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Filmed by: Tomaž Kožar Jesenice
Fifteen years on from its launch, VW's first MPV, the Sharan (along with the identical Ford Galaxy produced in co-operation with VW), defined a political class that swept Tony Blair's "new" Labour into office in 1997. They represented the caring, sharing Nineties as opposed to Thatcher's Eighties go-getting Sierra man. They were also the first viable alternatives to Renault's Espace.
These days the car market, like the political landscape, is vastly changed. VW produces a fistful of MPVs; Caddy, Touran, Sharan and Multivan. No one willingly drives these statements of fertility and they have become a default purchase until the children are big enough to slot into a curvy crossover.
So while the new Sharan is bigger, better, stronger and longer than its predecessor, it isn't a car anyone's going to love much. In fact, in Britain 75 per cent are sold into fleets as crew buses for executives. You're likely to lay your hands on a second-hand example in a couple of years so this is a sort of cut-out-and-keep test. Our advice? Avoid the ones with huge mileages and/or cargoes of chocolate-smeared brats.
At almost 16ft long and 6ft 3in wide, the new Sharan is 8.6in longer and 3.6in wider than the original. There's a beaky snout and the rest is all load space. Twin sliding doors access the Sharan's middle kingdom and the far-flung hinterlands are approached via a lifting tailgate. Powered doors are optional.
The cabin also feels huge. You can't see the corners or bonnet and there are parts of the interior that you might never visit in a lifetime of ownership. In tight urban squeezes the Sharan feels as bulky as a comedy Sumo suit, so the £700 self-parking system is worth the extra. This is the same system as on the Touran, which searches for a suitable bay as you drive along, then turns the wheel to slot you into place while you operate the steering, brake and throttle. The Sharan system is updated with a bay-parking system.You could drive the Sharan wearing a stovepipe hat and there would be head room to spare. That also goes for leg and shoulder room in all three rows of seats. It's all immaculately put together, with microscopic panel gaps, attractive surface changes and an integrity unmatched in the class. Instruments come from the VW corporate parts bin and are easy to use and attractive.
The seats are comfortable, although they feel slightly too soft at first. They fold into the floor as originally devised by Kunimichi Odagaki, Honda's chief engineer for the 1995 Shuttle model, and copied by Vauxhall/Opel for the Zafira. VW's folding mechanism is the best yet -- a genuinely one-handed operation.
There will be two turbocharged petrol engines (138bhp 1.4 and 197bhp 2.0) and two versions of the VW group's 2.0-litre unit in 138bhp or 167bhp. Transmissions include a six-speed manual, or six-speed, twin-clutch DSG at an extra £1,300. All UK models are front-driven, but a 4x4 version is available in Europe.
We drove the 1.4 turbo petrol engine, which is a brave choice for such a big car and smacks of former VW product planning director (now Porsche boss) Matthias Müller optimistically spreading the unit cost of this pricey little engine across as many VW models as possible. At 1.75 tons, the Sharan is a lot of vehicle to be hauled by something displacing just three pints. While there's no doubting its outright urge, you have to match revs to turbo responsiveness.
We also tried the model that's likely to be most popular, the 138bhp, 2.0 SE turbodiesel. It's quiet, economical, refined and fast enough to keep up with traffic. The manual gearbox is smooth and easy to use, and the driving position is good. The higher-powered diesel is better for long journeys and loads, otherwise this is more than acceptable.
The handling isn't bad, either. Nose-wide understeer isn't overpowering and body control is subtle, with good roll resistance. There's a Sport option on the suspension but it merely hardens the ride annoyingly.
It rides very well and tracks straight and true, with a feeling of solidity and security. The brakes are strong, with good pedal progression so you can control the stopping, and the suspension doesn't dive under braking or squat under hard acceleration. The steering's nice, too. Well weighted and accurate, it doesn't have the free play that afflicts so many rivals.
VW's Sharan is a box, a well-insulated, efficient and highly refined box, but a box none the less. Only Renault's Espace has any cool in this market sector -- for which you pay heavily.
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