First drive: SEAT Exeo TDI Multitronic

The third best-selling SEAT car in the UK, the Exeo, didn't start life as a SEAT at all. If you look past the family nose and the over-sized wing mirrors there's an old Audi A4 lurking underneath.

Still, its German parentage doesn't appear to have put buyers off. In fact, I reckon the A4 roots of the Exeo have attracted fleet and family buyers from their Mondeos and Insignias as it feels like an Audi at SEAT's high value prices.

Over 40,000 buyers can't be wrong and to attract more buyers in 2011, SEAT has added multitronic CVT diesel versions in SE Tech and Sport Tech trims. Offered as an alternative to the slick six-speed manual, the new transmission has manual and automatic modes and is mated to the 141bhp 2.0-litre TDi diesel. The new versions are expected to carry a £1,500 premium over the manual and will go on sale later this month.

In manual mode, this Exeo has seven gears that can be controlled via steering wheel-mounted paddles or the multitronic gear lever. Leave it in full auto model and there's drive and sport options, with the sport mode quickening up acceleration and holding on to gears for longer.

So what's it like to drive then? Well, like any CVT the changes are silky smooth in either manual or auto modes and the transmission seems well-matched to the refined 2.0-litre diesel engine. Acceleration is hardly legendary at 9.3 seconds to 60mph, but that isn't really the point of this car and in sport or manual mode the Exeo feels brisk and torquey if not particularly sporty. Both the Exeo and Exeo ST versions are tidy handlers, but for a softer ride we'd advise going for the SE's smaller 17-inch wheels.

Economy is good with a 48.7mpg combined figure and the top speed of 129mph acceptable with C02 emissions that are expected to be 153 g/km, higher than six-speed manual versions.

Other changes which will be released at the same time as the CVT versions are an increase in rear legroom by 44mm, two new interior trim options and standard fit LED rear lights for all Exeo and Exeo ST models. The extra space in the back of the car has been achieved by changing the angle of the rear bench and modifying the backs of the front seats. The B-pillar has also been modified for easier access.

It might be based on an old Audi, but if you're looking for a smooth, relaxing and well-made diesel automatic, then the multitronic versions of the Exeo and Exeo ST are well worth a look.

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