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25 years of the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II

Antony Ingram
16 Mar 2015

A quarter-century of one of Mercedes' most famous models - and a video of Senna's Cosworth racer

The word ‘evolution’ is predictably close to evo’s heart, and the badge has graced several iconic performance vehicles over the year – Mitsubishis, Lancias, BMWs and more.

It has also graced Mercedes, and this month marks 25 years of one of its most famous uses – that of the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II.

Not the catchiest of names it has to be said, but its application more than justifies the moniker.

The story starts with the regular Mercedes-Benz 190e, given the internal W201 designation. At the time, it was simply an entry-level model for the brand, albeit one constructed to the same exacting standards of other contemporary Mercedes.

That meant a series of hardy but hardly exciting power units, from a 90-horse carburetted 1.8 to a smooth 2.6-litre inline-six, and a plodding but unburstable diesel.

In 1984 things began to change, with the introduction of the 185hp 190E 2.3-16 – colloquially referred to with the name of the company that honed its four-cylinder powerplant – Cosworth. The aim was to compete with BMW’s M3 in the Deutche Tourenwagen Masters, though in production form the car is best known for the driver who won a publicity race at the new Nurburgring grand prix circuit – a young Ayrton Senna.

The young Brazilian – at the time, a relatively unknown rookie driver in Formula 1 – surprised all by taking his 190 Cosworth to the win against names like Lauda, Prost and Hunt.

2.3 litres expanded to 2.5 in 1989 with the first Evolution-badged car, a production run of 502 vehicles enabling homologation for its DTM entry. The Evolution II followed in 1990, touting a bellicose body kit with wide arches, chunky 17-inch, six-spoke alloy wheels and a rear wing to both reduce drag and increase downforce.

Total output rose from 202bhp in the roadgoing Evolution (333bhp in the racer) to 232bhp, while the 190 Cosworth’s self-levelling suspension could be adjusted from inside the car with a switch.

None of this came cheap. The Evolution II’s contemporary $80,000 equates to around $143,000 in 2015 – about £96,500, or close to 50 per cent more than a new C63 AMG in Mercedes’ current range.

Owners will have the last laugh, however – values are quickly climbing and have already surpassed the cost of the brand-new AMG – and thanks to DTM victories in the early 1990s, the Evolution II’s modern equivalent will never quite have the motorsport kudos of its quarter-century old forebear.

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