German Sports Sedan Shootout

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Here at Barn Finds, we normally stick to pre ’76 cars, but every once in a while we like to feature something a little more suited to daily use. Sports sedans are our favorites being both usable and fun to drive. When most people think of performance sports sedans, they think of the BMW M3. Well, believe it or not Mercedes actually beat them to the game with their 190E 2.3-16V.

The 190E may have been built in response to the Government’s request for economy, but the 2.3-16V engine was developed to race. It was built by Cosworth and with 185 bhp on tap it was fast enough to run in the DTM. As the model name suggests, the four cylinder engine displaced 2.3 liters and featured 16 large valves.

The heart may have been all race, but in traditional Mercedes fashion, the suspension was setup for comfort. Bumps are absorbed and there is some body roll in the corners. It makes for a nice ride though and keeps the car more liveable on less than perfect roads. The rest of the car is built to the high standard Mercedes used to be known for. Leather and wood grain abound with few hints of what lurks under the hood.

BMW may have built the M3 to compete with Mercedes in the homologation game, but boy did they do a good job. They started with their old four cylinder block originally built for the 2002. They bored it out to 2.3 liters and stuck the head from the M1 on top. With the added flow, 192 bhp was standard with even more accessible with a few changes. BMW threw a some new panels on the outside to show everyone they meant business.

Stiff suspension was set under the E30 chassis to keep things under control in the corners. It is one the best driver’s cars BMW has ever produced. Handling is superb but concessions were made in the luxury department. The ride can be rough for those with a sensitive backside and the interior is not as plush as the Mercedes. We know which one we would pick, but we all have our own priorities.

Surprisingly, we found two examples of each car for sale right now on eBay. Both end in about a day, so you will have to move quick if you decide you want either.The 1987 Mercedes 2.3-16V can be found in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania for $14k. The 1989 BMW M3 is up in Halifax, Canada with bidding at $19k and a BIN price of $23,990. Even if you don’t desire to put your money where you mouth is, we would love to hear your opinion about which you would most like to see parked in your garage.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. dude

    The 190E beat the M3 pretty much every time they met despite the Mercedes having 4 doors and less power because the chassIs was better and they had better aero.

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  2. Jeff

    My first car out of the Navy at 21 was a first year 77′ 320i (2.0Litre) before they downgraded it to 1.8L, it was a blast to drive and very trust-worthy even as I got side-swiped by a semi in Dallas on business, car and I made it back to Wisconsin in one piece, car saved my life with its awesome handling.

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  3. paul

    In a lot of ways I like these better then the high gadget, high weight, new models of the same car.

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  4. Jeff

    When I was looking at the 190 series (early 90’s) I was interested in the 2.6 engine myself.

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  5. Lance

    I’ve owned both….and I liked both cars. But the E-30 M3 is a slightly more enjoyable drivers car. Its quicker, the handling is fantastic and the appreciation makes it the winner.
    The 190 E 16V is a great car, but the example we got here in the US was a little heavy, and just not the match for the M3.
    Advantage to MB for its 4 door sports sedan…but its just not as sporty as the M3

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  6. Eric

    Now both the Mercedes, and the BMW are great cars, but I know a car model that can top both! Most people never think twice about a SAAB, think they just made boring passenger hatchbacks, convertibles and sedans, but they have also made some of the fastest, as well as very rare models that could give both the Mercedes and BMW a run for their $$.
    The SAAB 9000 Aero is just one of those vehicles. The SAAB 9000 Aero was made from 1993 1/2 until 1997. The Aero is as fast or faster than many a BMW or Mercedes, is far more economical to own, extremely rare and far less money to obtain! The Aero has a 0-60 time of 6.4 and a top speed of 149mph, was faster from 50-75 than both the Ferrari Testarosa, the Porsche 911 Carrera 4. I know I have 2 a 1994-one of 65 made in White, and a 1995- one of 625 manuals in Black.

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    • paul

      Yes I know the cars well, they shared the platform with the Alfa Romeo 164 also a very fast sedan, but miserable to work on, you never want to change a starter in one. I found the Saab to have very poor interior pieces that deteriorated, but the 900 & I owned one of those, while not as fast, was better made on the interior.

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  7. DolphinMember

    The differences between these cars are pretty well captured by the M-B comfort vs. M3 street/track fighter distinction. The Benz 2.3 16V never achieved much on the track, while the M3 won many races and championships and, with apoligies to the limited-production M1, was really the start of the M car legend, which is probably the most successful performance car line in history, both on the track and for the company’s bottom line.

    The main drawback to the E30 M3, apart from the high valuations that make affording one as a used car difficult (but which is a measure of its success and desirability), is the large 4-cylinder engine, which is far more M1 than 2002. Any large 4-cylinder will generate a lot of vibration, especially if it lacks balance shafts as these M3 engines do. Fortunately the E30 M3 led to later versions of the M3 line with straight 6 and V8 engines, which solved the vibration issue and added big gobs of power too.

    Vibration or not, the choice between the Benz and BMW is a no-brainer for me: the M3 of course.

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    • paul

      depends on what your using it for, if your tracking it on the weekends, we know the answer to that, but if your using it as an everyday driver & sometimes you have a few people & stuff to go in the trunk, the 4 door can be a good option.

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    • DolphinMember

      Agreed that the 4-door is a better choice for everyday use, as opposed to the smaller, more highly strung 2-door E30 M3. I have owned an E30 325is and liked it, but the 2 tiny seats in back are best used as a parcel shelf and are not very useable for adult humans—altho I once carried an adult human back there, but sideways across the space.

      I agree on the 4-door idea, but won’t give up BMW M-car handling and power, so my choice is an E36 M3 4-door. You get 4 real doors and nice leather seats, plus better handling than the 2-door because the mid-chasss pillar increases chassis stiffness, plus better performance than the E30 M3 at 1/2 to 1/3rd the price.

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  8. Barn Finds

    Well guys, in a moment of insanity I bid on another 190e 2.3 16V. Surprisingly, my low offer won so I have a new toy headed my way. It is starting to get cold outside so I needed a hardtop anyway. Sure, it is high mileage automatic, but how many of us can say we picked up a Cosworth powered machine for $3,900? We will see what sort of mess I got myself into in a week or two. Perhaps I will write the experience up so you can all learn from my mistake. We will also be able to see if these claimed M3 fighters are any good. Stay tuned…

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    • paul

      Good for you, good luck, hell you can’t buy much today for that $’s.

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    • Lancer

      A far cry from the original sticker price, but it should be a fine driving machine. I had ordered the 4th one of these when I heard about MBZ finally getting back into racing with a production type car. I was lucky when I backed out of the car sale, somebody really wanted my rights to the car, and gave me back the $10,000 I had put down. A week later MBZ announced that these would be a full production car instead of a limited edition, and the value of the car dropped to almost half. Wouldn’t have been a good investment keeper as I had planed for the machine. Beautiful car then and still is in my mind!

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  9. phil

    I owned a black 190 2.3 16V for 5 years and put 45,000 miles on it. The engine was one of the smoothest high reving engines I’ve ever owned. The tires available for the car at the time weren’t very great, so wet and anything like snow forget about. I hated the pearl black paint, it never looked good. The seats were great especially the bucket seats in the rear. I replaced it in 1995 with a used NSX that I still own and have 106,000 miles on it.

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  10. Kobus de wet

    hi guys and dolls,
    I have a liking for the BMW 3 series and the 5 series , so much so, I had one 5 series and four 3 series cars. I would take the small Coupe any day
    over any other car available. Sheer driving pleasure it was. my wife loved it for easy parking, slick handling and easy driving.
    Kobus de Wet

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