This week June Neary discovers the latest version of Volkswagen's Sharan large MPV..
Will It Suit Me?
Personally, as I don't have any children, I don't really need an MPV, especially not a very big one. That's in normal every day life. However, it definitely came in handy to have the Sharan at the weekend when my sister, her husband, their two kids, my parents and Mr Growler (their Staffordshire Bull Terrier) turned up insisting on lunch at the pub. It made life easy, we could all pile into one car and, as a result, we didn't have to form the usual convoy and no one got lost. The interior is more like a small aircraft than a car so there were no squabbles about anyone squashed in the middle or wanting to sit in the front. Every seat offers the comfort of the front seat. And that airy, glassy cabin allows even the smallest passenger a view of the road, a great help on long journeys to ease boredom.
Loading seven of us into the Sharan was, as I said earlier, simple. There was no problem with the baby seat, either, as standing on the pavement, you're at about the right height to strap the seat onto the seatbelt - less backbreaking than in some cars. When you have your full complement of people on board, it's clear why roof rails are part of the deal - it would be awkward to load the family luggage for a week's holiday inside the vehicle without having to unload a large part of it every time you made a motorway stop. For me, this Sharan has come thirty years too late. I have two sisters and a brother and I remember setting off on days out in my Dad's Hillman Minx, a car he adored but which didn't allow much room in the back for four growing kids (this was before the era of rear seatbelts, I hasten to add!). We were pretty fidgety after the first couple of hours, not good for parents or children alike. An MPV in those days would have been ideal for us.
Behind the Wheel
The 150PS TDI diesel engine in my test car was a revelation to me. There was only the barest hint when I turned on the ignition that the car was a diesel at all. On the motorway the Sharan soaked up the miles and I was very impressed with its cruising qualities and the comfort on my sixty-mile round trip. The height of the vehicle means excellent all round vision and the wing mirrors are easily adjusted at the touch of a button. I did have problems with handling whilst driving down the country lanes, either. The only problem I had was in the pub car park. I usually drive a saloon, so parking the Sharan wasn't all that easy for me. Having said that, the spaces were so small that anyone in a car bigger than a Corsa was having the same trouble. By the end of the weekend I had a better feel for the size of this Volkswagen and had even managed to gauge the front end better - the 'noselessness' meant that at first I didn't drive far enough forward to park, leaving the rear overhanging the space by a generous margin. Practice makes perfect... This is a heavy car but the power steering more than compensated for that and the extra height was only of concern when I drove into the multi-storey carpark in the town centre - I involuntarily ducked as I went up the ramp, but there was ample clearance.
Value For Money
Volkswagen's strengths lie in packaging, hence high equipment levels. 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 now be activated in-car, a wide variety of apps can be fed into this model's much improved infotainment system. The options list is now vast including everything from a fridge to a multi-media system capable of entertaining rear passengers with DVD video or computer games via colour screens mounted in the back of the front seat headrests. Diesel power has been the dominant choice in the Sharan range since the word go. The car's practical remit is a perfect fit with the economy and pulling power you tend to get when burning heavy oil. Little is likely to change with the latest 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine range meeting the Euro VI emissions regulations and available in a choice of 115PS, 150PS or 184PS power outputs. Despite this, petrol might not be the non-starter you imagine it to be in a modern big MPV thanks to the intriguing supercharged and turbocharged 1.4-litre TSI engine. With 150PS plus lots of pulling power, this is a thoroughly high-tech installation.
Could I Live With One?
If I had the family to match, the Sharan would be at the top of my list. It seems to be generally agreed that in the MPV sector the Volkswagen contender is one of the best there is. After a highly successful weekend with one, I wouldn't disagree.