Take your SEAT to drive through the recession

Cost effective quality has seen SEAT rise above the recession. Editor DAVID HOOPER says the Exeo ST range will ensure further success for the Spanish carmaker.

SEAT’s make-over of the old Audi model has certainly done it no harm.

SPANISH carmaker SEAT seems to be able to do little wrong at the moment and has seen its popularity grow and grow, both in the UK and Europe.
While most carmakers struggled last year through the depths of the recession, SEAT was one of the very few brands which managed to increase its sales and market share in the UK.
You don’t have to look too deeply into the brand to understand why this is the case.
Distinctive and very attractive styling across the range certainly helps, as does its clever TV advertising campaigns which appeal to younger buyers who are passionate about their cars, but perhaps most important, is the great value for money SEAT offers its customers.
Part of the VW Group, SEAT buyers benefit from the same high quality parts which are used in Volkswagen and Audi models, but are not expected to pay the sometimes hefty prices that the completed premium positioned products command.

The interior features high quality fixtures and fittings.

Spending a few days with the new Exeo ST, or Sport Tourer, really brought this home to me. If there was anything missing from its inventory of equipment, I certainly didn’t miss it. It had sat-nav, climate control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a premium Bose sound system (which was superb) iPod connection, automatic headlights and wipers, bi-xenon headlights – the list goes on, yet the price tag for all these luxury accoutrements still didn’t break the £25,000 barrier. A comparable, similarly equipped Audi A4 Avant, for example, would cost you four or five grand more and if you tick a few options boxes, could easily add 10 grand to the SEAT’s price.
The Audi comparison is a deliberate one. It’s no secret that SEAT’s Exeo saloon and ST range is based on the previous generation A4 model, but being part of the VW Group has helped SEAT cost-effectively pitch into the important D Segment of the market, where the company car driver is still a big player, accounting for vast numbers of sales every year.
The old Audi has been SEAT-ised and all the points for which the A4 was criticised, most notably in its ride and handling, have been addressed and given SEAT’s sporty make-over treatment and is now much improved. It’s also got a new front end featuring the company’s arrow design nose which works very well in my book, and the back has also been restyled and to be honest, I actually prefer the overall appearance of the car to one on which it was based.
The interior is premium quality and looks great – even the design of the leather seats is an improvement, although the rear leg room isn’t overly generous, but the acid test is in the way the car drives.

The Sport Tourer model has plenty of space for luggage.

Again, I have only compliments for the Exeo ST. SEAT has done an excellent job in the ride and handling department. The Exeo ST provides a comfortable and compliant ride, but is also firm enough to provide sporty handling. The Servotronic steering system on the Sport and Sport Tech models adjusts the amount of power assistance depending on the car’s speed. It works well and has a sharp and precise feel to it and when you pick up the pace, the car adopts a sporty attitude to corners and provides accurate feedback through the steering wheel to the driver. Increased assistance at low speeds means parking is easy, and parking sensors ensure the paintwork stays intact.
The 170PS engine brings an excellent mix of performance and economy to the party. Acceleration is agreeably brisk, yet the car is capable of easily returning 50mpg on the combined cycle. During my test of almost 500 miles, it averaged around 40mpg over the full mix of roads and driving conditions.
Prospective buyers have a choice of five trim grades, S, SE, SE Tech, Sport and Sport Tech, the latter being tested here. Each comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but an optional Multitronic automatic transmission is now available.
Prices for the Exeo ST range start from just over £20,000 which I think is something of a bargain for someone looking for a premium estate, but without the premium price tag.

From the back, the Exeo Sport Tourer has a distinctive look all of its own which works very well.

Rating: ★★★★★★

SEAT Exeo ST 2.0 TDI CR 170 PS Sport Tech.
EXEO ST RANGE: From S 2.0 TDI CR (120ps) 5dr (£20,215) to SE Lux 2.0 TDI CR (170ps) 5dr (£24,810).
ENGINE: 1968cc, 170PS four-cylinder engine, driving front wheels through 6-speed manual gearbox.
CO2 EMISSIONS: 148g/km.
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 139mph.
0-62mph in 8.6 secs.
ECONOMY: City: 36.2mpg.
Country: 64.2mpg.
Combined: 49.6mpg.
Fuel tank: 70 litres.
INSURANCE: Group 27.
WARRANTY: 3 years/60,000 miles.
PRICE: £24,685.
WEBSITE: www.seat.co.uk
• All data correct at time of publication.??