"The Volkswagen Sharan is a comprehensive family package – it's just a shame about the high price-tag"
If you’ve got a big family in need of a seven-seater MPV, consider the Volkswagen Sharan – it's a capable and efficient car that feels built to last. It features a large interior that offers flexible seating for carrying large goods or large families, and pretty much anything in between. Unlike a lot of other people carriers on the market, it delivers car-like handling and even feels light to drive on windy back roads. The engines are excellent, offering up a mix of impressive fuel economy and punchy performance that you don’t expect from such a large vehicle. The only major problem with the Sharan is the cost – which is high enough to put many families off, but you certainly do get what you pay for if you’re willing to splash out for the quality on offer here. Everyone else will probably find what they’re after in the cheaper but nearly identical SEAT Alhambra.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
If you’ve got your eye out for the lowest running costs you can get in such a large family transporters, we’d recommend going for the 2.0-litre diesel. The 138bhp BlueMotion engine is most efficient in the range, claiming to return 50.4mpg in combined fuel economy, while emitting 146g/km of CO2, which puts in tax band F so will cost £140 a year in road tax. However, the more powerful 175bhp diesel isn’t actually that far behind it, returning 47.1mpg and emitting 158g/km (band G, £175 a year). The powerful 2.0-litre TSI petrol car is by far the most expensive to run, with combined fuel economy of 33.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 198g/km (band J, £260 a year) – although the 1.4-litre petrol isn’t much better, claiming to return 39.2mpg and emits 167g/km of CO2 (band H, £200).
Interior & comfort
The latest Sharan does appear to have slightly firmer suspension than the previous model, to provide a better ride, but this really hasn’t been done at the expense of comfort. That's in part due to the electronic adaptive chassis control that's been introduced to adjust the ride to driving conditions. You get to choose between three modes – normal, comfort and sport – all of which do have a noticeably different feel. Any noise inside the Sharan – from the wind or tyres - is kept to a minimum thanks some extensive sound insulation, while the engines are barely audible at all when driving at cruising speeds. The interior is spacious, and if you get the SEL with its panoramic roof, it feels airy and bright inside.
Practicality & boot space
With all seven of its seats in place, the Sharan only offers 375 litres of boot space – which isn’t bad at all, to be honest. But drop the seats and fold them down flat and that space is expanded to a frankly enormous 2,297 litres, which some vans would wish they had. As a large family car, the Sharan has been clearly designed with practicality in mind, so as well as the luggage capacity, the rear doors slide on rails to make access in and out of the Sharan as easy as possible – and these can even be motorised as an optional extra to make life even easier. While there is seating for seven people, but the rearmost row of seats are really only suitable for children to use, with adults likely to find it far too much of a squeeze for comfort. But it is a very flexible interior, with the option to fold just the back row to make it a five-seater with a bigger boot.
Reliability & safety
Given that Volkswagen cars in general tend to have a very impressive reliability record, it seems odd that VW only managed a mid-table finish in the manufacturers rankings in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey – and even that was up two spots on its 2012 position of 18th. Reliability was even one of the main cited problems. The Sharan itself proved too rare to feature, so it didn’t rank in the polls top 150 cars, but much of the engine technology used in the Sharan has already proved itself to be highly durable in other models across the VW, Skoda and SEAT ranges. In terms of safety, the seven-seater MPV put in a brilliant performance in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, with the body awarding it a full five-star rating and a fantastic 96 per cent rating for adult occupant protection. All models of the Sharan come fitted with seven airbags (driver, passenger, curtain and driver's knees) and electronic stability control (ESP) as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
Of the two petrol engines and one diesel engine on offer in the seven-seater Sharan, we’d recommend going for the 175bhp 2.0-litre diesel. Yes, the 1.4-litre petrol is quite sprightly, accelerating from 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds, but the diesel can do it in 9.3 seconds and offers better fuel economy. And while the 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel is slower, it delivers better economy again. If performance is your top priority, the 2.0-litre petrol engine shaves another 1.5 seconds off the 0-62mph time, but it does cost more to run. The Sharan handles well for such a tall car, with minimal body roll and some nicely weighted steering that responds eagerly to even small turns of the wheel.
Price, value for money & options
The Sharan is available in four main specifications – the entry-level S, mid-level SE, top-of-the-standard-range SEL and the business-user-focused Executive. S models have all the basic equipment and accessories you’ll ever really need, including air-conditioning for driver, passenger and the back seats so every can be their desired temperature, DAB radio and a full range of airbags. Steel wheels are standard, but if you want alloy wheels you’ll have to upgrade to SE to get 16-inch alloys fitted as standard. This model also comes with Bluetooth connectivity, parking sensors and rain-sensing windscreen wipers. The more luxurious SEL models come with 17-inch alloys, heated seats, cruise control and a panoramic sunroof. Executive cars lose one of the seven seats (they only carry six passengers) but get a full-leather interior.