First drive: 2015 Volkswagen Sharan


First drive: 2015 Volkswagen Sharan

Andrew English

TWENTY years ago, then not long at the Telegraph, I got a lesson in how Fleet Street works from my boss. One of the best writers on the paper, with a mind like a Thesaurus, he attended the 1995 Geneva motor show with me, where Volkswagen’s new people carrier was making its debut.

It was the result of a deal between Ford and the VW Group to work together to build a competitor to Renault’s all-conquering Espace. VW owned Seat would get the Alhambra, Ford the Galaxy and VW the Sharan.

I was fascinated by the way these two ambitious and competitive car makers had come together to build this MPV. Who did what? Who supplied what? Where were the compromises? And where were the bodies buried? I wrote a treatise on the harsh realities of modern motor manufacturing. My boss wrote a brilliantly funny piece punning on the name – Volkswagen’s new “Sharon”. His made the front-page basement slot; mine was slashed and buried back in Business. Lesson learned.

Except the joke has worn a bit thin these days. Sharon’s now 20 and like many other eponymous youngsters has grown fatter and heavier with each passing year. While the rest of the VW range has been on a diet with the help of clever design and exotic materials, the Sharan’s dimensions and mellow sales volumes make it hardly worth it.

As a result, this latest model, which goes on sale in October, is based to the point of mistaken identity on the previous, third-generation model. I’ve been to Jumble Sales where there’s been more new stuff than on this Sharan.
Uwe Kaufmann, technical project manager, struggled to find a fourth new thing to count on his fingers when he ran through the main changes. A new 2.0-litre diesel engine that meets the latest Euro VI emission standards and offers a 9.1 per cent improvement in economy. A new stereo/Bluetooth/satnav system from the Passat family car. Radar-based safety systems, including autonomous braking, blind-spot warning and VW’s automatic post-collision braking system. And, erm, that’s it.

So, apart from the new steering wheel (again from the Passat) with radio controls on the spokes, the interior is exactly the same as the old car’s; read huge and well put together. The lack of change does mean that the pedals are still offset, making Sharan’s with a manual gearbox uncomfortable to drive after a while, but the seats are large and supportive, the dashboard looks like a Passat’s from two generations ago (mainly because it is) and the whole thing feels like a comfy flat on wheels.

All UK cars will come with seven seats and most will be of the middling SE specification level, which includes 16in alloy wheels, all-round parking sensors, cruise control and a multi-device interface for the centre console so you can play music from your phone on the car’s stereo (it’s another £100 for the full App-Connect system to operate your telephone apps via the car’s touchscreen).

So big is this car that I’d probably splurge an additional £1,000 on the panoramic sunroof since the solid steel roof rather blots out the fiery disc in the sky. And being a big vehicle, the doors are commensurately large and heavy, making the optional powered sliding rear doors (£620) and powered tailgate (£495) worth considering.

All that space is good, though. It means you can actually put full-sized adults into the fold- out-of-the-floor rear seats with (relative) ease and keep them there in (relative) comfort. This is partly thanks to individual fore/aft adjustment for each of the middle three seats, though you don’t trash the leg space for anybody by doing this; I found it was perfectly possible to sit behind myself sitting behind myself, if you see what I mean. In addition, even with all the seats filled there’s space for a decent amount of luggage.
From the driver’s seat you have ⅝ths of bugger all idea where the extremities of the vehicle are, which only adds to the feeling of size. Tight urban rat runs are best avoided and you’ll want the SE grade if only for those standard parking sensors.

Handling comes a long way down the list of priorities for most buyers of cars like the this, which is just as well because while it always feels safe and predictable and body control is reasonable, the Sharan is not much more fun than walking. It’s certainly not a car you throw down the road for the hell of it.

As for the ride, all the test cars had 18in wheels (two inches larger than standard), so it was slightly galumphing, with a sharp approach to road bumps and a fizzing sensation at the wheel. The Sharan is quiet, though, so with smaller wheels and deeper sidewalls it would make a fine long-distance cruiser.

The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel is by far the best engine, offering plenty of grunt, although it does become gruff when extended. A lot of buyers of the outgoing model combined it with the twin-clutch automatic gearbox (a £1,480 option), and it’s worth doing on this new one because you’ll get the value back in residuals, and it suits the engine, keeping it out of the worst places on the rev counter.

We liked the Sharan Mark III before it became the Mark 3.5. It might not be the most fun or dynamic people carrier, but it’s comfortable and sure footed. And now with enhanced mobile phone connectivity and more economical engines, it’s just got that bit better. –