Exeo strategy

26 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Exeo strategy

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First Drive | Madrid, Spain | SEAT Exeo ST |

Of the VW Group stable of brands, SEAT is quantifiably the youthful one; it has the youngest average buyer age of them all. And that it actually produced the Ibiza-based Bocanegra concept. when it could have consigned it forever to the warehouse marked ‘for marketing purposes only’, is a testament to its determination to keep things nice and youthful.

But it also recently launched the Exeo saloon. a ‘bottom line’ car if ever there was one. Conceived with the fleet market in mind (well over 90 percent of them will be selected from a list by their owners) and built on a budget that just about stretched to redesigning the lights, it looks incongruously regular.

But is also offers a lot of quality and proven mechanical integrity for a temptingly low outlay and it happens to drive well, too. And anyway, a fleet car without a horsebox version is like a soft drink without a diet alternative. So, predictably, the Exeo you can fit more paper towels and golf clubs into is here and it’s called the ST.

In the Metal

I made a promise to myself (and my editor) that I wouldn’t mention the ‘A’ word, so I won’t: it’s obvious from where the Exeo ST’s DNA is sourced.

What that means is it has a compact, unfussy frame that’s easy on the eye – if a little plain – rather than being overly long or hefty of rump. The trade-off, of course, is boot space: it will, for example, carry 98 fewer litres in the trunk than the new Insignia Sports Tourer. Still, it’s got a nice, wide hatch that’s easy to load, a pleasingly simple and effective ‘roller blind’ parcel shelf, under seat storage in the front and a usefully cubed (and cooled, if you like) glovebox.

Basically, the minutiae of practicality that matters when you buy a car like this is present and largely correct.

The cabin is, not surprisingly, as per the Exeo saloon, which is to say it’s put together like a brick outhouse using plastic that’s probably been tested by an army of very clever scientists to make sure it has the perfect blend of firmness and squishy tactility. All the switchgear and all the little flaps that spring open when you press them are damped enough to be legitimately called ‘moist’, and it’s all as well ordered as the King’s underpants drawer. It’s about as dull, too, but you can’t have everything.

What you get for your Money

You get quality synonymous with makers tangibly further up the automotive food chain than SEAT, but at a ‘volume’ sticker price. As per the saloon (a pre-qualifying statement that could be applied to every aspect of the Exeo ST, bar the hatch at the back), the range is divided into S, SE, Sport and SE Lux, with 16-inch alloys, Bluetooth, air conditioning, seven airbags and a raft of electronic anti-skid, anti-crash protection all as standard. You can guess the rest (or you can read our saloon musings ), but, as you’d expect, SE gets a little more kit, Sport gets tighter suspension and a more dynamic look, and SE Lux is the business-class upgrade.

It all starts at Ј19,240, which loosely puts it in Mazda6 Estate territory on a like-for-like basis. And given the quality on offer, that comparison puts the Exeo ST’s fairly unique positioning into perspective.

Driving it

There’s nothing to differentiate the saloon from the estate in the driving department, though isn’t that always the case? It’s a couple of millimetres longer, but it feels no more bulky or less dynamically competent. There’s a well-engineered sure footedness about the way the Exeo ST feels in any given situation.

If you’ve been following the progress of our SEAT Leon long termer. you’ll know that SEAT’s engineers are well capable of turning a blind eye to the whole ride comfort thing in the quest for cornering feel, but in fiddling with the Exeo ST’s springs and dampers, they’ve managed to get the often enigmatic ride/handling balance spot on. It’s on the firm side, but it’s still just spongy enough to soak up most of the bumps, cracks and waves the average piece of road will throw up.

In fact, even on bigger wheels with the stiffer sports suspension option, the ride is probably the Exeo ST’s strongest – or at least most surprising – quality. Combined with weighty, pointy steering, the Exeo ST is also a quite rewarding car to drive fast.

The engine line-up is, as you may have already guessed, as per the saloon, which gives you the choice of two 2.0-litre TDI units with either 141bhp or 168bhp, with a detuned 118bhp lump to follow later this year. There’s an almost entirely pointless 197bhp 2.0-litre TSI too, but we’ll forget about that. The higher-powered diesel is a peach, but the 138bhp version is very nearly as good and notably cheaper – and the one 80 percent of buyers will go for.

It’s a very familiar lump, and is tractable and flexible enough to cope well with the demands of a fully loaded estate. No complaints, basically.

Worth Noting

Until you drive the Exeo (in either guise) it’s easy to be disparaging about its concept and execution, but in actual fact SEAT has been laudably canny in approaching its first D-segment car. Development costs have been absolutely minimal, yet even if it had developed the car from scratch, it may still have ended up with a car with limited appeal to private buyers in an already very crowded (and very strong) segment.

However, we’re told that this Exeo is simply a foot in the door to the market, and that if it performs as expected it will lead to a follow-up with a much bigger budget and far higher aspirations; a car that will fit altogether more snugly alongside stuff like the Leon and Ibiza. SEAT won’t tell us the actual numbers it plans to sell – a VW Group policy, apparently – but we did glean that it can make about 450 Exeos per day and expects the split between saloon and ST to be about half-and-half.

Summary

It would have taken quite a lot of effort to make the SEAT Exeo ST a bad car, given the history of its underpinnings (SEAT actually pilfered an entire Audi production line to make the Exeo), but you have to give the Spaniards some credit: the Exeo ST is a bit of a premium bargain, really. Its quality is beyond reproach, it strikes an engaging balance between comfort and sportiness and it’s priced closer to something Japanese than German. However, those looking for outright practicality are better served elsewhere – this is more a ‘lifestyle estate’ than a cavernous load lugger.

Mark Nichol – 5 Jun 2009

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