Venice would not be everyone's choice as a venue to launch a new car. Unless, of course, it was the long-awaited upgraded model of London's Duck bus tourist amphibian, which dates back to 1942. But La Serenissima it was for the massive slipway push for Audi's new A4.
Few can match Audi for marketing heft and PR fireworks. It wasn't that long ago the brand was an automotive oddity, which some UK folk thought might be Belgian. Now after all the 'Vorsprung durch Technik' stuff from Soho's ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty and some clever design plus engineering, Audi is swish, desirable, driven by members of the UK royal family and biting at the heels of and even surpassing BMW and Mercedes in the highly profitable premium segment. (Rather be Audi than its more workmanlike cousin VW, which is said to be struggling along on a 2% margin and that was before the emissions scandal.)
The A4 is big all over the globe including, vitally, in China -12 million have been sold if you include the old Audi 80. The new car is no sea change to look at - that's far too risky these days when you have the residual values of previous buyers to worry about. The creases make it look even more like a BMW 3 Series than ever, especially from the back. But it's lighter, produces less drag and is very quiet indeed inside.
The model MT tested was a high-end diesel quattro and hugely specced-up. It's powerful, spacious and calm. Audi is going very big on taking over all the driving itself and now has smart technologies that pilot and park its cars. Where is all this going to end if you don't even need to steer the thing yourself any more? (Not in any rear-end shunts all the insurance companies are hoping.) It is a pretty impressive package, but whether I'd spend 40 grand of my money on it is another matter. You can get a lesser 1.4 petrol model for £26,000.
Audi is well aware that few teens or millennials go to sleep to dream about cars. So chairman Rupert Stadler is keen to portray his organisation as the coolest of IT companies. Is he worried, MT asked, at the rumours Apple and Google are investing in automotive prototypes? 'No. This is high tech on four wheels - the ultimate mobile device that does it all for you.' That suggests to me that Herr Stadler does have concerns that the heirs of Jobs have their tanks on his lawn. Expect a fight to the death after they've finished their war with the EPA.
Audi A4 3.0 TDi quattro
Price: From £38,950
Engine: 2,967 cc TDI V6
Transmission: 8-speed tiptronic
Fuel consumption: 55.4 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2 emissions: 134 g/km
Power: 272 PS
0-62 mph: 5.3 seconds
Top speed: 155 mph