The new VW Sharan slipped discretely into the MPV marketplace in 2010, replacing a people carrier that had been first launched in 1995. Back in the mid-90s, the Sharan was a product of a joint venture with Ford that saw the original Ford Galaxy, and the Seat Alhambra sharing the same platform. Ford went its own way in 2006, with a new Galaxy and S-Max sharing Mondeo underpinnings, but VW soldiered on with the existing Sharan.
Is the new VW Sharan worth the wait? How does it compare with the Ford Galaxy post-separation? Read on for our test of the VW Sharan to find out.
VW Sharan: packaging and layout
The 2010 Sharan might not look that different to the casual observer but the stats reveal its 220mm longer (including 75mm in the wheelbase) and 92mm wider than its predecessor, but 12mm lower and 30kg lighter too. It’s also more user-friendly: the rear doors now slide, and so do the middle row of seats, which move by up to 160mm and pivot by 20mm to make access easier to the third row of seats. Both rows of rear seats fold into the floor when not in use, Although there is a single-handed fold-down mechanism on the seats, it's a shame that the rearmost seats’ squabs still have to be flipped up manually when brought into play. Despite VW's claims that adults can ride in the back we found there’s still not enough room for adults’ knees back there either.
The interior design and layout, as with the exterior, conforms to the modern VW rulebook. Crisp, logical, refined but bland.
VW Sharan: power and performance
The Sharan might be larger but the new range follows the downsizing trend for its petrol and diesel engines. The familiar VW 1.4 TSI petrol opens the range, and offers 148bhp and 177 lb ft of torque. That's 10bhp up, but around 10mpg down on the lower-tune 2.0 TDI 138bhp engine, which also musters a healthy 236 lb ft of torque. A 168bhp 2.0TDI, and a 197bhp 2.0TSI petrol complete the range. All engines are available with six-speed manual or DSG twin-clutch transmissions. Our test car was the 138bhp 2.0TDI that's expected to take the lion's share of Sharan sales, pictured in top-of-the-line SEL trim.
Driving the VW Sharan
The Sharan's rides very well, levelling rut-strewn roads with ease. Our Sharan had the standard fixed-rate dampers. Three-stage adaptive damping is a £775 optional extra, but given the relaxed demeanour of the engine and the comfortable ride on standard springs it seems unnecessary. There is also a £235 sports suspension option, lowering the Sharan by 15mm, but Sharan drivers should think of their passengers, embrace MPV ownership and stick with the standard set-up.
The dynamics trade-off comes in cornering, where the Sharan feels every gramme of its 1774kg. It's much-improved over its predecessor and thanks to the new Sharan's wider stance it has a more car-like feel to the driving experience than before. But the Ford Galaxy remains unthreatened as the MPV class driving benchmark, offering a greater sense of responsiveness and driver feedback over the Sharan.
Performance from the 2.0TDI engine is good, and we thought the DSG gearbox option suited the engine's relaxed demeanor better than the standard manual 'box. The Sharan comes with standard automatic stop/start and an energy regeneration system to help keep fuel economy and emissions competitive. Low wind, road and engine noise levels added up to an overall sense of refinement while driving the Sharan.
The new Sharan is much improved, and with prices starting at £23,485 for the basic 1.4TSI it offers a potentially-appealing alternative to private buyers over the Galaxy or the value-brand Hyundai/Kia/Chevrolet MPVs. But we think the Ford Galaxy remains the more appealing choice as an equally-practical MPV that offers less-boxy style and a more satisfying driving experience.