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SEAT Exeo

SEAT's Audi A4 based Exeo certainly looks familiar - but is it as good to drive as the car it shares much of its engineering with?

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It could be argued that adding Spanish spice to a car that's as German as bratwurst has muddled the formula, but if you look past the badge and the toned-down looks, this A4-lite represents good value for money.

Most carmanufacturers could regard entering a completely new market in thecurrent climate as a risk too far. But the Exeo, SEAT's first forayinto mid-size executive territory, could be a safe bet for the Spanishfirm.

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That'sbecause underneath, the car is essentially a reworked version of Audi'sprevious-generation A4. SEAT says the aim of the car is to break in tothe lucrative Mondeo market, and that developing its own model wouldhave taken too long. Using a car that's nearing the top of its class asa base seems like a good idea.

And the German connection shows. Viewed from the side, the Exeo is almost identical to its cousin from Ingolstadt.

The front endhas received a SEAT-style redesign – but shapes that work on the Ibizaaren't so clever on this larger car, leaving it with a look that'salmost too subtle. The rear retains the sporty lip of the Audi, but thenumber plate is moved down to the bumper – leaving the boot a littlesparse. The makeover clearly brings the car into the SEAT fold, butsome of the A4's commanding presence is lost.

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Four trimlevels are available – S, SE, Sport and the range-topping SE Lux. Wedrove a Sport model with the 141bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine that ispredicted to lead sales.

On the road,the Exeo is well-mannered and an impressive cruiser, but while its longsix-speed gearing lends itself to motorway overtaking, pace off theline is underwhelming. Kitted out with sports suspension the carcorners with pace, but over rough surfaces the harder springs result ina slightly harsh ride. Responsive brakes inspire confidence.

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Fuel economy is a decent 51.4mpg on the combined cycle, while CO2 emissions are 143g/km, so car tax will be £120 a year.

Inside,the car gets the dash from the A4 convertible, and the result is anupmarket feel. The Exeo is packed with plenty of standard kit includingUSB and mp3 connections, Bluetooth, climate control and seven airbags.Options include double-glazed side windows, electrically adjustable andheated front seats, and a hi-tech solar sunroof.

Legroom inthe rear is tight and the car's 460-litre boot is slightly less thanthe Mondeo, but we found it to be sufficiently practical. So willMondeo and Honda Accord buyers be tempted by the promise of premiumquality and engineering, with a family car price tag? We think theycould be. With prices starting at £17,740, the Exeo is priced to gunfor the Ford – but crucially it's around £3,000 less than the A4, withwhich it shares so much. Buyers looking for a sporty cruiser and whodon't rate outright style and space as priorities could find a bargain.

Rival: Ford Mondeo
SEAT is braveto plunge into the competitive mid-exec market, where the Mondeo isking. The Ford offers style and great driving and is a top-classall-rounder. But using the A4, usually considered a class above Mondeo,as a base could see the SEAT providing a test for the Ford.

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