The ‘230’ nameplate has been used a number of times by Mercedes-Benz, with the first instance dating back to the 230SL in 1963. However, this name has never been as popular as it was during the period of 1976 to 1985. This was the time when the most successful Mercedes was manufactured, selling close to 7 million units before production ended. This is, of course, the W123 line of executive cars. The names of the car followed standard Mercedes-Benz nomenclature, with C standing for coupes, T for estate models, and E for fuel-injected models. The Mercedes 230-Series refers to the 230, 230E, 230C, 230CE, 230T, and 230TE models that were part of the W123 line of cars and used different variants of a 2.3L engine.
The history of the W123 line starts with the introduction of the sedan models in January 1976. These models were larger than the W115 line that preceded them, and they looked more modern as well despite maintaining some design cues from their predecessor. Most of the engines were also carried over, including the 3L engines. The coupe version, which was a 230C, was introduced in the spring of the same year with a shorter wheelbase. This was the first car in the Mercedes 230-Series and was later replaced with a fuel-injected engine and renamed the 230CE.
The W123 quickly grew in popularity, but its production did not meet demand, and waiting times sometimes exceeded even 12 months. Over time, a black market in the country developed for W123s ready for immediate delivery with a premium price attached. In 1977, the long-wheelbase models appeared and were available as sedans with work bodies. The Mercedes 230-Series, however, did not have these models. It did introduce its estate version when the W123T debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1977 though. The 230T model was available from 1978 onwards and would soon be named the 230TE.
Production of the Mercedes 230-Series and all other W123 models ended in January 1986, with 63 estate models being produced. In the 230-Series, the 230E was the most popular with over 440,000 units built. The W123 is popular to this day for its reliability, but it is most popular for having introduced innovations like ABS, which was available from 1980 on, driver airbags that were available from 1982 on, and retractable steering columns available starting the same year.
Depending on the model and year, Mercedes 230-Series was available with different versions of a 2.3L, inline 4-cylinder engine under the bonnet. From 1976 to 1981, the sedan, estate, and coupe models (230, 230T, and 230C, respectively) came with the M115 engine that delivered 80kW of power at 4,500rpm and 185Nm of torque at 3,000rpm. Post 1981, all three models got the M102 engine, a fuel-injected version that delivered 100kW of power at 5,100rpm and 201Nm of torque at 3,500rpm. These models were named 230E, 230TE, and 230CE.
Both engines were solidly built, as was the rest of the body. The sedan itself weighed 1,360kg, so the Mercedes 230-Series is not a line of light cars. Nevertheless, both the M115 and the M102 engines deliver decent enough power. The 230E model goes from standstill to around 100km/h in less than 13 seconds, which is not as good as a modern 2.0L engine-driven car, but good enough.
What the Mercedes 230-Series lacks in performance and pure numbers, it makes up for with its natural ride. Most drivers would feel right at home inside the cabin of any 230-Series model. Only the steering needs some getting used to, because the wheel itself is larger than that of most modern cars.
Steering response is quite good because the wheels can actually be felt through the steering wheel when they are being turned. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the Mercedes 230-Series is over two decades old, and the fact that it drives so well at this age shows how well it was engineered. On the flip side, the age robs the car of decent fuel economy, with an expected mileage of 10L/100km.
Like most other Mercedes-Benz cars, the 230-Series is generally quite well equipped. However, car cabin equipment has come a long way since the 1980s, and the level of equipment in a 230-Series is not up to that of any modern car. The standard equipment in a Mercedes 230-Series includes air-conditioning, fog lamps, power mirrors, radio/cassette sound system, and central locking.
Optional kit included cruise controls and power windows. Airbags were not available until later models, and even then they were an option rather than standard. However, most Mercedes 230-Series models come with crumple zones for better passenger safety. The bodies of these cars are designed to take on a lot of damage in a crash.
The main competition of the Mercedes 230-Series included the BMW 5-Series, which lacked the same wide range as the former but had a better straight-6 engine. Another strong competitor was the Volvo 240, which matches the Mercedes in terms of safety but lacks in the power and performance areas. Finally, there is the Jaguar XJ6, which is still a popular classic sedan, but the company’s models in the past few decades are known to have some build quality issues.