First Drive: Seat Exeo Multitronic

If only¬†life was as glamorous as TV had led us to believe, then perhaps the need for reality shows and desperate talent searches for desperate talent might not crowd the schedules. Accepting your lot is one of life’s hardest lessons: so hard that some people will never manage it at all. There’s a little bit of this going on in most car ranges too. While the super-sexy hot hatch or svelte coupe is what everyone wants, the reality is that some of us can only afford a low-spec supermini or whatever the company car list suggests.

So the Exeo, Seat’s mid-range small executive saloon (and wagon in ST form) is certainly no betrayal of the brand ethos: saloons are hardly sexy machines, but there is a sizeable market out there and it would be daft not to make a play for it. The Exeo has been around since 2009 and in that time has grown to become the third best-selling Seat in the UK.

Now the Exeo has received some detail tweaks – it’s not quite a facelift as the car’s visual appearance is almost completely unchanged – but some fettling here and there all helps to attract the choosy buyer that occupies this segment. The biggest news is in the gearbox department, as the Exeo is now available with the CVT Multitronic transmission, another useful piece of kit inherited from Audi. Mated solely to the 2.0-litre TDI common rail unit producing 141bhp, the Multitronic gearbox works on the principles of pulleys and belts rather than conventional gears. The advantage is smoother operation and better efficiency.

This is still a Seat of course, so a sporty flavour must be part of the package. As well as a conventional D mode, slot the transmission into S mode and it will keep the engine revs higher for quicker responses. Transmissions like the Multitronic operate by holding the engine revs at peak torque then altering the gearbox ratio for maximum acceleration, however the Exeo also has a manual mode operated by the lever or the paddles on the back of the steering wheel and offers seven ‘virtual’ ratios to give the driver full control.

But however sporty we think we are, most driving will be done with the transmission firmly in the D position. Here it delivers a largely fuss-free experience that is exactly why you would choose an automatic in the first place. Squeeze the accelerator and the revs rise gently, followed by smooth and linear acceleration. Those new to the Multitronic experience might be confused by the constant engine revs when accelerating, but the common rail diesel is sufficiently refined and the cabin is well insulated, so before long it becomes second nature.

Press on a little and the seamless gearbox operation actually deceives the senses: it is so smooth that without the natural pause between gearchanges the Exeo can feel slower than it really is. However, flip the transmission into manual mode and the seven virtual ratios not only give an impressive amount of control but also helps the driver match road speed and gear selection. It may only represent a fraction of the car’s lifetime, but the Exeo turns its hand well to enthusiastic driving, helped by the torquey engine and solid feel from the controls.

The rest of the Exeo experience is helped by the Audi parentage. The cabin may be an elder statesman compared to some of its rivals, but after spending five minutes in the driver’s seat it’s hard to fathom why you would want anything different. The materials are still of a very high quality, the layout is sensible and clear and the specification is impressive: go for one of the top models and there is equipment galore. The other significant change which applies to all Exeo models is a reconfiguring of the rear door pillar and seat back to liberate an extra 44mm of legroom for back-seat passengers. That might not seem like a huge amount but in an already well-proportioned cabin it makes for a pleasingly spacious place to spend time.

There are some new trim options too, including some attractive leather colour schemes, plus higher specification models are available with rear LEDs for the first time – a useful fillip for a car that is clean-cut and handsome rather than exceptionally bold.

The Exeo is a car which unashamedly goes about its purpose – fulfilling the needs of a specific buyer – and does a very fine job too.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Seat Exeo 2.0 TDI CR Multitronic SE, £23,000(est)
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit producing 141bhp and 236lb.ft of torque
Transmission: CVT automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 129mph, 0-62mph 9.3 seconds
Economy: 48.7mpg combined
Emissions: 152g/km of C02

By Matt Joy

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