Sometimes I am really put on the spot. Ordinary, decent people ask me a simple, direct question. What's the best car you've driven this year?
I can see their eyes glaze over (that happens with many of my conversations) when I start picking some of the best.
They don't want to hear about "ordinary" cars. By "ordinary" nowadays they mean BMW 5-series, Mercedes M-Class and the likes. I'm not joking. We may all be poorer, but we still cling with resilience to some grand illusions.
There I am trying to be sensible and practical, talking about 1.4-litre diesels that will go twice round the world on one tank. Or the BMW 520d Touring which will, I tell them, give them a decade of family motoring. What a great car.
They nod politely. But so often I can hear them thinking to themselves: "Sure, this poor gasun hasn't a clue what a real car is at all."
I know what they want. They need their fantasies fed on exotica. On searing surges around racetracks. But you see, I don't drive too many Porsches, Maseratis, Ferraris or their ilk. Indeed, I rarely do.
And where would I be going with them at a time like this?
Anyway, I was really put on the spot the other day. I was driving the newly revised Audi Q5 which, as you probably know, is a mid-side sports activity vehicle. It's a younger and thankfully smaller brother of the monster Q7 which powered its way through the latter-day excesses of the good years.
I like the Q5. Always have. But they've gone and done serious work with the engines. The diesel I had is, they say, far more economical. That means I can sort of come out from under the blanket and say that while it is by no means the best car I've driven, it is easily the most improved in a long while.
I said so. And that shook my interrogator who settled in for a goodish spin and professed himself profoundly impressed by it too.
Before you think I'm getting carried away here, I have a whinge. The Q5 had stop/start technology (the engine mostly shuts off when you are stationary -- and that saves fuel). Now, whether I am getting lighter and quicker with the feet or the technology suffers a little from slow reaction, I don't know, but several times I found myself expecting to be on the move before the engine kicked back in.
Still, it is a really decent piece of work. Solid, lots of low-rev pull from the engine, good room, more economical and it looks the part.
And for a change I am going to put myself on the spot. Just how good is it? Well, I think it beats rivals such as the BMW X3. I think it beats everything in its class. I'm always reluctant to make such comments because, by its nature, this is a highly subjective viewpoint.
But I have to admit, even allowing I always liked it, that this renewed acquaintance took me unawares and I enjoyed every moment in it (with the exception of the times the engine didn't kick back in quickly enough).
Audi are on something of a high at the moment, but I imagine SUVs of this nature are not in fierce demand. Nonetheless, this is an example of an exceptional piece of engineering and I can see why families like it so much.