Actually, the recirculated air was probably an effort to make sure no mold built up inside the AC system. My 88 Acura Legend had foul odors, and they kept insisting I was using the recirculation button as a default, and handed me a factory bulletin that said recirculate should not be used for more than 10 minutes as it allowed mold to grow, and that I should always shut off the AC and use only fresh outside air thru the system each time I was within 5 minutes from my destination!!! Their point was to never use the recirculate button except to cool down the hot car during the first 5 minutes of driving, then use AC/outside, and for the last 5 minutes, use non-AC outside. I kept explaining that was what I did, except for the last 5 minute procedure, but they wouldn't do anything about it!
There is also an unanticipated benefit to a default outside air position. About 10 years ago Atmospheric Chemists did an experiment on what setting was best in traffic jams: recirculated or outside air settings. On every car they tested, recirculated air tended to 'capture and concentrate' outside air pollution (seepage around windows and door frames, poorly closing vent doors, etc.) and always recirculation allowed worse levels inside the car than either 'fresh air' setttings, or than the outside air at window level!
My 98 C230 defaults to outside, and I believe is time limited to the duration on recirc, just like my 87. Hope this helps.