FEB 16th 2016

Dan Trent: Mercedes Benz 230E (W123) – Mercedes At Its Best

Dan Trent

Exposure to a Performance Car review of the Lamborghini Countach 5000QV at an impressionable age set Dan Trent on course for a life-long obsession with cars. As editor of PistonHeads.com he’s got direct access to a classifieds repository of over 100,000 such vehicles to browse day in, day out. Temptation is never far away. He’s still some way off that Countach though. Dan Trent on Twitter


It’s a terrible habit but if I’m seeking insight into someone’s personality the first thing I do is have a sneaky browse of their music collection. Or at least I did, back in the days when it was displayed on shelves in their living room. Bit trickier now, given it’s probably not socially acceptable to request iTunes logins or phone passcodes to browse people’s playlists.

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Cars are still a reliable way to judge character though. ‘You’re into cars? I used to have a Porsche you know…’ is an opening conversational gambit I’ve encountered on a number of occasions. This could – and has – gone one of two ways. Either the person you’re talking to then boasts about the Tiptronic 996 Cabriolet they once owned and you’re forced to feign admiration while a little part of you dies inside. Or it turns out they had a 964 RS or 2.7 RS back in the day and you want to be best mates forever more.

A W123 Mercedes is not an RS 911. But anyone who appreciates such a car instantly goes up in my estimation. Like the fellow journo I was chatting to recently. I know he’s got part share in a Ferrari F355. But he recently let slip his true love is a white W123 saloon. Guess which makes him cooler in my eyes?

I realise they’re an acquired taste though. They’re not especially stylish, the boxy, chrome-garnished shape rather frumpy even when new. Comfortable, stolid and refined they’re pleasant if decidedly unsporty to drive too, contemporary BMWs running rings around them dynamically.

Mercedes-Benz 230E W123

They’re much more interesting than the looks would suggest though. It might not have looked it but when it launched in W123 was – underneath – an incredibly modern car boasting a host of pioneering technology, especially from a safety point of view. They’re built like nothing else too and, to me, the perfect embodiment of core Mercedes-Benz values.

This 230E saloon is spot on. OK, if I’m being really fussy I’d love the super rare five-speed manual like the one I once drove, and loved. But it’ll do. Not a coupe? Not really a fan. Estates are nice but a little chintzy and overpriced. Folk seem to covet the straight-six 280s too but to me they’re thrashy, thirsty and not really in keeping with the W123’s character. Nor are they especially fast.

The 230E’s 136PS/134bhp M102 fuel-injected four is, however, a really sweet unit, ultra smooth for a four-cylinder and well up to the job. With a 16-valve head designed by Cosworth it went on to lead a much more glamorous life in the 190 2.3-16, underpinning DTM success and spawning the mad Evo homologation road cars.

Given saloons were available for a few hundred quid not that long ago seven grand looks like strong money for a four-cylinder W123. I don’t care. It’s even in the determinedly unglamorous taxi beige with a rather lovely green cloth interior. Perfect. This is anti-fashion classic motoring at its best, the added bonus being anyone who appreciates it is clearly someone worth talking to.

Images courtesy of Pistonheads

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