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Ex by name. Image by Mark Nichol.

Ex by name...
If recycling is the hippest thing we can do right now, then the SEAT Exeo is the most in vogue car on the planet.

   



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| First Drive | Madrid, Spain | SEAT Exeo |

Imagine you've pulled up to five-a-side practice in your new SEAT Exeo. "Wow," your friends say, "is that an Audi A4?" "Erm, sort of." comes your reply. You continue: "it was an Audi, but now it's a SEAT - so you get the quality without the inflated premium-badge price tag, see."

Now, are your pals impressed or slightly embarrassed? And more importantly, are you? See, it's all very well re-skinning and re-engineering an existing car - a la the Golf-based SEAT Leon - but taking an old car and changing nought but the badges and the lights? Isn't that, well, lazy?

SEAT thinks that this wholesale recycling job - which it dismissively refers to as 'VW Group synergy' - is perfectly reasonable. It reckons that, as the old A4 was a fine car, what's wrong with taking the old dog out of retirement, freshening it up with a facelift and some new engines, speccing it to the max and selling it cheap? Well, we'll see...

In the Metal

Honestly, let's not go over old ground any more than we have to; it's very obviously an Audi A4 with new lights and SEAT badges. Oh, but the interior is from the A4 Cabriolet, just to mix it up a bit. What that means is that the quality is great - better than anything SEAT has done before - but it's all very recognisable.

That means there's a warm familiarity to the proceedings and again, the quality's very good; soft touch dashboard top, tight fit and finish, some well-damped resistance to the switchgear - that sort of thing. Push the cupholder and it glides out, and there's a cool box in the glove compartment, so your gloves should never go warm. There's plenty of space too, though legroom in the back isn't great; it's enough for average adults on a short journey, though - a taxi ride, perhaps?

What you get for your Money

You get an old Aud...ok, you get the idea. Let's stop with the vorsprung durch technik and get to the auto emocion - in other words, the SEAT caboodle that the maker hopes will blindside buyers from the Exeo's obvious roots. This is its raison d'Ítre: juicy, recession-beating value for money. What this thing lacks in prestige and originality, it makes up for with a unique blend of quality and value unseen elsewhere. There are four trim levels: S, SE, Sport and SE Lux, but even boggo S models get dual-zone climate control, alloys, Bluetooth, the chilled glove box and an iPod connection, plus six airbags, ISOFIX and a decent alarm. All this for just £17,740. It shames Audi, really, and even trumps similarly priced rep-mobiles from Ford and Vauxhall.

After that you're into 'impress your dad' territory with the kit. SE gets (among other things) bigger wheels, automatic lights, automatic wipers, different trim, more speakers for the stereo and parking sensors. Sport models gain 18-inch bad boy wheels, sports seats, tinted rear windows, and, if you want it, sports suspension, which is of course lower and stiffer. SE Lux then features, as you'd expect, leather and adaptive bi-xenon lights - but no satnav; SEAT still makes you pay for that. However, £21,340 is the most you'll pay for a factory-fresh, option-less Exeo in SE Lux specification with a 168bhp turbodiesel under the bonnet. Not bad at all.

Driving it

It would have been difficult, given this car's history, for SEAT to mess it up dynamically. And it hasn't. In fact, the Exeo drives better than its A-word donor car - the big surprise being that the ride quality doesn't depend on what suspension or wheels you put it on. Both setups blend road ironing and road holding with aplomb; the standard suspension feels slightly more yielding on a motorway, but the Sport option still soaks up tarmac pockmarks without crashing about, and the dropped ride makes the car look better too - so that's the setup we'd recommend. Steering feel is an irrelevance in a car like this, frankly, but the rack's accurate enough. Overall, the Exeo is comfortable, composed and predictable - which is exactly as it should be.

On the engine front, launch cars will get a choice of three: two 2.0-litre common rail turbodiesels with 141bhp or 168bhp, and a 197bhp 2.0-litre TSI petrol, though the latter doesn't feel as impressive in the Exeo as it does in other VW Group cars. So, it's the diesels we're interested in. And, true to form, there are no surprises. The 168bhp unit is probably the one you'll want, and justifiably so - it's notably quicker, stronger in the mid-range and only fractionally worse for wear in the green stakes (143g/km plays 153g/km, and 48.7mpg against 51.4mpg). However, the £900-odd premium you must pay means you're more likely to join the 89 percent of folk SEAT reckons will plump for the 141bhp unit. The less powerful engine still feels strong enough, and it's smooth and much quieter than its predecessor. Stay above 2,000rpm, be prepared to work through the six-speed gearbox (which isn't a chore - it's a fluid 'box) and the lesser TDI will always have enough to get by with.

Worth Noting

As if to complete its fleet user remit, SEAT will eventually use its 'VW Group synergy' meal ticket to snaffle the 118bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine for the Exeo, but the maker is currently finalising its emissions and fuel economy stats for a later release. There'll also be a Multitronic automatic gearbox at some point, but that also is under development to make sure it works properly with the diesel engine - and doesn't affect economy and emissions too adversely.

There's also an ST coming (Sports Tourer), which we knew about, but we saw it in all its big-backsided glory at the saloon's launch. And you know what? It looks a bit like an A4 Avant... That arrives on April 2nd, just like the saloon. All those additions should endow SEAT with an even greater share of the lucrative C-segment - the third largest in Europe, accounting for 18 percent of sales.

Summary

SEAT's Exeo makes all the business sense in the world - and really that's its fundamental problem. SEAT has spent considerable time and energy carefully crafting an image of laddish flair and alternative sporty appeal - then it goes and re-badges a bland previous generation saloon, 80 percent of whose sales it expects will come from the leasing and rental market. The thing is it's actually a high quality, well thought out, well-specced and well-priced car. It's perfectly pleasant to drive as well. There's just no Spanish flair.

Mark Nichol - 20 Feb 2009



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2009 SEAT Exeo specifications:
Technical specifications for 2009 SEAT Exeo 2.0 TDI 140
Technical specifications for 2009 SEAT Exeo 2.0 TDI 170
Technical specifications for 2009 SEAT Exeo 2.0 TSI 200

2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by SEAT.2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by SEAT.2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Dave Jenkins.2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Dave Jenkins.2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Dave Jenkins.

2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Dave Jenkins.2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Dave Jenkins.2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Dave Jenkins.2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Dave Jenkins.2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Dave Jenkins.



2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Mark Bothwell.
 

2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Mark Bothwell.
 

2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Mark Bothwell.
 

2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by SEAT.
 

2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by SEAT.
 

2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by SEAT.
 

2009 SEAT Exeo. Image by Mark Nichol.
 






 

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