SEAT Exeo gets some much-needed bling

By Philip Hedderman

First things first – we don’t like keeping secrets here at thenextgear.

So before we begin to analyse this very fine automobile, we need to address one niggly issue.

That big white elephant in the room today is the origins of SEAT’s fleet-leading Exeo.

Now, to the very well trained eye they’ll spot some little traits that’ll reveal its true DNA.

It could well be the already familiar rounded snout or maybe the equally sculpted backside that’s giving that air of de javu.

Or it may be clean lines of the side profile complete with the identical door handles (even down to the key hole that lifts while opening) that may give the game away.

If not then the Jeremy Kyle-paternity-test moment will manifest itself the minute you open the door.

Inside the interior right down to the excellent build quality of every knob, switch and lever should leave you in no doubt at to its lineage.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Exeo is in fact the last generation Audi A4 in a cheaper suit.

So serious were the VW group about this particular project that when production ceased on the MkIII A4 in Inglostadt, the assembly and production lines were dismantled and shipped to the SEAT factory in Martorell in Spain.

To prove that this was the dawn of a new era the Spanish car maker even broke with tradition and resisted the temptation to name it after a city.

It went into production in December 2008, and the model whose name is derived from the Latin word exire – meaning to go beyond – has done just that.

Since its debut at the Paris Motor Show the previous summer the Exeo went on to play its trump card – the ST.

The Sports Tourer or estate as we like to call them redefined what this car is all about.

Before confusion reigned over exactly what the Exeo was all about.

Even though it didn’t look like a real contender, were SEAT actually expecting to slug it out with the top flight in the segment, namely the Mondeo, Avensis and its cousins, the Passat and the Octavia?

Style-wise they were streets ahead and although the saloon held its own it was far from a major success here inIreland.

That all changed with the arrival of the wagon and in 2009 they sold almost as many ST models as saloons.

You see, those who by estates are a peculiar breed and get excited by very different things.

Space, functionality and versatility are the sexy keywords which send these folks into a frenzy and the Exeo not only has all of the above, but in abundance.

Boot space is a decent enough 1,345 litres and is well able to manage awkward loads thanks to folding rear seats.

The facelifted version we are testing is treated to a little bling with chrome roof rails, snazzy alloys and sexy Xenon headlights.

Inside there’s plenty of gizmos too like cruise control, on-board computer and multi-function steering wheel.

So Exeo’s exterior may be a little dated but under the hood the powerplants are banging.

The 143bhp, 2.0litre TDi diesel is an absolute marvel and had so much grunt and torque I mistook it for the new 177bhp unit powering the German fleet.

Handling and drive dynamic is up there with the best giving an informed, sturdy and reassured ride and the lighter aluminium-based suspension ironed out any surface interference while maintaining a connection with the driver.

It is as comfortable cruising on a motorway as it is negotiating the mean city streets and thanks to stop/start the emissions are kept to 132g/km – meaning annual road tax of €225 while returning around 45mpg (5.0l/100km).

All-in all a pretty good package as you’d expect from an Audi sporting a different jacket, but again pricing is a real issue here.

Its biggest enemy here is first cousin Skoda and especially the Superb.

TheExeo STprices start at €28,380 for the 120bhp entry model, the Reference, which is pretty limited in standard kit and doesn’t include Bluetooth.

You would have to spend another €3,500 to get into the Style with parking sensors, auto lights, leather steering, cruise control, central armrest and alloy wheels.

At that stage you’re almost hitting fourth generation Audi prices, which makes no sense at all.

SEAT need to be a lot more competitive than that if they are to make any real impact.