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SEAT Exeo ST

Updates don’t go as far on SEAT, but it’s still spacious

SEAT also calls its family estate a Sport Tourer, but it has taken a very different approach to Renault with its updates for 2012.

The Exeo is based on a four-door saloon rather than a five-door hatch like the Megane, but both cars combine style and space, and claim a sporty focus that other estates lack.

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This recipe partly explains why the Exeo is now the third biggest-selling model in the SEAT range, behind the Ibiza and the Leon, and the company hopes the refresh should help the car build on this success. 

Sadly, the tweaks to the styling are rather subtle, with Sport versions benefiting from a set of new bi-xenon headlights. On higher-spec versions than our SE, these incorporate LEDs as standard; they’re optional on our car. Without the LEDs, it’s hard to tell the Exeo apart from the old model, even though the 17-inch alloys and honeycomb grille are new. It looks clean and simple, but is unlikely to attract many admiring glances on the road.

The cabin has also been updated, with the designers focusing on improving overall quality. But again, the changes feel a bit skin-deep. Smarter leather on the steering wheel and new seat materials aren’t enough to conceal the ageing dashboard design, while the Megane’s sleek and modern layout is a step ahead; the Exeo makes do with square climate control buttons, and a USB input is a £60 optional extra. 

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Everything feels solid enough, and clever features like the hidden slot for your phone work well. But the armrest catches your elbow when you change gear and the centre console needlessly intrudes into the driver’s footwell – niggles like this will soon irritate owners. The Exeo should be more practical, due to its longer body and saloon chassis. But again, it’s held back by its dated previous-generation Audi A4 underpinnings. The boot is smaller than the Renault’s with the rear seats in place, while the parcel shelf is heavy. So is the seat folding mechanism – it requires two hands.

This extra weight also had an impact at the track, where the Exeo took 17.8 seconds to go from 50-70mph in sixth – that’s a full eight seconds longer than the Megane. It was just as sluggish off the line, trailing the Renault by 2.6 seconds from 0-62mph, with a time of 12.4 seconds. The SEAT was hobbled by its tall gearing and the fact it has 30Nm less torque than its rival, at 290Nm.

Despite this limited performance, the Exeo can still tow 500kg more than the Megane, while the softer suspension makes it a comfier companion on long trips. As soon as you hit a twisty road, though, it feels heavy and cumbersome thanks to its vague steering.

The £21,605 SEAT is £995 cheaper than the Renault, and should hold on to its value better. But high running costs – poor economy in particular – mean it will be hard-pressed to beat the efficient and well equipped Megane. 

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Chart position: 2Why: SEAT’s business-minded Exeo is a comfortable and refined family holdall. Plus, the car’s roots as a saloon make the estate a far more practical proposition.

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