Volkswagen Sharan so sensible and efficient
Try as they might, it's not easy to inject sportiness, youthfulness, dynamism and other similar traits-come-buzzwords into some vehicle markets, and the multi-purpose vehicle sector is one of them.
Hot-MPVs have been successfully manufactured and marketed in the past, but to produce an all-singing, all-dancing, high-performance version of a people-carrier has the potential to leave the bitter taste of an admission that the standard models just aren't exciting enough.
People-carriers don't need to be exciting. Excitement should probably be at the bottom of the list of priorities for an MPV manufacturer. Once spaciousness, practicality, comfort, tractability, safety, security, style, efficiency, value for money, reliability and a hundred other aspects including the ease with which smeared banana can be removed from the rooflining have been perfected, then the excitement engineers should have their swipe cards upgraded to allow access to design studio.
That doesn't mean a people-carrier has to be dull. A powerful engine isn't just an indulgence for parents who've never quite come to terms with having to sell their roadster; it's the difference between spending an extra half-hour behind a lorry because there wasn't enough grunt to overtake.
This is something that Volkswagen clearly understands. There's no showboating as far as the new Sharan is concerned, just an acceptance that the previous model, first introduced way back in 1995, was due a complete overhaul to bring it up to date in terms of style and functionality – and to make the most of the excellent range of engines from the VW Group.
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As such the only element carried over from the outgoing model is the sun visors, and in the new model they continue to function brilliantly.
A new chassis and body has given VW the chance to rethink styling, which conforms to the simple, stylish and grown-up family face of the latest Golf and Polo, but also functionality – hence two sliding rear doors, with power operation and 'pinch-protection' if required.
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Sliding doors are a marked improvement over the traditional five-door format of the previous Sharan, offering considerably easier access and smoother exit, particularly in seven-seat guise. Five and even six-seat variants are available, but it's the seven-seat model that makes the most of the Sharan's reconfigured new body.
Longer by some 22cm, wider but not as tall, the new Sharan has a less van-like profile and presence – which translates to a less van-like experience on the road – but it still boasts an extremely spacious interior. Headroom is noticeably generous; the feeling of space is exaggerated by the full-length glass roof of the top specification model.
That's a feature that will be particularly appreciated by second and third-row occupants, but neither should require distractions as there's no shortage of space in the rear. Despite folding flat to offer greater boot space there's a permanent feel to the additional two seats. Sitting at a decent height and benefitting from the adjustability of the second row, adults won't find their knees around their ears.
Of the four engines available, including the renowned 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI and a 197bhp 2.0 petrol, it's the less powerful of the two diesels that holds the greatest family appeal.
Its 138bhp offers enough power and torque to make the 168bhp version something of an indulgence and, like the rest of the range, it's available with the six-speed DSG twin-clutch transmission for smooth and easy progress. It emits less than 150g/km CO2 and achieves just short of 50mpg on the combined cycle.
At the wheel, parents will find the Sharan pleasingly solid and secure. Chassis rigidity is impressive, aiding the experience from the driver's seat as well as improving passenger comfort. An adjustable damping system is available for the first time on the Sharan but it's hard to find fault with the standard settings, which offer a fine-tuned combination of ride comfort, driver feedback and cornering stability.
From the driver's point of view the only potential pitfalls are visibility past the A-pillars and the lack of a high-rise seating position compared with seven-seat crossover rivals.
Discounting the potential excitement of the self-parking system, upgraded to cope with reverse parking at right angles as well as parallel parking, the new Sharan is designed to stimulate an altogether more sensible and reserved part of the brain.
It does so with an efficiency it is worth getting excited about.
Model: Volkswagen Sharan 2.0 TDI CR SEL seven-seater, �30,330 (range �22,980 to �31,680)
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit developing 138bhp and 236lb/ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission, driving front wheels
Performance: 0-62mph 10.9 seconds; top speed 118mph
CO2 emissions: 149g/km