Paying for the premium
Timing is everything and last week as I was set to foreswear my curmudgeonly ways and write positively about the Audi A4 without mentioning the massive VW emissions scandal, I received news that changed everything.
Apparently Volkswagen's flagship Audi division has reined in its spending plans for 2016 in the wake of the scandal over the rigging of emissions tests.
The German car giant also said last Monday that it would be delaying the construction of a new wind tunnel.
Yet Audi, which made a higher operating profit than the overall VW group in the first nine months of 2015, said it would be investing more than €3bn (£2.2bn) in plants and equipment next year, against an original plan to spend €3.3bn.
Here the company didn't keep pace with the overall rise in car sales but still had an impressive share of more than four per cent of the overall market and was the top premium marque. Sales went up 1,000 to around 5,300 against 2014.
Audi isn't my favourite marque but you cannot but be impressed by the finesse of the product. There is a refined style about its saloons and hatchbacks which is actually at odds with its overbearing cars like the giant Q7 SUV for which the company once apologised by saying just how many forests it had planted to make up for its world-destroying properties.It is saloons and estates which I think Audi does best.
The A3 saloon was a triumph and must have put a lot of pressure on the A4 brand-managers as it gave almost everything the larger saloon did but in a tighter, more confident and less expensive way.
Now the A4 itself has come back hard, not changing the design much but really upping its game in terms of refinement. It feels and looks rock-solid and has a great confidence about it. Yet this comes at a price. While the basic A4 starts at €35,800, the 2.0TDi 150 S Line I was testing begins some €8.5k dearer, yet Audi didn't stop there in putting the corporate hand in your wallet. A whole lot of 19 options including over-large alloys, LED headlights, Lane Assist and metallic paint took the price (including €800 delivery) to €55,546, almost €20k above the basic.
It is far sharper drive than before which reflects the attention to detail inside, although the big alloys are a mistake in terms of comfort and road noise. Other than that, it is very quiet and assured, it seems Audi has spent a lot on sound-proofing. It is a decent enough family car although storage spaces aren't as good as some of its rivals. The very precise and nicely-mounted gear-shift means you can get a lot of action quickly. I thought the A4 has become a great car although if the brand isn't the main thing, its cousins like the Skoda Superb and VW Passat do give far more for a lot less.
The Skoda is absolutely massive although the VW seems that bit classier.
However, if I was an executive being given a car it would be hard to turn down the Audi A4, just watch out for the cost of those extras.
At the other end of the pot, it was so refreshing to drive the Kia cee'd new petrol model as the brand seemed to be going too fast down the diesel route. It was a very precise drive with just the right amount of power and you felt it would do for most consumers who don't need - and have been wrongly advised to buy - diesels in smaller cars that are unlikely to make the mileage that makes diesel option worthwhile.