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What: SEAT Exeo
Where: Marbella, Spain
Date: February 2009
Available: April 2009
Key rivals: Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Skoda Superb, Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Toyota Avensis
The Volkswagen Group's Spanish brand Seat launches its first ever mid-size saloon, the Exeo. It offers excellent standard equipment with a premium twist...
We like: standard kit, build quality, good engines, comfortable, spacious, nicely priced
We dislike: driving experience lacks sparkle, will customers understand value proposition and pay the asking price?
Gallery: SEAT Exeo
Image © SEAT
Click images to enlarge
Can you tell what it is yet? The SEAT Exeo's debut at the Paris Motor Show last year seemed like a wild surprise. The Spanish brand has never had a presence in the D Segment - or 'Mondeo sector,' if you prefer - and right now appears a funny time to want one.For starters it's a tricky area of the market - as people look to trade out of saloons (or at least, non-prestige saloons...) into funkier niches, or simply in an effort to downsize. Downsizing being a symptom of the current economic turbulence - another reason SEAT's decision looks strange.
Image © Seat
Then there's the fact that carmakers without a reputation for building larger cars tend to struggle when they try it. But the moment we saw the Exeo on SEAT's Parisan stand things started to make sense. For the Exeo is basically the previous generation Audi A4 dressed up in a new Catalonian frock.That's a little unfair. And this is actually quite clever. SEAT's obviously done its own development, but there wasn't all that much wrong with the old A4 when Audi stopped building it. And the proven engineering lessens the chances of any nasty reliability surprises. A cost-efficient way for Seat to enter a new sector.It benefits the customer, too. The money savings get passed on, and there's a huge back catalogue of compatible Volkswagen Group kit. The Exeo is priced from £17,740 - two grand more than an entry-level Mondeo or Insignia, true, but you get stacks of equipment and excellent engines.
Image © Seat
Pop the hood on an Exeo and you'll find one of three power units: a 200hp 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrol, similar to that in the fastest VW Scirocco; a 143hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel; or a 170hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel. Both the TDIs feature Volkswagen's latest 'common rail' tech - a Seat first.The diesels are smooth, punchy, efficient, and almost alarmingly happy to rev. 0-62mph takes 9.2 and 8.4 seconds, respectively, but it's the accessibility of the mid-range torque that makes these such convincing long-distance motorway dispatchers. Peaking 1,750-2,500rpm, the 143hp offers 236lb ft, the 170hp 258lb ft.
Image © Seat
Their effectiveness renders the petrol something of a mild curiosity these days, rather than an essential purchase. Especially once you get into fuel economy figures (see below). But for enthusiastic drivers this 200hp turbo remains the most exciting option. Logically enough it is only available in Sport specification.It's not just that the petrol is the fastest Exeo - 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, 149mph flat out. Good though the diesels are, they just don't offer the same spirited satisfaction, the crisp engine note, the urgency at the redline. Completely irrelevant to most drivers, we're sure; Seat will sell mostly TDIs.
Image © Seat
Ride and handling
Spanish roads are generally smoother than the stuff we're used to at home. But thumping over the odd, occasionally aggressive expansion joint, and remote patches of knobbly tarmac, the Exeo keeps its composure well, even if the standard 'comfort' suspension does tend a little towards the fidgety.The sport set-up (standard petrol, optional TDI 170 Sport) feels better controlled - without any undue extra harshness. Thank the upgraded dampers for that. The handling is competent and also efficiently composed, if a touch flighty when pushed on the comfort chassis, and rather numb of steering feel. Much like the old Audi A4, then...
Image © Seat
Interior and equipment
Continuing that theme is the interior - although to be fair to SEAT it has actually re-engineered the Audi A4Cabriolet dashboard to fit the saloon. A feat the Germans reckoned wasn't possible. Build quality is really solid, and the value impresses here. Every Exeo is crammed with standard kit.This includes dual-zone climate, Bluetooth, mp3 player support, six-speed gearbox, and alloy wheels. The seats are sculpted - if slightly squishy - and rear accommodation is adequate if not generous. Tasty options including satnav, double-glazed windows, and a solar sunroof. This regulates cabin temperature even when the engine is off.
Image © Seat
Economy and safety
Safety first: all SEAT Exeos include ESP, isofix, alarm and immobiliser, and six airbags. The old A4 it's based on achieved four Euro NCAP stars in 2001. Road following adaptive front lights are included on top spec SE Lux versions. Big cars generally crash better - if that's the right word - than small cars.Unsurprisingly, star economy comes from the 143hp TDI. This officially returns 51.4mpg combined, and emits 143g/km CO2. The 170hp TDI isn't far behind with 47.8mpg and 153g/km, though most people are unlikely to miss the accompanying extra performance. The petrol? 36.6mpg and 179g/km. All three are class competitive.
The MSN Cars verdict
Image © Microsoft
SEAT plans to sell just 1,500 Exeo's in the UK this year, and taken as a cut-price way to get Audi-grade technology, it deserves quiet success.
To make a bigger impact, however, we feel it needs even more aggressive pricing - after all the Volkswagen Group already has an impressive, value-laden saloon in the form of the Skoda Superb.
Engines: petrol 2.0 TSI turbo
Engines: diesel 2.0 TDI 143, 2.0 TDI 170
Torque lb ft206-258
0-62 mph secs 7.3-9.2
Top speed mph133-149
Mpg combined 36.6-51.4
CO2 g/km / Tax %143-179 / 20-24
Rating (specific model) Seat Exeo TDI 143
Ride and handling***
MSN Cars verdict***
SEAT Exeo rivals
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