THE witch-hunt against diesel is still going full pelt, with thousands switching to petrol.

It is even happening in France where diesel has accounted for nearly 90 per cent of car sales for decades.

A lot of the scare talk is being fuelled (excuse the pun) by the motoring press, although that doesn’t include me. I have a diesel car because I tow a caravan and can do so with no more than a 1.6 litre engine.

So what is going on? People will remember the Blair government urging us to buy diesel cars because the exhaust emissions were lower than petrol and even offering stupidly favourable road tax incentives.

Now it is a different story and the message appears to be ‘diesel is dirty and petrol isn’t’. This isn’t the place for an
in-depth explanation but let’s try to sum it up in a paragraph.

Diesel engines have the lowest exhaust emissions but produce more nitrogen dioxide and particulates (NOx) than petrol engines.

So petrol cars aren’t great for the environment, while diesel cars are worse for our health.

The new Euro 6 diesel engines are cleaner and spray an additive into the exhaust to break down NOx. Which is why the new Audi A5 Sportback has two nozzles behind the fuel filler cap – one for diesel, the other for the AdBlue additive.

The new A5 Sportback follows hot on the heels of A5 Coupe but is a lot more practical, with the tailgate opening into a large load area which grows considerably with the back seats down. A couple of sets of golf clubs and trolleys are no problem, and there is enough length for an adult bicycle.

Like the Coupe, Sportback sits on Audi’s new multi-functioning platform, first seen on A4, which has transformed the car.

It is a lot more comfortable, even in Sportline trim, which was always blighted by a harsh, overly-hard ride.

The ride is still firm but a lot more forgiving over poor road surfaces while top drawer handling is, at last, a given.

Another given is a beautifully trimmed cabin. You pay premium price, so you get premium quality.

The virtual cockpit is spectacular too. The 12in-wide binnacle screen (isn’t it odd that Europe’s car makers measure screens in inches?) can be configured in a variety of ways, with full-width Google mapping for the navigation.

The latter can be tailored to give as much or as little information to suit the driver, while the rotary controller between the seats is the best way to work the infotainment options.

Sleek Coupe styling makes the Sportback a handsome car, but watch out for that very low roofline.

The first time I lowered myself into the driver’s seat I banged my head on the door frame.

Bad press or not, diesel would be my first choice. Apart from running almost silently, it offers sprightly performance across the board and astonished me with its economy.

I set cruise control at 70mph and after nearly 90 easy miles, the dashboard computer was showing 56.4mpg.

My week’s average with 640 miles on the trip was 55mpg. Astonishing for a car that needs seven seconds to hit 60mph.