Top speed: 129 mph
Acceleration: 0-62 mph in 9.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 48.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 153g/km
Price: Exeo range starts at £19,170, Multitronic models will cost from about £23,000.
Rivals: Audi A4 Avant, Skoda Superb estate, Vauxhall Insignia estate
Seat has introduced a worthwhile new option for its Exeo saloons and estates - an automatic gearbox.
Only a small minority of buyers in what Seat calls the “non-premium upper-medium segment” opt for an automatic transmission, and so far, the Exeo doesn't seem to have had too much difficulty winning friends without one. Nevertheless, the company believes the new gearbox option could be ordered by up to 15% of Exeo buyers, even though it will only be available in conjunction with a single engine choice, the 143 horsepower version of the company's 2.0-litre common-rail diesel, and the more expensive SE Tech and Sport Tech trim levels, at a cost of about £1500 (exact pricing hasn't been confirmed yet). Otherwise hard-to-reach luxury-minded private buyers are expected to account for some of these, although most will go to business customers.
When it came to selecting an alternative transmission for the Exeo, Seat made an interesting choice. Instead of a conventional automatic, or the Volkswagen group's dual-clutch DSG gearbox that is available on other Seats, it has gone for a type of continuously variable transmission (CVT), branded Multitronic, that is usually found in Audis. That Audi link isn't a matter of chance, of course; the Exeo is a surprisingly appealing and effective revamp of the last-generation Audi A4, so Seat has done the obvious thing and chosen automatic gearbox technology that has always been associated with this car, and, in particular, with its slightly unusual mechanical layout, which combines front-wheel drive with a longitudinally mounted engine.
CVTs don't have a fixed number of gear ratios but instead, within a given range, constantly and infinitely alter a car's overall gearing according to conditions. The obvious theoretical advantage is that a CVT can always keep a car's engine operating in its most efficient zone, with benefits for fuel consumption and performance, although the unusual unvarying, “moaning” engine note that results can take a bit of getting used to for drivers more accustomed to conventional automatics and manuals, and tends not to appeal much to enthusiasts.
Multitronic is a CVT with a difference, though. If you select “D” in the automatic-style gear selector gate, it behaves like any other constantly variable transmission, but it is also capable of being operated in a “stepped” fashion, mimicking a seven-speed gearbox, with manual shifts available via the lever or a pair of wheel-mounted paddles; as in the case of other Porsche and VW Group automatics, regardless of the underlying technology, this “manual” mode is referred to as Tiptronic.
This means that Multitronic is able to accommodate effectively a wide range of driving styles, depending on traffic conditions or a driver's mood. Straightforward CVT mode is probably best for town driving or crawling in dense traffic, although it also works pretty well the rest of the time as well; that characteristic CVT-related moan is scarcely noticeable at motorway speeds, for example, probably because the gearbox uses the strong torque of the Exeo's refined common-rail diesel engine to keep revs down. When Multitronic is operating in stepped mode it is almost indistinguishable from a normal automatic being used in the Tiptronic setting, although its “gear changes” are rather more slurred than the very crisp shifts of DSG systems.
Seat has introduced a number of upgrades to coincide with the introduction of Multitronic, including LED rear lights and tweaks to the seating layout that free up a useful extra 44 mm of rear legroom. Otherwise the Exeo is broadly unchanged, which is generally a good thing. Working within the constraints of an existing design borrowed from Audi has meant that Seat hasn't been able to stamp its personality – think youthful, sporty and Mediterranean - on this car to the same extent as it has in the case of the smaller Ibiza and Leon. On the other hand, the Exeo is a sharper drive than the old A4, and Seat seems broadly to have maintained the high quality levels set by this car in its previous incarnation, while constantly updating its technology and equipment to keep it fresh. The Multitronic gearbox can only enhance its appeal.