BACK in the early 90s it felt like MPVs were everywhere. Created to solve the challenge of how to move big families about, they were sold as useful and trendy until the public caught on to the fact that the reality was rather different. Though big, these lumbering beasts often proved impractical, with minimal luggage space and a lack of interior flexibility. Also, they were rubbish to drive.
Since then SUVs – and increasingly their “soft roader” siblings – have eroded the market for these cars once known as “people carriers”, as people choose to transport their families in SUVs and more compact MPVs instead. But there are still some large MPVs on sale and 20 years of continuous development means they are much better than their forebears.
VW’s latest Sharan MPV may not ignite your emotions in terms of its driving ability but it’s still very, very good. Dependable, comfortable and surprisingly refined, driving it proved a very positive experience. The model we tested was the 2.0-litre, turbo diesel-powered 138hp version. We found the car to be a genuine surprise in the sense that it had a far higher quality feel than we were expecting. The car felt sprightly – 10.9sec feels pretty quick in a vehicle so big – and it was also easy to throw around and, importantly, felt very safe doing so. We were soon wafting along like a bunch of company executives such was the ride quality and level of interior comfort. In short, the Sharan is very easy to drive and feels much smaller than it is. It also has a great driving position which affords a good view. Even parking it is easy thanks to its light steering and the gear change of the six speed manual gearbox was smooth too.
And as a practical proposition there’s a lot to be said for it. Over the years large MPVs like this Sharan have been revolutionised by the development of versatile, folding seats that have turned their spacious interiors into highly flexible places to be. We find that we can seat six easily while folding the seventh seat down to increase our luggage space on what is already a sizeable boot. Seat flexibility thanks to some clever design means the middle row seats slide forward and back independently of one another. What’s more you can choose which of the five seats in the middle row and back row seats you want to fold into the floor. And with all five seats folded into the floor you could transport an Ikea kitchen. Driving out from London into the countryside for the weekend, our Sharan easily swallowed four adults and two kids – one in a childseat and one in one of the excellent built-in child booster seats – plus all of our stuff. If you do have kids that need booster seats these built-in child seats are a marvel. They pop up when a tag is pulled and kids seem to think they’re very cool.
Ours was a relaxing trip and the Sharan proved a happy ship. Quiet and refined, it was just easy. As easy as carrying two families about gets, in any case.
VW SHARAN MPV
TOP SPEED: 121mph
CO2 G/KM: 146g/km
MPG COMBINED: 50.4 mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY