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SEAT Exeo ST

With its Audi pedigree, newcomer looks a classy choice in this sector

Appearances are deceptive with the SEAT. Glance at its handsome profile and you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at an Audi – not surprising, as the Exeo ST is essentially a reworked version of the German firm’s previous-generation A4 Avant.

At the front, the car gets a new nose that clearly takes its influence from SEAT’s Ibiza, with a bold grille and swept-back headlamps. Move around to the rear and you’ll find the tailgate has been reskinned. It now features the company’s trademark badge, which doubles as a boot release.

As a finishing touch, our Sport trim car gets a racy twin-exit exhaust and five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels. While it’s not as flamboyant as the Renault, the restrained Exeo has the look of a premium product.

However, with underpinnings that can be traced back to 2001, the SEAT loses out when it comes to cabin space. Open the boot and you’re confronted with a 442-litre capacity. This increases to 1,354 litres when you drop the rear seats – but both figures are some way short of the Renault.

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Plus, as with the Mégane, the seats don’t fold flush with the floor, which leaves an uneven load area. At least there are plenty of cubbyholes, nets, a false floor and straps for carrying smaller items. You’ll also find a 12V socket for powering electric coolboxes or other in-car gadgets.

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Rear seat passengers are likely to feel the pinch, as the narrow cabin is more cramped than that of its French rival, while the small door openings hamper access.

We have no complaints about the quality of the Exeo’s cabin, however. As you would expect given the influence of Audi, the plastics are all from the top drawer.

But it’s the way the SEAT has mimicked its German cousin’s solid build that really impresses – the switchgear operates with precision and the doors shut with a satisfying thud.

At the test track, the Exeo morphs from executive estate into junior hot hatch. Thanks to its powerful 168bhp 2.0-litre engine, the ST sets a scorching pace, recording a 0-60mph time of 8.9 seconds. The free-revving diesel unit enjoys being worked hard, although it’s a little lethargic below 2,000rpm.

Our Sport test car has lowered and stiffened suspension as standard, and it feels remarkably agile through a series of bends. The steering delivers sharp turn-in and there is plenty of grip on smooth roads.

But on rough surfaces, the Exeo loses its composure, with large, mid-corner bumps causing it to skip about, particularly at the rear. The car can’t hope to match the fluid ride comfort of its French rival, either.

With a list price of £21,840, the ST costs £2,000 more than the Mégane, although it does feature slightly more standard equipment and greater pace.

Plus, there’s also the option of a 138bhp version for £20,940. So while the Exeo isn’t ultimately as practical as the Renault, the quality cabin, classy looks and sporty driving dynamics make it a very desirable, family friendly machine.

Details

Chart position: 2
WHY: SEAT hopes its mix of Audi underpinnings and value pricing will make the Exeo wagon a winner.

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