and a new range of efficient gas and diesel engines. It was a bold new statement for the decade.
It says a lot that the sharp, slab-sided styling is the designer Bruno Sacco's favorite work ever. I remember reading he especially loved the way the side lines meld into the rear tail trunk, likening it to the bevels of a diamond. You, Mr. Sacco, were truly a diamond of a designer yourself. He took all the styling cues previous Mercedes designers of the 60s and 70s had employed and cut, chiseled and refined them down into one definitive statement that summed up the whole brand. It's also an important stepping stone as it paved the way for the look of the 1986 W124.
Interestingly, the 'baby benz' never really took off. It was popular in Europe, but buyers in the US who could afford a Mercedes in the first place sprung for the larger W124 and W126. That's a shame, because the W201 offered remarkable thrift without any sacrifices.
As such, they aren't too many left but they do pop up. What you don't see anymore are low mileage survivors. Fortunately, these cars are from the golden era of Mercedes-Benz, when their products peaked in terms quality, durability and reliability, so high mileage that would be avoided on other used cars is normal and in some aspects even desirable. These cars are what the term "bank vault-like" was originally associated with.
This particular example has racked up 188,000, which isn't that high given the year. The seller is a dealer or collected and say they acquired it from the original owner. Everything seems to be original except an aftermarket radio, but even the original radio is included.
It's the 2.3 version, so it has a 4-cylinder engine. Lucky for enthusiasts, it's mated to a rare 5-speed transmission. This should transform the car from a capable cruiser into a fun little sports sedan, while just sipping gas (what looks like the original window sticker shows a respectable 23 mpg rating). The economy-enjoyment levels aren't easily found in today's entry level sedan market and definitely not under $20k.
The seller says the oil and filter were changed along with the air cleaner and rear shocks. It seems ready to go. The only other areas of concern would be the clutch, electronics, and body rust. I'd also ask for maintenance records, which, if it was just one previous owner who took care of it, should be available.
If it all checks out, this is a sweet commuter car. Since the mileage isn't anywhere near low, this thing deserves to be driven until it dies. Which might be a long time.
Available here on craigslist for $3,500.