Date registered: Aug 2002
Vehicle: 350SLC, 500SLC, 300TE, 190E2.3 Sportline
Location: Sydney, Australia
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RE: 190E Vs 300E
Just in response to the original question, I have a '90 300TE (W124, 3.0 M103 12 valve) auto with 180,000km and a '90 (one month older than the 300TE) 190E-2.3 Sportline (W201, 2.3 M102 8 valve) 5-speed manual with 223,000km. Both cars are in superb condition and are running perfectly. How do they compare?
The M103 is very quiet and just about the smoothest engine I can think of. The M102 can be heard through the gears and felt at idle. At cruise it too is quiet and smooth but not in the same league as the M103 (despite the fact that due to the 190E being a 5-speed, it actually revs slower than the 300TE for the same cruising speed in top gear).
The M102 feels more torquey and is probably at its best lower in the rev range than the M103. Bear in mind that my M102 (at 2.3) is greater displacement per cylinder than my M103 which would contribute to this difference. The M103 is more potent in the upper rev range and despite the substantial extra weight of the wagon, I would say it is slightly faster accelerating than the 190E.
On the road the 300TE is quiet, smooth and comfortable. It holds the road very well and soaks up bumps like they don't exist but does exhibit body roll when cornered hard. My 190E being a Sportline corners very flat with high levels of adhesion. It has a more sportly feel and is fun to drive, especially in manual like mine. Whilst I would not call the ride hard, it obviously does not give the ride comfort of the 300TE.
Whilst the seats in the Sportline look great, they are not as comfortable as those in the wagon. The W124 is more roomy but still a fairly narrow car and in wagon form is very practical. The W201 is obviously tighter but I find it still acceptable for two adults and two kids. The boot (trunk) is surprisingly large.
The interior in the W124 feels more luxurious and is better finished than that in the W201 even though my W201 has leather whereas my W124 has MB-tex (which is very durable). The W124 does not seem to suffer some of the problems with interior finishes the way the W201 does. My W124 also offers a few more features than my W201.
Maintenance wise there is not much in it. Many of the problems with both the W124 and W201 are associated with extra features (eg. cruise control, climate control, etc). The least troublesome car should be one with the fewest such features. Both engines are very durable and are of almost identical design except for the cylinder count. They therefore both suffer from similar problems (eg. head gaskets). If you plan on covering great distances, the M103 is considered to offer slightly longer life. As mentioned previously, the M103 is a tight fit in the W201. In the W124 it is not difficult to work on (although is a bit tight at the front and around the water pump). The M102 is not difficult to work on.
Overall, my two are quite different. Obviously the differences would not be as great if comparing a standard (rather than Sportline) 190E with a 300E sedan, especially if the 190E was a 2.6 and had an auto tranny. It really comes down to what you want. I don't know about other parts of the world, but here in Oz, W124 prices are coming down towards that of W201s representing good buying considering the W124 offers more car than the W201.
107.023: 350SLC, 3-speed auto, icon gold, parchment MBtex, (sold 2012 after 29 years ownership).
107.026: 500SLC, 4-speed auto, thistle green, green velour.
124.090: 300TE, 4-speed auto, arctic white, cream-beige MBtex.
201.028: 190E 2.3 Sportline, 5-speed manual, arctic white, blue leather.
201.028: 190E 2.3, 4-speed auto, blue-black, grey MBtex.
201.034: 190E 2.3-16, 5-speed manual, blue-black, black leather.