SEAT is not one of the big car brands in Ireland. Just 1,763 new SEATs found homes in Ireland in 2011 and the company's best year recently was 2007, with 3,346 cars sold. Half the problem is that its models are not sufficiently differentiated from other Volkswagen Group cars, while here in Ireland most buyers are probably just not very aware of the brand.
That's a shame, as SEAT has always tried to add a little Latin passion to the Group's proven competence. It doesn't go far enough if you ask me and hence garners few headlines. I bet, if you did a poll of average car buyers asking them to name a SEAT, they'd all come up with the Ibiza. Few would mention the Golf-based Leon, the Altea compact MPV, the huge Alhambra or this car, the SEAT Exeo.
In fairness, the Exeo doesn't really encapsulate the brand in the way that the company hopes to. It's a medium sized four-door saloon priced to compete with the likes of the Toyota Avensis, Hyundai i40, etc. Put simply, it's a family car.
That suits us down to the ground of course. Two child seats are a permanent fixture in the back of our cars and more often than not there's a buggy in the boot, along with a scooter or tractor or something along those lines, never mind our luggage whenever we're venturing home for the weekend. An estate would be our first choice of car, but it's remarkable how much clobber the Exeo's boot swallows. Rear legroom isn't bad either - and I don't mean just for the kids...
The Exeo we're driving for the moment was a special edition brought in to appeal to buyers availing of the scrappage scheme. It's based on the Reference model and features Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, central locking, front fog lights, electric windows all round and 16-inch alloy wheels. Hence it feels well equipped without being ostentatious or so luxurious you'd be afraid to let your kids in it.
Grey paintwork does nothing for the exterior of the Exeo, but the five-spoke alloys liven it up and it's a neat shape. Those in the know will tell you that the Exeo is based on the previous generation Audi A4, though its face and rear end are quite different.
The interior switchgear, slick as it is, feels a generation behind, but the upshot of it being based on an Audi is that it works faultlessly and is quite tactile.
In fairness, most Exeo buyers will be more interested in running costs and the purchase price. This car costs €26,790, which is on a par with the 2.0 D4-D Avensis Aura and Ford Mondeo 1.6 TDCi 115.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre TDI engine with 120hp. It pulls cleanly and has plenty of performance for the car, but so far we're most impressed with the fuel consumption. It's averaging 6.5 litres/100km (43.4mpg), despite being used in town a lot. Its emissions rating of 129g/km mean an annual tax bill of €225.
This particular car is only with us for a short while before we replace it with a newer version in higher specification.
Already looking forward to it.
Model tested: SEAT Exeo saloon 2.0 TDI Reference S.E.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
Rivals: Ford Mondeo, Hyundai i40, Toyota Avensis
CO? emissions: 129g/km (Band B, €225 per annum)
Combined economy: 57.6mpg (4.9 litres/100km)
Top speed: 204km/h
0-100km/h: 10.5 seconds
Power: 120hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 290Nm at 1,750- to 2,500rpm