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Benz rings in the changes

That's when you find the changes run way deeper than bumpers and lamps, drilling deep into the body and including engines, transmissions and suspension ...

Luxury buyers looking at the latest mid-sized E-Class Mercedes should like what they see, but still deserve some answers.

Let's not forget how owners of the previous E-Class cars — without the substantial upgrading, which was done in September — will feel about their cars, particularly when it comes to trade-in time.

The update is so substantial, and was so essential, that some carmakers would probably have moved to identify the model shift. To be fair to Benz, the update this year came at a time when the company was ready with new running gear to give the mid-sizer a performance boost on several fronts.

It also brought out the E280 and the sledgehammer E63 AMG.

The latest E-Class picks up everything from cosmetic changes at both ends and in the cabin to revised steering, improved suspension, power boosts in several engines, and more safety, including the Pre-Safe system — which detects a coming impact and primes the car's safety systems — and Neck-Pro head restraints.

Tiny changes include repositioning the GPS antenna and redesigned mirrors. There is much more than can be listed here or that Benz could provide in the press pack, but Mercedes says engine output in the basic E200 is up by 15kW and 10Nm while the E500 is better by 60kW and 70Nm.

And the flagship E63 AMG? It has 378kW, up by 28kW over the previous E55, although the torque has dropped slightly but still remains strong at 630Nm.

The Mercedes-Benz model update also includes the arrival of the latest E280 CDi.

Prices have risen a little. The E200K is now priced from $84,500, a $2000 rise. The E350 starts at $126,500 (also up by $2000) and runs to the E63 AMG at $227,600.

Putting a wagon tail on an E-Class car is still a $6000 job.

The first impression of the updated E-Class was good. Very good. It felt more substantial, the quality seemed better and it was more inviting in the cabin.

The test car was an E280 wagon that came with a sports package, which made it the sort of car we would like to drive — for a long time.

The combination of the mid-sized body with the sweet V6 motor made the car enjoyable to drive, all the way from puddling speeds to a cornering thrash. It even did well at the pump — average consumption 8.9 litres for 100km. The V6 E-Class is a sweet and well-balanced package. The engine gives more than enough thrust, even with a load.

We have liked the 280 in other Benzes, including the SLK drop-top, and it is best suited to the E wagon, giving more flexibility than a four and avoiding both the price and petrol hikes of a V8.

The latest E actually felt more like the lovely CLS to drive, with better feel through the steering, more response from the suspension and more of the luxury stuff to match a price which comes in at a fair bit more than $100,000.

Benz won't like us saying it, but the cabin quality is now more like the latest Audis.

Those cars were developed very specifically to make a good showroom impression. Lots of people buy on their emotional response to the cabin. Now Mercedes has the right idea with its trim and dashboard combinations.

The gearshift paddle change is good, too, and triggers a seven-speed automatic that is probably the best in the business right now.

The latest E rides extremely well, even on the sports springs and low-profile tyres, and the braking is great. There is more than enough safety equipment: development included 330 crash tests.

The wagon is very flexible and that's great for the families who should be looking at a car instead of a four-wheel drive, but all the basics are the same in the wagon.

We enjoyed the previous E-Class but could see and feel its shortcomings, a lot like the previous generation S-Class.

These are good cars, but not as good as they could or should have been. Line the latest E up against its rivals and it is back to best in the class, which is all anyone needs to know.

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