SEAT has the Exeo factor

It may be based on the previous Audi A4 but the Exeo is good value in these cost-conscious times, says Matt Kimberley, PA motoring writer.

The Exeo has been thought of as something of a wise buy ever since its release in 2009. Wearing the undergarments of a previous-generation Audi A4, only partially disguised with a nice new-for-2012 SEAT frock means it's a bit of a bargain.

Even at �22,290 on your drive the Exeo ST looks handsome on paper next to any of the alternatives. It has a proven chassis, huge boot, cutting-edge engines courtesy of the Volkswagen Group and an impressive amount of standard kit.

It's a car designed to give company car drivers what they want. Its price means it sometimes falls into some people's choice list when the A4 on which it's based wouldn't, with a very high-spec option for the money.

This particular car is an SE Tech model, which throws in an extra �3,270 of kit for �875 more than the normal SE model. It's hard to say no to a deal like that, especially when the kit list reads like this Exeo's.

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You get leather upholstery, 17in alloys, stainless steel roof rails, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, a Bose Premium audio system, cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors, leather-trimmed contact points and loads of practical touches like a net partition at the rear, a fold-out bag that emerges from behind the middle seats and can safely house skis, and a dual-floor boot.

It's a phenomenal list, boosted on this car by optional bi-xenon headlights, a very reasonably-priced convenience pack that includes front parking sensors among other handy things, double-glazed side windows to prevent condensation and reduce wind noise, and a detachable towbar.

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It all makes the Exeo easy to live with. On the motorway the double-glazed side windows help minimise wind noise to impressive levels.

This one is powered by the familiar 2.0-litre TDI diesel from the Volkswagen Group, an engine that sees service in dozens of models and states of tune across SEAT, VW, Audi and Skoda cars. It's a tremendously good all-round choice for a high-mileage driver, and with 141bhp it has plenty of shove for most people.

It's tuned to give high torque with only a gentle press of the throttle pedal in second gear, giving it a really lively and pokey attitude around town. At low revs there's some noticeable vibration, but that disappears as the revs rise past 1,500rpm and the turbo kicks in.

Being based on an older-generation car it's a little smaller than the current Audi A4, for example, but it feels more agile and interesting to drive as a result. It's no sports car but the driving experience has more about it than some of the other options for the price.

As many company cars get used as family buses at the weekends, the Exeo ST scores more points. The boot is wide, long and has a handy dual-floor layout that allows smaller or thinner, potentially more fragile or valuable items to be stowed out of sight and out of harm's way. There's no load lip so hoisting heavy, bulky loads in and out is no problem.

If you were to fault it you could argue that the road tax bill isn't as low as it could be in this day and age. The trade-off for paying �120 a year road tax instead of, say, �30, is that the car costs a lot less to buy in the first place. Some business-users might be put off though.

Then there's the audio system which at first glance offers every way under the sun of playing music – iPod connection, standard aux-in port and two SD card slots. But while the media interface, displayed on the 6.5in sat-nav screen, appears to show six CDs as if there's a multi-changer, but there isn't. To play a CD you have to take the navigation DVD out, so you can't play CDs and use the nav. As long as your music is on SD cards the system works a treat.

On the whole the Exeo is a very convincing car, offering an awful lot of substance underneath its distinctive styling.

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