Can Volkswagen's improved Sharan continue to vie for top spot in the large MPV class? Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
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. This improved model gets smarter looks, greater efficiency and more connectivity. It's a car of its time.
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. This second generation model aimed to make a strong case for traditional large MPV motoring and it's been usefully enhanced with a well-judged package of recent changes that see family buyers getting extra technology and significant increases in efficiency.
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 150PS with the aid of turbocharger and supercharger. Most owners though, will want a TDI diesel - and there are three 2.0-litre choices, offering either 115, 150 or 184PS. 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.
Design and Build
The easiest way to identify this improved MK2 model Sharan is to take a look at its rear where LED light technology now features in the tail lamps. Otherwise, the practical looks are much as before, housing impressive interior versatiliy. 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. Just because a vehicle has seven seats, it doesn't mean that seven adult-sized occupants can fit comfortably on board but this Sharan has the space that compact MPVs and large SUVs invariably lack. The rear doors 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 - which now features smarter accents and materials - 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 now-smarter dashboard's controls being as clearly marked and simple to operate as you'll find anywhere.
Market and Model
As before, pricing sits mainly in the £27,000 to £34,000 bracket common to his class of car and trim levels run simply from 'S' to 'SE' and on to 'SEL'. Most buyers will want the 7-seat layout but 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. The second generation of Volkswagen's modular infotainment platform is used in the Sharan offering a maximum level of connectivity. This is one of the first of the brand's vehicles to be equipped with "App Connect"; thanks to the MirrorLink, Android Auto (Google) and Car Play (Apple) systems that can nw be activated in-car, a wide variety of apps can be fed into this model's much improved infotainment system. Safety's been upgraded too. Along with the standard Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, which automatically initiates braking after a collision if the driver is no longer able to intervene, numerous optional assistance systems are now available. They include the ambient traffic monitoring system 'Front Assist with integrated City Emergency Braking', the 'Lane Assist' lane-keeping assistant, 'Adaptive Cruise Control' system, the third generation of 'Park Assist' (for assisted parking and exiting from parking spaces) and the 'Blind Spot Monitor', which warns of vehicles in the blind spot when changing lanes.
Cost of Ownership
The petrol (TSI) and diesel (TDI) engines have been completely redesigned for greater efficiency. These turbocharged direct-injection units are now up to 15% more fuel-efficient and they all conform to the Euro-6 emissions standard. All engines may be combined with the agile 6-speed dual clutch gearbox (DSG), which now also enables the fuel-saving coasting function (which allows decoupling of the engine from the drivetrain when the driver's foot is taken off the accelerator pedal). As before, fuel economy is helped by a Stop-Start system and regenerative braking which help reduce the workload of the Sharan's engines. On to the figures. The 1.4-litre TSI petrol unit manages 43.5mpg on the combined cycle and 150g/km of CO2. Switch to 2.0 TDI motoring and you'll find the entry-level 115PS unit will improve those figures to 56.5mpg and 130g/km, returns duplicated by the 150PS 2.0 TDI variant. The 184PS 2.0 TDI model manages 53.3mpg and 138g/km. As ever, Sharan buyers can expect the usual sturdy VW residual values.
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.