It’s easy to dismiss SEAT’s Exeo as nothing more than a revived previous-generation Audi A4, which was ditched in 2008
However, that doesn’t do the Exeo justice, and it misses the point – this is a car that’s all about raising SEAT’s quality, without having to charge Audi prices to make a profit. To prove that the Spanish company’s saloon is much more than merely a resurrected A4, we pitched an Exeo ST 2.0 TDI against a 2002 A4 Avant 1.9 TDI, to see how the new car stacks up against the old one.
Your first impression is how different the nose and tail are, while everything in between is identical – the two profiles are interchangeable. Whether the styling updates are successful or not is another matter – the Audi is arguably the more handsome of the two, but the SEAT is far from ugly. More successful is the dash redesign, or to be accurate, the wholesale transplant of the previous-generation A4 cabriolet fascia. Apparently, Audi claimed it couldn’t be done, but SEAT proved otherwise, after a lot of swearing and fighting with double-sided sticky tape. The result is a dash with better ventilation, but in reality it looks little different from what it replaced – let’s face it, Audi’s dash design hasn’t evolved massively in recent years. While the improved dash is a welcome change, by far the biggest upgrades are hidden from view – the engine and suspension. The Exeo was the first model range in its sector that was entirely Euro V emissions regulations compliant, ensuring the cars are clean, and making them attractive to those all-important fleet drivers.
It’s not just about the numbers, though. The SEAT is so much more better to drive than the Audi that you wouldn’t think the two were related. Gone is the ancient 1.9 TDI engine with its pumpe düse fuel delivery, replaced by the newer 2.0 TDI unit, with common rail fuel injection. The result is an engine that’s as flexible as ever. The old unit needed 1,500 revs on the dial to pull cleanly, whereas the SEAT requires a mere 1,000rpm before it’ll accelerate smoothly. Our test Exeo packed 168bhp with 258lb ft of torque, transmitted through the front wheels. But the Audi, could muster only 128bhp and 210lb ft, yet it was equipped with four-wheel drive. As a result, the German car felt rather more sure-footed, especially on greasy surfaces. SEAT’s inability to offer an all-wheel drive Exeo is unfortunate, but the company argues such transmissions produce too big a fuel consumption and performance penalty. Try telling that to Audi…
While SEAT’s engineers had their socket sets out, they also took the opportunity to tweak the suspension settings, although the layout is fundamentally the same as before. It’s hard to argue whether or not the work has been successful, because the Audi rode on 16-inch wheels while those on the SEAT were 18-inch items. As a result, the SEAT had a firmer ride, but lowlier models come with smaller wheels, which will undoubtedly offer more comfort. The result of all this work is a car that carries over the best bits of the old A4, while improving on (or eradicating) its weaknesses. So while it’s not a class leader, as you’ve already read on the previous pages, it’s definitely a lot more than just a rehashed Audi cast-off.