Volkswagen Sharan MPV (2015 - ) review
The Volkswagen Sharan is an enormous seven-seat MPV that competes with cars the Ford Galaxy and Seat Alhambra. MPVs don’t come much bigger – or better – than this.
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The Sharan doesn’t try very hard to disguise the fact that it’s a big family bus, but frankly, why should it? Sure, the proportions are as bulky as they are boxy, but that’s what gives the car its immense practicality. Nevertheless, the details on the front end are rather neat, with LED daytime running lights and some sharp creases in the bonnet. What’s more, alloy wheels are provided as standard across the range. Stepping up from S trim to SE trim earns you rear privacy glass and chromed roof rails for a smarter look, while the range-topping SEL car comes with a panoramic glass sunroof.
Like with the Sharan’s exterior design, the interior doesn’t try too hard to be needlessly elaborate. Instead, it concentrates on making life as easy as possible, and it’s all the better for it. The simple dashboard layout makes it easy to find all the various controls, and although some of the buttons are a wee bit small, they’re all very clearly marked. The medium touch-screen infotainment system – standard on all versions of the car – is very simple to operate, too, and the big windows and flat sides mean you have brilliant visibility in all directions. The quality of the cabin is also pretty impressive, with a solid, robust feel and lots of appealing materials and finishes on display throughout.
This is by far the most important area for any MPV, and happily, the Sharan does the job better than almost anything else. The cabin is simply massive, so much so that whichever of the seven seats you find yourself in, you’ll have shedloads of head- and legroom, even if you’re a six-foot adult. Sliding rear doors also make getting in and out of any of the seats a doddle. Each seat is an individual chair, and all the chairs behind the front row can be folded down flat into the floor in a number of different configurations (so there’s no need to remove and store them for trips to the dump). The three in the middle row will also slide and recline individually, and each has an Isofix child seat mounting point. The boot is still a useful size with seven seats in place, absolutely massive in five-seater mode, and when there’s just the two of you, the load bay would trouble that of many vans. What’s more, there are storage spaces and handy touches dotted around all over the cabin, making the Sharan one of the most practical and versatile cars on sale at any price.
Ride and handling
So far, we’ve only driven the latest Sharan on optional adaptive suspension that costs you extra. With it fitted, however, the car behaves exactly like you want a big people carrier to. The ride is forgiving enough to keep you comfortable at all times, yet there’s enough control in the suspension to prevent the body lolloping sideways in bends. We can only hope that the standard suspension setup is as accomplished. The impressive suppression of exterior noise make the car a calm, relaxed environment for you and your family, while the light controls mean this a very easy car to drive as well. Sure, the steering is a bit slow, and could do with a self-centring action that’s a shade stronger, but they’re only minor criticisms of what is otherwise a very impressive package.
The vast majority of Sharans will be sold with diesel engines, and there are three available, all 2.0-litre units. Most buyers will go for the mid-range 148bhp version, and for good reason. It’s flexible enough to keep life easy when you’re trying to build or maintain speed, and it’s quiet and smooth enough to preserve the Sharan’s impressive level of refinement. There’s really no point in spending the extra on the more powerful version, because despite its 181bhp, it barely feels any quicker. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet had the opportunity to try the entry-level diesel, which has just 113bhp. We have, however, tried the only petrol engine available, a 1.4-litre turbo with 148bhp. It pulls the car along at a decent enough rate when there’s only a couple of people on board, but it does feel a shade on the strained side even then, and that’s only going to get worse once you’ve loaded the car up with people and luggage.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Sharan is an expensive car, and costs a good slice more than many of its seven-seat competitors. The extra space the Sharan has over most of them will be worth the cash for some buyers, but for others, one of the VW’s smaller, cheaper rivals will probably do the job. And even if they won’t, the Seat Alhambra – which is essentially the same car as the Sharan – will, and for a bit less cash. On the plus side, resale values will be strong for the class, and the Sharan’s range of efficient engines mean that running costs won’t be too steep. The competitive CO2 emissions will be music to the ears of company car drivers, and that’s important when around 70% of Sharans are sold to fleets.
Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index shows the Sharan as having a rock-bottom score, but we wouldn’t read too much into that. The study only carries data on the first generation of Sharan, which bears very little resemblance to the car on sale today. Volkswagen’s place in the lower half of Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings isn’t all that impressive, either, but the owner reviews on our own website are all very positive about the car’s reliability in the real world. Rivals like the Kia Carens do offer over twice the warranty cover though, with seven years of manufacturer guarantee, versus three in the VW.
Obviously, this area is of utmost importance for cars designed to carry families, and the Sharan does a decent – if not exactly ground-breaking – job. As you’d expect, it’s got shedloads of airbags and a whole host of electronic driver aids including stability control and a system that locks the brakes on after an impact to prevent further collisions. Go for the SEL range-topper, and you also get adaptive cruise control and an autonomous braking system that applies the anchors automatically if it senses an impending smash at low speeds. However, it’s rather disappointing that the last item isn’t standard across the range, especially when you get it as standard on much smaller, cheaper cars. The Sharan was last tested by Euro NCAP way back in 2010 and achieved the full five-star rating, but the tests have become much tougher since then, so it might not do as well if tested again.
All versions of the Sharan have plenty of kit, the entry-level S car coming with the touch-screen infotainment system, Bluetooth and three-zone climate control as standard. That said, we still reckon it’s worth upgrading to SE trim, if only for the front and rear parking sensors it adds. Yes, the visibility is good, but this is still a very big car to try and park without them. SE trim also brings other goodies including cruise control, and there are no prizes for guessing what SE Nav trim adds. Range-topping SEL cars have adaptive cruise control and suede-effect seats.
Because you’re after a car that’s as family-friendly as it’s possible to get, and if that’s the case, the Sharan is it. Before you buy, though, just make sure you really need all that space, because if you don’t, you could save a great deal of money by choosing a slightly more compact seven-seat MPV. Pricey, but well worth it nonetheless.