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SHARAN SHARE ALIKE

Can Volkswagen's latest Sharan assume top spot in the large MPV class? Steve Walker takes a look.

As their family commitments mount, it's possible to see parents being funnelled inexorably towards the purchase of a large MPV. It creeps up on some of them but the process that starts with that first wrestling match against an ISOFIX child seat and ends with mum and dad buried beneath a pile of bicycles, nappy bags, footballs and pushchairs ultimately leads to one kind of car. There are other ways to carry seven occupants, or five and a vast cargo, but if your family reaches truly epic proportions, the large MPV is still the daddy and Volkswagen is nominating its latest Sharan as father of the year.

Ten Second Review

Families ask a lot of their vehicles but few kinds of car can answer more of those questions than the large MPV. The Sharan is Volkswagen's idea of the ultimate big people carrier with a variety of seating options and punchy yet economical engines. Sliding side doors enhance access and the seats themselves contort into a wide array of different layouts.

Background

When the original Volkswagen Sharan was launched in 1995, there were far fewer options for car buyers looking to carry seven passengers than there are today. As the Sharan MK1 aged gracefully, the market sector it called home was being nibbled away at by family-sized 4x4s, large estate cars and even smaller compact MPVs with an extra pair of seats positioned in the boot.

It's reached the stage where those with a super-sized family have a wealth of choice at their disposal, ranging from van-based utility to all terrain ruggedness and executive luxury. If it's to match the 600,000 units its predecessor sold across Europe, this Sharan MK2 will need to persuade overworked parents that it's best qualified to ease the burden of family life.

Driving Experience

The engine line-up opens with a 1.4-litre petrol, the idea of which might set alarm bells ringing in light of the Sharan's size and this unit's lack thereof. Fortunately, Volkswagen isn't offering this vast piece of automotive real estate with any old weak-willed 1.4. The powerplant in question is the Twincharger 1.4 TSI which generates 148bhp with the aid of turbocharger and supercharger. Above that is the turbocharged 2.0 TSI which delivers 198bhp and then you have the diesels that are certain to be popular in a vehicle like the Sharan thanks to their torque and fuel economy.

138bhp and 168bhp versions of the 2.0 TDI common-rail diesel engine are offered. They come with manual gearboxes as standard but Volkswagen's DSG dual clutch automatic is available as an option and will make a lot of sense for many Sharan buyers. The 2.0 TSI petrol engine actually comes as standard with the DSG transmission and having flipped away at its paddle shifters for a while, few will miss a manual transmission.

Design and Build

Just because a vehicle has seven seats, it doesn't mean that seven adult-sized occupants can fit comfortably on board but the latest Sharan claims to have the space that compact MPVs and large SUVs invariably lack. Behind this claim is a 220mm increase in length and with a 92mm increase in width compared to the old Sharan, making the vehicle 4850mm long and 1900mm wide. The 1720mm height is actually reduced slightly but not at the expense of headroom inside. The styling is typical Volkswagen, uncomplicated but classy, and there's a conspicuously large glass area bringing plenty of light into the cabin while affording all occupants a good view out.

The rear doors of this Sharan slide back to give a wide access point to the second row of seats. Both these doors and the tailgate can be electrically powered for added convenience and access to the third row seating is improved by the Easy Entry function through which the outer seats in the second row tilt and slide forward in a single motion.

The entire cabin is based around the EasyFold seating system. This allows the three second row seats to slide back and forth individually to alter the legroom available. It also means that all of the rear seats can fold flat to the floor creating extra luggage space. As usual, there isn't a whole lot of luggage capacity with all the seats occupied but with the third-row folded down, a huge 711 litres is available up to the car's belt-line. A detachable mesh partition allows cargo to be stacked to the ceiling for a 1,167 litre capacity and with all the rear seats folded, a maximum of 2,297 litres is available. The cabin looks as solidly constructed as we've come to expect from Volkswagen with the dashboard controls being as clearly marked and simple to operate as you'll find anywhere.

Market and Model

Volkswagen has split the Sharan range into S, SE, SEL and Executive trim levels, which grow progressively plush in that order. Most buyers will want the 7-seat layout but Executive customers can also opt for a six-seater configuration, offering a 'business' layout with a pair of roomier seats in the second and third rows.

All models get seven airbags, ESP stability control, child locks for the rear doors and windows, remote central locking, tinted windows and 16" alloy wheels. Air-conditioning is standard but six and seven seaters get a 3-zone system with different settings for the rearmost seats. Options include integrated child seats in the middle row, parking assist technology and Adaptive Chassis Control system which modifies the suspension set-up to your requirements with Comfort, Normal and Sport modes.

Volkswagen has quite a range of MPVs these days and the Sharan sits between the compact Touran which can seat up to seven and the larger Caravelle which is based on van underpinnings and can get eight inside. In terms of direct rivals, it will be targeting the likes of Ford's Galaxy and the Chrysler Grand Voyager.

Cost of Ownership

Fuel economy is helped by a Stop-Start system and regenerative braking which help reduce the workload of the Sharan's engines. All models except those fitted with the 2.0 TSI petrol unit get these features as standard. The upshot is 38mpg economy and 172g/km emissions from the 1.4 TSI unit. The 138bhp and 168bhp TDI diesel models meanwhile, return 52mpg and 49.5mpg respectively. Their emissions are pegged at 143g/km and 152g/km. Sharan buyers can expect the usual sturdy VW residual values.

Summary

Whether you have a big family or a small one that makes big demands on your family car, Volkswagen's latest Sharan is designed to cope. It ticks the usual large MPV boxes with economical engines, a light and spacious cabin, a versatile seating system and good safety credentials. Buyers can also choose from a range of high-tech features and Volkswagen's simple, sturdy design is common throughout. There are more ways to carry lots of luggage or passengers than ever before but the Sharan has to be amongst the classiest ways to get the job done.


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