The language of value for money is one that car buyers understand and SEAT has made sure its Exeo is fluent in all the relevant dialects.
The car’s case panned out in compelling fashion from the word go, these solid-looking medium range saloons and estates basically amounting to old Audi A4s with SEAT badges screwed on. More recently, the Exeo’s appeal has been extended with the introduction of Tech models that bring a luxurious specification for a modest price increase. Is overlooking the Exeo still a realistic option for buyers seeking a new family car or is it time that we all gave this SEAT serious thought?
Lots of manufacturers say their saloon models offer compact executive quality for medium range family prices but none of these claims stand up to scrutiny as well as SEAT’s concerning its Exeo. The Spanish firm’s status as part of the Volkswagen Group gave it access to the recently superseded version of the Audi A4. Some minor tweaks, plus a liberal smattering of SEAT livery, later and the SEAT Exeo was born. The Tech versions we feature here were created to enhance the Exeo’s appeal to the fleet and business customers who already form the major part of its customer base but private buyers with an eye for a bargain might also be interested.
The focus of the Exeo Tech models is on the fleet market so the all-diesel engine range is no real surprise. The 2.0-litre TDI common-rail injection engine is a modern unit that’s used heavily thought the SEAT model range and those of other VW Group brands. Particularly in 168bhp form, it’s a real cracker, blending pace very effectively with low running costs. The lesser 141bhp version of this engine is slower but still a worthwhile option. It covers the 0-60mph sprint in 9.2s compared to the 8.4s time of the more powerful engine. Whichever engine is installed, the Exeo is an able cruiser. These units are a little louder here than they are in the Volkswagen Golf or current Audi A4 but the difference isn’t huge.
"The Exeo feels reassuringly solid from a driver’s point of view"
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 when cornering briskly. On the plus side, the suspension is a high-tech multi-link affair and has been tweaked by SEAT, while Audi’s Servotronic steering was also re-programmed for a sharper feel on the road. The ride is quite firm, feeling more like a sporty compact executive saloon than the more comfort-oriented medium rangers that the Exeo is priced against. But the car handles neatly and has plenty of grip through the bends.
The Audi origins of the Exeo are instantly apparent as soon as you spot it. SEAT redesigned the front end with its own grille and headlight arrangement, fitted different 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. From 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.
The boot is 460 litres in the saloon and, strangely, 442 litres in the ST estate. The later isn’t huge compared to the top medium range estate cars but the space is usefully shaped and will be easier to use than that in a conventional five-door hatch or, indeed, the four-door Exeo saloon. Rear legroom is average with the space for rear passengers’ feet limited by the bulky transmission tunnel that’s a remnant of this car’s day’s as a four-wheel-drive Audi.
Elswhere, the cabin 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 medium range sector of the market, it feels very solid indeed.
The Tech trim level adds to what was already a rather comprehensive standard specification on the Exeo. It adds a DVD satellite navigation system with a colour screen, a BOSE premium stereo upgrade and black leather trim. There’s also an iPod connector which replaces the USB port in the glove box on standard models. That little lot comes at a premium of under £900 over the Sport and SE trim levels but if you ticked the relevant boxes on the options list to get it, the price increase would be closer to £2,400. If you want a particularly well-specified Exeo, the Tech models are the way to get it.
The standard equipment levels on the car already include cruise control, dual-zone climate control, audio controls on the steering wheel and alloy wheels, so these items are also present on the Tech versions. Direct rivals for the car include the likes of Ford’s Mondeo and Vauxhall’s Insignia which have more interior space but struggle to match the Exeo’s equipment haul and prices.
The fleet customers that the Exeo is targeting will be subjecting the car’s running costs to close scrutiny and they should come away pleasantly surprised. The added satellite navigation and leather on these Tech models won’t do much to prop-up their residual values but the price premium being asked for them isn’t huge and the residual values are holding firm at three or four percentage points above an equivalent Ford Mondeo.
The modern diesel engines in the Exeo Tech range should return healthy fuel economy and low emissions. The 168bhp 2.0 TDI unit produces just 153g/km, 10g/km more than the 141bhp unit, and both variants manage around 50mpg on the combined cycle.
In its bid to put one over on the better known medium range family saloons, SEAT’s Exeo is pushing the value for money angle. It isn’t all marketing flimflam either. The classy SEAT really does look like a cost effective option with its Audi origins and the Tech models are specified more like top-end executive saloons than run of the mill family fare.
The Exeo feels reassuringly solid from a driver’s point of view and from the perspective of anyone willing to spend five minutes slamming the doors and prodding the buttons. The diesel engines offered with the Tech model are as good as anything similar in this area of the market and the Tech models will persuade many with their leather and sat nav. It’s not the roomiest, most refined or most excitingly designed option but it does nothing badly and the pricing is more than reasonable.