Just like the real thing, the motoring menopause can either be a traumatic upheaval (Ford Granada becomes gloopy Scorpio) or it can, in the case of the new Mercedes E-class, be a positively enriching life experience that makes the golden years something to look forward to. Although you'd never know to look at it, the E-class has gone through more changes than an HRT addict. In total there are around 1,800 differences between the car you used to be able to buy, and this, its mid-life-crisis replacement. Although externally the new E-class boasts a revised and seamlessly integrated bumper, a front end that's been lowered by 20mm, some swanky wing-mirror-mounted indicators, plus a pair of redesigned tail clusters, the truth is it doesn't look much different from the out-going car. A little more purposeful at the front perhaps, but that's about it. On the inside it's a similar story. Of the 1,800 changes, the untrained eye would find it difficult to spot any of them, save for the slightly redesigned dash (complete with new digital information panel), the steering-wheel-mounted controls for the stereo a d trip computer, and a collection of extra airbags that will spring from the windows in event of accident. Standard equipment levels have been improved - even the most budget-conscious model includes electric adjustment for seats and a really decent stereo. Top-of-the-range versions can be specified with S-class-style built-in seat fans for 'active ventilation' and even voice controls for the stereo. It is underneath that the biggest changes can be found, however, with the introduction of a six-speed manual gearbox and five-speed auto transmission. The former at last provides Mercedes' big saloon with a manual change that is direct and notch free as anything you'll find in the competition, while the five-speeder maintains Mercedes tradition of providing seamlessly changing automatics. There are acouple of 'buts', however. Firstly, t
hose who opt for the manual will still have to struggle with a foot activated parking brake that makes uphill starts a struggle. And secondly, those who opt for the auto 'box have to move the leaver from left to right (instead of front to back) in order to change gear manually. The E-class retains the same choice of, four-, six- and eight-cylinder petrol engines under the bonnet, however there is now a choice of new common-rail diesels too. Power for the 220 CDi is up to 143bhp from 125bhp, while the power for the all new 320 CDi is a more than healthy 197bhp. Both engines come close to providing diesel heaven. Torque is huge, throttle response is good and, apart from the usual dieselly chatter when the engine is cold, the engines are refined and almost in audible once on the move. The revised E-class will no doubt maintain its place at the top of every executive's wish list, especially when they realise prices (except for the new 320 CDi) will not increase despite all that extra equipment. Never has the motoring menopause been such a trauma-free and pleasurable experience.