The Freelander heads to Eastnor for a real test of its off-road ability
SEAT Exeo ST 2.0 TDI 143 Sport
On fleet since: January 2010
Official combined mpg: 49.6mpg
Our average economy: 46.0mpg
Performance: 0-62mph 9.6secs/128mph
Power/Torque: 143hp/236lb ft
Insurance group: 12
List price: £22,255
Options fitted: Sat nav (£1,775), Winter Pack (£270), iPod connection (£60), Bi-Xenon headlights with adaptive front lighting (£730)
Price as tested: £25,090
Pros: Superb quality, upmarket feel, kitchen-sink equipment spec, heated seats
Cons: Notchy gearchange, so-so economy thus far, 'old Audi' tag?
Urban myths are great. Take the one about Rover Group, back in the 1990s. Following BMW's purchase of the firm, investigations quickly started into developing new models. The first out the traps was to be the Rover 75, a kind of upsized BMW 3 Series.
Legend here has it that Rover seriously investigated basing the model on the then-current BMW 5 Series, which was soon to be replaced. Instead, though, it eventually decided to develop its own design from scratch. At huge cost. And the end result... well, was it as good as a Rover-honed BMW would have been?
It may be true. It may not. Had Rover taken up BMW's offer, and used some of the cash saved to develop other models, who knows: it may still be around today. It may not. Even so, it makes a great urban legend - one that SEAT seems to have picked up on with its latest new model.
Enter the Exeo. For SEAT's latest Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo alternative, it has not developed an all-new motor. Instead, it has taken the old-shape Audi A4 production line and shipped it over to Spain lock, stock and barrel. Hence the familiarity... and hence the intrigue from us. Can it still cut the mustard? We decided to take one on long-term test to find out.
SEAT makes things reasonably easy here. It gives you everything you could ever wish for as standard. Yes, even on the misleadingly-named 'base' S variant. I was wowed when I analysed the price brochure - but soon fell prey to the power of marketing.
Choose the SE, I discovered, and I'd get rain-sensing wipers, 17-inch alloys and more speakers. Even better, choose the Sport, and I would get bespoke sports seats, an Audi S line-esque bodykit, mega 18-inch wheels and, as a no-cost option, lowered and stiffened sports suspension. When I discovered this, I was like a moth to a lightbulb...
So, Sport it would be. Diesel too, naturally - SEAT offers a choice of three, alongside a single 2.0-litre turbo petrol (from the old Golf GTI). Ever the pacifist, I chose the middle ground and went for the 143PS common-rail 2.0-litre TDI. There was little difference in economy between all three, mind.
As for options, SEAT only offers a six-speed manual gearbox. Much as I love DSG semi-auto, I was denied it here, alas. Following long-term-test tradition, I chose sat nav, because I travel lots and get lost lots, and also chose heated seats because for 9 months of the year I am the coldest man in the world.
True to form, the Exeo was delivered in the snow, and the dark, though it wasn't with reluctance that I braved the cold. Although I couldn't really see it, and it was filthy, I was pretty chuffed with the choice of black paint, chrome trim and big Sport wheels. It looked great.
As light dawned, I had a closer poke inside. No surprises: it is an Audi A4, after all - and all the better for it. SEAT has fully carried over its German siblings' industry-leading quality, for the Exeo is simply impeccable inside. As someone who draws immense satisfaction from the click of an indicator stalk, this is A Good Thing.
The first drive was interesting, too. I was not surprised to find a stiff gearchange, which was particularly notchy into second. The engine didn't startle either, for it is the same as in a myriad of SEATs, Skodas, VWs and Audis. Its sound effects have echoed around test cars for a decade or more: here, it's more of an old friend.
Impressively though, the ride displayed none of the crashiness or harsh stiffness I feared. Indeed, the absorbency and control of the ride is perhaps the car's most surprising aspect. It's certainly better than initial economy - despite a VERY smooth run-in period, it's currently averaging 46mpg. We hope, when it loosens, this improves.
The usual heady MSN Cars diet of hard use lies ahead of the SEAT. Already, we have covered nearly 1,500 miles, in some of the coldest weather the UK has experienced in decades. We have already learned that probably the best option we have ever chosen is the Exeo's 6-stage heated seats.
SEAT has promised us it will get us involved in the Club SEAT ownership scheme in the coming months, alongside our regular use. We can't wait to find out what this involves, as we really embed ourselves in the ownership experience. Come back next month to see how we're getting on!
Report 1: SEAT Exeo ST arrival (this report)
Report 2: SEAT Exeo ST month one
Report 3: SEAT Exeo ST month two
Report 4: SEAT Exeo ST month three
Report 5: SEAT Exeo ST final report
Compare Exeo's rivals side-by-side with Car Guide
Review: SEAT Exeo
Video: SEAT Exeo
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