The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has always been the poorer cousin to the superb S-Class - still fitting into the large car segment, but without the glitz and glamour that the S so effortlessly conveys.
But this is set to change as Mercedes ups its E-Class ante with one of the most comprehensive facelifts in the company's lengthy history, tipping equipment that's undoubtedly at the sharp end of automotive technology into the range and making the E-Class a star in the $100,000-plus world of big cars.
The new E-Class saloon launches to Australian and New Zealand press next week, but Driven took the opportunity to jump into an E 250 CDI to see just how well these advances fitted into a large car for a market that isn't exactly embracing big cars, at least not to the degree it has in the past.
The E is moving well into 'baby S' territory, even with two four-cylinder engines at the lower end of the range, and its exterior tweaks have made for a beautiful looking result.
It has looked slightly pedestrian in the past, almost as if Mercedes hasn't wanted to impact on the smaller C's styling or take anything away from its flagship S.
A reworked front and sculpted lines on the sides help tie it together in what is a brilliant-looking saloon. It's now got a sportier image with those big unblinking full LED eyes helping to spill the lines from the shapely and shiny grille down the length of the car which, when sat on the twin-spoke 19-inch alloys, has more of a sense of purpose than the previous model.
The 250 CDI is clever, no doubt about that, with everything from headlights that see cars ahead and reduce the intensity of your high beam for their benefit while keeping the peripheries well-lit to a highly advanced diesel powerplant that performs like it's got a taste for fuel, while barely touching the tank.
Its 2143cc four-pot two stage turbo diesel engine is a willing beast to say the least - it makes only 150kW, but an oil burner's mumbo is in the torque, and 500Nm certainly gets the car moving. Power is delivered via Mercedes' well-regarded 7G-TRONIC transmission, and while set to Eco mode it doesn't exactly get up and boogie, flicking it to sport gets things moving along nicely. It won't scare the pants off you - the E 63 AMG S does that, but is around $100,000 more expensive.
The factory claim of just 4.9L/100km out of the 250 CDI seems close to reality - during Driven's time at the wheel, with the usual combo of Auckland traffic boredom and open road fun, the car was sitting pretty at around 5.5L/100km - and it comes with a carbon footprint more likely made with a ballet slipper than a workboot, with just 129g/km of CO2 dispensed.
Its petrol-powered badge mate, the E 250, makes 155kW and 350Nm with a 6.4L/100km thirst and 148g footprint. Deciding between the two - both retailing at $114,000 - is a tough call, and even with the diesel road user charges, I'd pick the CDI.
It uses the same shifter on a stalk that has become increasingly common throughout the range. The main stalk on the right hand side of the steering wheel is the selector for drive, park, reverse and neutral, and, while it is extremely handy there, there is a tendency to use it to indicate a turn, popping the transmission into neutral and leaving the driver looking a bit stupid.
One more general (albeit small) gripe is the switch for eco/sport and manual shifting being sited on the centre console - it would be more natural to either integrate it into the shift stalk, or at least put the button closer to the stick.
The model tested was fitted with the AMG sports package, which includes one-touch adjustment of suspension behaviour, giving a more robust drive for those who favour harder settings and the handling improvements that come with it. For comfort seekers, the car is beautifully settled on motorway and other well-sealed surfaces, but if you're venturing out into the no man's land that is New Zealand's rural road network, the harder setting definitely pays dividends.
But the tech is where the cool stuff is, and in true German style there's more than enough to sate even the most geeky - standard kit includes a COMAND multimedia system that links effortlessly with Bluetooth-toting smartphones and includes high-def navigation, audio streaming, a 10GB music register on a built-in drive and an SD slot, voice activation and web browsing.
Almost everything bar the stylish dash-mounted analogue clock is electronically controlled, down to electric seats and electric steering wheel adjustment.
The safety suite includes blind spot warnings, lane keep assist and pre-crash safety measures to minimise injury for the car's occupants (including 11 airbags) and for pedestrians.
With the breadth of this upgrade, it's hard to call the new E-Class simply a facelift. It's taken a model that's always worked well for Mercedes-Benz and increased its desirability markedly.
Sure it's a big, big cheque away from the upcoming S-Class revamp, which you'll see more of in Driven in the coming months, but it has shoulder-barged its way further up the food chain with an intelligent update that improves it as a car, while really underlining Mercedes' assertion that the big car is still very relevant in the luxury segment.