Has the Large Hadron Collider finally done its thing? Have I entered a time warp and gone back in time seven years? The reason I ask is that I’m driving what purports to be a new car but is, in fact, a model which was first launched way back in 2001.
Sorry, you’ve lost me - I thought this was a first drive of the Seat Exeo? Care to explain?
Certainly. CAR is among a select band of magazines which has been invited to Barcelona to drive the new Seat Exeo - an upper-medium saloon and estate range which is due to go on sale in the UK next April.
All well and good, but the Exeo is in essence a rebadged old shape Audi A4, save for new front and rear end styling. And the sense of déjà vu doesn’t end there – inside it uses the same dashboard, instruments, column stalks and other furniture from the A4 Cabriolet.
Why have they done that then?
Seat has committed to growing its sales volumes across Europe, and needs a model in the upper-medium segment. It may be a market in decline, but it is still the third largest market sector and accounts for 17% of sales.
As it needed a challenger toute suite, it simply borrowed the old A4 production line, shipped it from Ingolstadt to Martorell, and began production. Of course, having ex-Audi top man Eric Schmitt as the new Seat president helps. And as Seat wants a quality offering, going to the acknowledged leaders in terms of build quality makes this decision something of a no-brainer.
It all sounds a bit cynical if you ask me
Well, yes and no. Parts sharing and badge engineering is a fact of life at the Volkswagen Group, and Seat itself first started out 55 years years ago rebadging Fiats, so this move is no great departure.
The Exeo’s A4 parentage is evident everywhere, although Seat has changed 30% of the parts to make it more on-brand. As well as revised suspension and steering plus the adoption of technology features such as Bluetooth and MP3 compatibility, Seat has also further raided the Volkswagen Group cupboard for the engines.
>> Click 'next' below to read what the Seat Exeo is like to drive
So what’s it like to drive?
Well, if I told you it was very similar to the old A4, you’re not going to fall off your chair in surprise.
The familiar solid ride quality is there, trying to find a trade off between comfort and secure handling. Like the Audi, the Exeo veers towards stiffness (and veers towards uncomfortable in Sport specification with 18-inch wheels and revised suspension), but the new Servotronic power steering is a welcome addition, adding plenty of weight into the rack to give more precision.
When it goes on sale in the UK, there will be three engine options – 2.0-litre TDI diesels with 143 and 170bhp (both the new common rail units) and a 200bhp 2.0-litre TSI petrol unit borrowed from the Golf GTI.
Only the 170bhp diesel was available to drive, accessing power from right down at the bottom of the rev range and surging you forward with ease. It’s a little bit gruff at start-up, but on the move settles down into a muted accompaniment.
So what’s it going to cost?
Expect prices of between £17,000 and £20,000 come next April, and S, SE and Sport trim levels. Standard equipment levels will be high across the range and Seat is hoping that strong residual value predictions will make the Exeo a tempting proposition to company car drivers. It only expects to sell around 2,000 units in 2009, and the majority (up to 75%) will go to fleets.