SEAT Exeo SE Tech 2.0 TDI review (2009 onwards)
Model: SEAT Exeo 2.0 TDI 143 SE Tech
Bodystyle: Mid-size four-door saloon
Engine: 2.0 4-cylinder turbodiesel, 143hp @ 4,000rpm, 236lb ft @ 1,750-2,500rpm
Transmission: Multitronic CVT automatic, front-wheel drive
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First drive: SEAT Exeo
What is it?
The SEAT Exeo is what it's always been - a previous generation Audi A4 in a different frock. A recent makeover means upgraded materials, improved economy and mildly revised exterior looks, but is this enough to keep it competitive?
After all, the platform this car is based upon first saw light back in 2001 - even if it has benefitted from substantial changes since then. Still, proven Audi technology at SEAT prices makes for an interesting exercise in value. Doesn't it?
Well, it certainly did, back when we first drove the Exeo. Unfortunately, that was three years ago - and the 'Mondeo' segment has sprouted a few other challengers to tempt the cost-conscious since then.
Where does it fit?
The Exeo we have out on test is a saloon in SE Tech specification. The Tech part restricts engine choice to a 143hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel, but adds nearly £3,500-worth of extras to the standard SE trim for just £900.
This includes satellite navigation, Bose stereo with iPod connection and leather upholstery. So it's all stuff worth having, not just pointless frippery - keeping that value message well and truly to the fore.
On the other hand, the test car also had the optional Multitronic automatic transmission, increasing the asking price by over £1,500. SEAT also offers 120hp and 170hp diesels elsewhere in the Exeo range, plus a 211hp turbo petrol for the brave.
Is it for you?
This comes down to image, probably. If you're comfortable with the SEAT brand identity - a little confused, it says loud and shouty hot hatches to some people, practical people carriers to others - then you might be intrigued.
But this is a fiercely fought segment. If you're simply looking for value there is now also the Hyundai i40 (five-year warranty to the SEAT's three, impressively accomplished all-round) and the Kia Optima (seven-year warranty, far less so).
Alternatively, if you want a big car that's nice to drive - and very spacious - the Ford Mondeo is the obvious place to start. The Honda Accord is reliable, the Volkswagen Passat incredibly refined and the Peugeot 508 has style. Plenty of choice before you've even considered the more premium choices.
What does it do well?
So the SEAT has got its work cut out. But this car in this spec certainly includes a great deal of equipment for you money - if you're looking for a motor that's fully loaded at under £24k, then the Exeo SE Tech could well be for you.
Seventeen-inch alloy wheels and new daytime running lights distinguish the exterior, but a much more critical consideration for your cash is what you get on the inside. Beyond the Tech-pack goodies already listed, you get such luxuries as dual-zone climate, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring and an acoustic windscreen.
Our test car boosted this further with double-glazed windows (£200), a leather and Alcantara upholstery upgrade (£1,075), Comfort Pack (£480) and Bi-xenon Adaptive lighting (£895). So you can certainly kit out the Exeo very comfortably.
What doesn't it do well?
Unfortunately, none of the above is enough to redress some rather more fundamental issues - starting with the basic interior design. SEAT has fitted the old Audi A4 Cabriolet dashboard, which is chock full of fussy buttons that are hard to get used to, even after an entire week at the wheel.
The quality also feels a little dated. It's not bad as such, it just seems kind of old hat compared to what you get from the best in this class now. Something that the driving experience only exacerbates.
Even on SE suspension settings the Exeo has an uncomfortable, niggling ride whatever the speed. The steering is numb, and especially vague around the straight-ahead, making it tiresome on the motorway. And it doesn't really corner with any grace, flopping through turns rather than embracing them.
What is it like to live with?
As a result, we quickly found ourselves getting frustrated with the big SEAT. If it wasn't annoying enough trying to find the right button to turn the heating up and down - nothing quite matches the simplicity of a twisty knob for this, but even so the Exeo's controls are particularly fiddly - it never felt pleasing to drive, either.
Quite the opposite, in fact, what with the snatchy brakes, bumpy ride and lifeless steering. Adding to the pain in this instance was the 'Multitronic' automatic gearbox. This Constantly Variable Transmission lacks the decisiveness of modern dual-clutch autos, and is bad news for the fuel economy, too.
Given all the standard toys, it's a surprise to find no heated front seats. And the DVD-based satellite navigation system is all very well, but it means you can't play a CD and get directions at the same time. You do get a reasonable amount of passenger room front and rear, though, plus a sizeable 460-litre boot.
How green is it?
According to SEAT, the combination of 143hp 2.0-litre TDI and Multitronic gearbox is capable of returning 51.4mpg combined with CO2 emissions of 146g/km. In reality, we struggled to crack 40mpg overall, despite driving on a variety of roads.
And although the quoted 129mph top speed and 0-62mph in 9.3 seconds seems reasonable on paper, the Exeo felt sluggish, and missing the determined thrust we've come to associate with the current crop of 2.0-litre turbodiesels deployed across the Volkswagen Group.
Since there is apparently 236lb ft of torque available 1,750-2,500rpm, which ought to be more than enough to get things moving, the culprit can only be that gearbox. With a six-speed manual this would be a much more useable car.
Would we buy it?
If you like your bells and whistles, then the Exeo SE Tech remains worthy of a look. But in terms of all-round value for money, it's the Hyundai i40 that turns our heads right now.
And in a segment packed with interesting rivals, the lacklustre SEAT finds itself well out of the running on the MSN Cars short list.
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First drive: SEAT Exeo
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