Against the downbeat backdrop of recession-hit Detroit, it's good to see that at least one manufacturer still has enough confidence to invest in some old-fashioned showmanship.

The maker in question was Mercedes, which used Saturday evening to give a preview of the new E-class saloon complete with dancing girls, overwrought choreography and enough vol-au-vents to fill the Cobo arena and then form a bridge across the river to Canada.

Strangely, the E-class itself won't be going on display at the show proper, but journos were given a couple of hours to have a good poke around it.

And I emerged from the experience impressed. From some angles the new E looks a bit Lexus-like, but up close it radiates the sort of solidity that made my much-missed 1993 E-Class feel so special.

In the excitement of meeting the E, Merc's other Detroit debuts were almost forgotten, including the limited edition SLR Sterling Moss roadster. It's an amazing-looking thing, and for my money definitely the most handsome of the various SLR variants, losing the nose-heavy proportions of its coupe and roadster siblings.

But here's the strange thing: at no point during the presentation that introduced us to the Sterling Moss was the word 'McLaren' even mentioned - despite the fact the car was designed and built by Merc's F1 partners in Woking, and which wears a badge to that effect on its front wing.

It seems an odd way of commemorating the end of a five-year partnership in the production of the SLR, and proves that the battle lines have already been drawn for the future conflict between Mercedes and McLarens' next generation of rival supercars. It looks set to be a real grudge match.

Watch Mike Duff's video report on the new Mercedes E-class