When Toyota brings out its Lexus and Nissan its Infiniti this fall, the Mercedes-Benz 190 will be one of the cars to watch. There has been much talk about the luxury Lexus and Infiniti sedans stealing sales from Cadillac and Lincoln-Mercury. But a
new rival in the $30,000-plus bracket should have a major impact on the European competition. Toyota and Nissan officials have said they expect to take more sales away from the likes of Mercedes, BMW and Volvo than either of the chief U.S.
rivals. After test driving the 1989 Mercedes 190E 2.6, we`d have to agree. The 190E starts at $31,590 with 5-speed manual-anyone who spends $32,000 on a car with stick should invest another $32,000 on a shrink-and at $32,500 with
automatic. Lexus and Infiniti will be in roughly the same price range, but sport longer wheelbases and lengths and larger engines. As new kids on the block, the luxury duo also will command all the attention later this year. The Mercedes
190 has been offered in the U.S. since 1984. The six- cylinder E 2.6 was added in 1987. It`s a baby Benz, a smaller, lower-priced version of the big Mercedes sedans in the $50,000 to $70,000 price range. The 190 was meant to be an ``affordable`` Mercedes
for those with the taste if not the coins for the so-called ultimate luxury machine. At $32,000, consumers this fall are going to have to stop and think before reaching for pocket or purse. Sure Mercedes has the status, but a $30,000 Toyota or
Nissan isn`t a ham sandwich, either. No one will confuse a Lexus or Infiniti as the last resort for the impoverished. And keep in mind that the 190 is at $32,000 today. By this fall you can expect that sticker to rise. The 190 is a very
nice car. It has the ``Mercedes look,`` meaning onlookers know at a glance this machine cost more than most people are paid in one year. The list of standard equipment is impressive. There`s antilock brakes; driver`s side air bag; power steering,
brakes, door locks and windows; electric rear window defroster; heated windshield washer nozzles and outside mirrors; AM-FM stereo with cassette; air conditioning; illuminated visor vanity mirrors; and even a first-aid kit. No expense was spared, which is
obvious when you look at the sticker. It`s one thing to pay $60,000 for a two-seat Mercedes 560SL, a car that`s a symbol of status that has its pretenders (Cadillac Allante), but not its equal. A 560SL stops people in their tracks to admire
it. A 190 has no such faithful following. Image car to be sure, but status symbol, no. The four-door sedan is roomy and comfortable, though rear seat occupants probably could use about two inches more leg room. The trunk is massive and
will handle groceries, luggage and golf clubs, perhaps at the same time. There`s also nice touches like plastic rocker panels to prevent rust. But there are a few drawbacks, too. The ma
in one is weight, which is about 3,000 pounds. Considering the dimensions-104.9-inch wheelbase, 175.1- inch length-the poundage shouldn`t be as noticeable as it is. But you feel every ounce in the wheel anytime you turn, take a corner or try to park.
There are luxury car owners who prefer the heavy feel. These are the big is better group. But heavy doesn`t make for happy when you feel as if you`re maneuvering an 18-wheeler every time you turn the key. Typically in a Mercedes you feel in total
control, yet in the 190 the heaviness is so pronounced you feel as if you`re along for the ride. Another gripe is the windshield wiper, a single unit that resembles a robot arm and is distracting, if not outright ugly, when it slaps the water off
the glass. Hey, for $32,000 how about two wipers? The 190E 2.6 is powered by a 2.6-liter, fuel-injected, 6-cylinder engine that develops 158 horsepower, obtains 20 miles per gallon city/23 m.p.g. highway and burns
premium unleaded fuel. Either a larger 6 or a 300-pound weight reduction or both would have improved performance greatly. The 190E 2.6 is a small luxury sedan best appreciated on straight, long- distance trips and not winding roadways. Mercedes
claims a 0-to-60 mile-an- hour time of 9.5 seconds and top speed of 129 m.p.h. To compete with Lexus and Infiniti, it would appear the 190 needs to go on a diet and add a more powerful engine. Those two factors combined would aid performance and
contribute to improved ride and handling. Of course, it would be appreciated if Mercedes would lower the price, too, but that falls under the ``When donkey`s fly`` category.