SEAT has made only the most half-hearted of attempts to disguise the fact that its Exeo saloon is a previous generation Audi A4.
That shouldn’t worry buyers to whom the Exeo delivers Audi engineering and build quality at a distinctly SEAT price.
They say that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and of all the world’s car manufacturers, you’d back SEAT to be a firm believer in that maxim. The Spanish marque has built its reputation by selectively cosying up to larger brands and borrowing their products. SEATs were originally rebadged Fiats and when Fiat pulled out in the early 80s, SEAT began its more profitable piggyback on the mighty Volkswagen Group, to whom it continues to cling today. What about the tradition, the heritage and the good name that some of SEAT’s rivals have struggled for a century to build? Does anyone care when SEAT can offer cars like the Exeo which is ostensibly a previous generation Audi A4 at a fraction of the price?
SEAT has displayed a certain aptitude for landing on its feet down the years and with its current model range bristling with the latest VW Group platforms and engine technology, the marque’s position has rarely looked stronger. The Exeo is something of a departure from the usual SEAT products which are founded on Volkswagen platforms because it’s based on the old Audi A4, a premium product that battled the likes of BMW’s 3-Series and the Mercedes C-Class in the compact executive sector. The similarities between the two cars are instantly apparent and coupled with SEAT pricing levels, they make for a package about which lots of buyers will be keen to know more, especially in 2.0 TDI diesel form.
The Exeo is powered by the familiar Volkswagen group engines that crop up in SEAT’s other larger models. The 2.0-litre TDI common-rail injection diesel unit is sure to be a popular choice. Particularly in 168bhp form, this is a real cracker, blending pace very effectively with low running costs. 118bhp and 143bhp versions are also on offer.
The Exeo inherits the Audi A4 underpinnings that drew a mixed response the first time around. The engine is mounted longitudinally (originally to help with the implementation of Audi’s quattro 4x4 system) but the Exeo, like the entry-level A4 models, is front wheel drive and having the engine sticking out over the front wheels can create a nose heavy effect. On the plus side, the suspension is an advanced multi-link affair and has been tweaked by SEAT so that it’s able to offer customers a choice of Comfort or Sport settings. The Audi Servotronic steering has also been re-programmed for a sharper feel on the road.
"It’s easy to imagine the Exeo’s Audi build quality going down a storm with bargain hunters."
The Exeo’s A4 origins are instantly apparent as soon as you spot it. SEAT has redesigned the front end with a neat grille and headlight arrangement, fitted its own wing mirrors and moved the rear numberplate from the boot lid to the bumper. As an attempt to disguise the A4’s Teutonic lines with some Spanish flavour, this amounts to little more than a crooked false moustache and a sombrero. Form the side and the rear, the Exeo screams A4 and that’s no bad thing. It’s certainly a refreshing departure from SEAT’s previous hit and miss styling direction that brought us the handsome Leon and the odd-ball Toledo.
It’s inside, however, where the Exeo really impresses because SEAT has put a big ‘S’ on the steering wheel and changed virtually nothing else. This may be the old A4 cabin but it’s still superbly built and beautifully understated in the best Audi traditions. In a car from the Exeo’s family saloon sector of the market, it feels very special indeed.
SEAT is obviously intending to play up the Exeo value proposition and why not? The prospect of getting Audi quality for SEAT prices is a compelling one. Furthermore, the equipment levels will be more generous than you’d get were this still an Audi as all models receive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, a USB connector for the stereo, audio controls on the steering wheel and alloy wheels. SEAT is offering an Exeo saloon model and an Estate. Trim levels range from S through SE and Sport to SE Tech and Sport Tech.
The modern engines in the Exeo should return healthy fuel economy and low emissions. The 168bhp 2.0 TDI unit produces just 148g/km, with 49mpg on the combined cycle. For the 143bhp 2.0-litre TDI variant, the respective figures are 136g/km and 54mpg. That compares with the 2.0 TSI petrol engine where can expect economy of 40mpg plus 159g/km emissions.
SEAT has done good business in recent years offering its own take on Volkswagen products which bodes well because in the Exeo, the Spanish brand has got its hands on an Audi. The links to the premium German marque’s previous generation A4 are obvious with the interior being of particularly high quality and some advanced engine technology under the bonnet. SEAT is also offering high equipment levels to further underline the Exeo’s value proposition.
Some of SEAT’s most successful products have been the ones that most closely resemble the Volkswagen models they’re based upon. Punters have shown themselves to be only too happy to pick-up Volkswagen build quality for SEAT money and in light of that fact, it’s easy to imagine the Exeo’s Audi build quality going down a storm with bargain hunters.