REVIEW DATE: 27 Feb 2009
SEAT Exeo ST might seem strangely familiar to owners of a certain compact executive estate. Steve Walker reports.
If you can't afford a new Audi A4 Avant estate, how about the old one? SEAT can help buyers happy to retreat fractionally from the cutting edge of the compact executive market and settle for something that was gracing the very best driveways in the most salubrious parts of suburbia just a few short years ago. The SEAT Exeo ST is the previous generation A4 Avant in all but name, and a few well-placed SEAT badges, so if you fancy a new compact executive car on the cheap, this is your lucky day. At least, that's the line SEAT's marketing department is towing.
Being part of a major car manufacturing group certainly has its advantages. It means you can share development costs for chassis, engines and other technology with the group's other likeminded marques. Occasionally, you can even pinch a car en masse and if that car happens to be a premium badged product and you happen to be a workaday mainstream manufacturer, so much the better. This is largely how things worked out for SEAT with the Exeo. SEAT and Audi are parts of the mighty Volkswagen Group and when the perfectly serviceable Audi A4 Avant was superseded by a new model, the powers that be at VW saw an opportunity to rebadge it and prolong its life in SEAT showrooms. The good news for customers is that it's also at SEAT prices.
Power for the Exeo ST comes from a familiar range of Volkswagen Group engines that also crop up in SEAT's other larger models. The 2.0-litre TFI petrol engine that has seen service in the Golf GTI and SEAT Leon Cupra will form a key part of the range with its 197bhp power output and smooth power delivery creating a sporty driving experience. This turbocharged unit offers 280Nm of torque from just 1,800rpm for the kind of mid-range pull normally only associated with diesel engines. Speaking of diesels, the 2.0-litre TDI common-rail injection unit is sure to be a popular choice in the Exeo. Particularly in 168bhp form, this is a real cracker, blending pace very effectively with low running costs. 120 and 143bhp versions are also available.
"It will be clear to everyone who cares to look that the SEAT Exeo ST is a mildly disguised Audi A4 Avant"
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.
The Exeo ST's A4 Avant 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. From the side and the rear, the Exeo ST screams A4 Avant 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 442 litres in capacity, which 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 four-door saloon.
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 estate sector of the market, it feels very special indeed.
SEAT is obviously intending to play up the Exeo ST 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 too but the Estate is a more handsome and versatile prospect.
The modern engines in the Exeo ST should return healthy fuel economy and low emissions. In the saloon model the 168bhp 2.0 TDI unit produces just 153g/km and buyers choosing the 2.0 TSI petrol engine can expect economy of 36.6mpg plus 185g/km emissions.
It will be clear to everyone who cares to look that the SEAT Exeo ST is a mildly disguised Audi A4 Avant and that is the car's greatest strength. The prospect of compact executive quality, albeit previous generation compact executive quality, at SEAT prices is where this estate hopes to make it big.
There's no reason why SEAT's ambitions for the Exeo ST can't be realised. The car won't feel particularly old hat, especially now it's dropped down a level in class and is matching up to medium range competition. Boot space might be an issue in this company but otherwise, the Exeo ST looks like a winner.
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