What is the Volkswagen Sharan?
Do you have a large family? Are you fed up with trying to squeeze everyone into your current car? Then you need a big box ‒ otherwise known as an MPV, or people carrier; a vehicle designed to accommodate lots of people in comparative comfort. The Sharan is one of the biggest MPVs on the market. It features a seven-seat interior with a pair of sliding rear doors that make it easy to climb in and out of its cabin. It costs from £24,900 and in terms of price and size it sits between Volkswagen’s Touran SUV and the same marque’s Caravelle mini-bus.
The current model was launched in 2010. There are four trims levels (S, SE, SEL and Executive) and five engines to choose from. The entry-level model comes with a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol unit with 148bhp, while the other petrol is a 2-litre turbo with 197bhp. Among the petrol motors, the former is the best buy. Of the diesels, the 2-litre, 138bhp diesel is our choice, rather than the 175bhp version.
Buyers shopping for a large people carrier should also test drive the Seat Alhambra, which is essentially the same vehicle as the Sharan but almost £1,000 cheaper. There’s also the Ford S-Max, which is good to drive but not as spacious as the Sharan, and the slightly larger Ford Galaxy. This is spacious but, priced from £25,465, a little more expensive than the VW.
With a full load of passengers, the turbocharged 1.4 TSI (148bhp) can feel underpowered, while the 2-litre TSI (197bhp) petrol is thirsty and high in emissions (it’s the only engine in the range without stop-start). For these reasons we’d recommend buying a diesel-powered Sharan.
The 2-litre TDI engine is available in three states of tune: 113bhp, 138bhp and168bhp. There is an optional DSG dual-clutch transmission, which Driving tested with the 138bhp variant. The pairing provides the best blend of effortless performance and respectable fuel economy (up to 50mpg on the combined cycle). The engine is impressively refined on the move, even under hard acceleration. There’s enough torque to give good flexibility across the rev range and having the DSG automated transmission makes the driving experience relaxed.
The car’s suspension has been engineered to deliver a smooth and composed ride in all conditions. Given the state of UK roads, and the fact the driver may be carrying up to six passengers, that’s a good thing.
The Sharan’s no drudge; it’s not quite as agile as the latest Ford Galaxy or S-Max, despite being much lower-riding than its predecessor, but its handling is adept enough to make the daily grind, family duties or ferrying people from A to B and back again reasonably enjoyable. The only criticism that can really be levelled at it is that it’s one of the most anonymous cars on the road.
This is a sea of black and grey plastic, but with a panoramic glass roof it is possible to lighten the mood, and the dashboard is at least clearly laid out. Significantly, there are plenty of cupholders, door bins, flip-up writing tables and additional ventilation points for rear seat passengers.
The Sharan is a seven-seater in standard form (Executive models, designed for the corporate-minibus market, have a six-seat layout) and six of those seats feature ISOFIX mounting points for child seats ‒ a winning feature for some families. There’s a big boot, even with all the seats in place: 375 litres, expanding to 2,297 litres with all the rear seats folded flat. You could happily camp in a Sharan. Mums and dads who like to indulge in a spot of DIY at the weekend can make the most of a front passenger seat that folds flat, allowing through-loading of long objects.
The seats in the middle row slide independently of one another, too. Getting to the rearmost seats is easy since the middle row’s outer chairs spring up and tip forward, via a lever, while the huge electrically sliding side doors give easy access. There’s not a lot of legroom right at the back, but enough for adults on short journeys.
Otherwise, the nicely finished cabin is spacious, and all the seats are well-shaped and supportive. Passenger comfort is further enhanced by good sound-proofing and a generally comfortable ride (three-mode adaptive chassis control with air suspension is optional).
What to look for
The Sharan sells in relatively small numbers, so it doesn’t tend to feature in the main independent reliability surveys. Fortunately, there’s a little more feedback on the near-identical Seat Alhambra. Owners have reported some glitches with the electric sliding side doors, and there have been problems with the towbar electrics. However, this new model promises to be a lot better than its predecessor, which has a poor reputation.
The service provided by Volkswagen Group franchises appears to be patchy, and the brand scored only marginally above average (13th place) in the 2012 JD Power/What Car? dealership satisfaction survey.
Additional reporting by Farah Alkhalisi
The one to buy
Volkswagen Sharan SE 2.0 TDI BlueMotion Technology (140PS) DSG
- £ 28,530
- 1968cc, 4 cylinders
- 138bhp @ 4200rpm
- 236 lb ft @ 1750rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 10.9sec
- Top Speed:
- 50.4mpg (combined)
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4854mm, W 1904mm, H 1720mm