The Volkswagen Sharan is a smart, stylish seven-seat MPV that hides its size well. The VW family styling, immediately familiar from the Golf and Polo, does a neat job of tricking the brain into thinking that this purposeful people carrier is smaller and, therefore, more nimble than its rivals.
The Sharan comes with a choice of four engines – one petrol and two diesel. The bigger sellers will be the diesels – 2.0-litre units with a choice of 148bhp and 181bhp outputs. Although the 181bhp unit is usefully quicker, it’s less refined around town, with marginally more noise and vibration being evident from the driver’s seat. It also offers the temptation to be driven in a less economical fashion. Both, however, are impressively refined on the motorway.
The only available petrol engine is the 148bhp 1.4 TSI which, like the diesels, is now familiar across the Volkswagen Group’s ranges.
It is extremely smooth and refined, although lacks torque lower down the rev range; it can feel underpowered with a full load of passengers on board and requires frequent gearchanging to keep the revs above 4000rpm when you want to make progress or overtake. It may come with temptingly frugal official economy figures and a low CO2 output, but in real-world driving the smallest capacity engine ends up working so hard they’re near-impossible to achieve.
However, the Sharan is not the kind of vehicle that you’d want to hustle around and there’s no getting away from the fact that this Volkswagen will not be the choice of the committed driver. It very quickly begins to understeer if you’re too fast into bends and the steering, too, is a touch vague at the straight-ahead on the motorway, although it weights up well off centre.
DCC adaptive chassis control is available as an option. It individually adjusts the dampers at each wheel to give better body control yet improves ride comfort. The system works well and also offers drivers the option to override the Normal setting with a Sport or Comfort mode.
Inside, there’s plenty of room for seven adults, with access to the rear seats now provided by sliding doors (with optional electric operation). Only the tallest passengers seated in the third row will take issue with the available headroom. A six-seat configuration is available too.
Boot space isn’t brilliant in seven-seat mode, at 300 litres, but then no car in this class can carry seven passengers and all of their luggage. In five-seat configuration the boot space rises to 711 litres, and then to a serious 2297 litres if you fold both rear rows of seats and load to the roof. Still not enough? Then the back of the front passenger seat can be folded flat, allowing nearly three metres of load length. If you’re not satisfied with that, you probably need to buy a large van or a minibus.
All rear seats leave a flat load floor when folded. The rear row can be folded and repositioned with one hand, but the centre row requires a two-handed action to reposition the seats after they’ve been folded.
Up front, the dashboard is standard VW, which means a near-premium ambience, and excellent fit and finish with high-quality materials that are soft-touch in all the right places. While there are four trims to choose from - S, SE, SE Nav and SEL.
Entry-level models get electric windows, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, and automatic wipers as standard on the outside, while inside there is tri-zone climate control, a cooled glove box and Volkswagen's Composition infotainment system complete with a 6.5in touchscreen display, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
Upgrading to SE adds 16in alloy wheels, chrome-plated roof rails, parking sensors, cruise control, second row picnic tables and vanity mirrors, while parting with a bit more money and opting for SE Nav gains you sat nav, a speed limit warning and Volkswagen's online services.
The range-topping SEL model gets luxuries such as 17in alloy wheels, front foglights, a panoramic sunroof, an Alcantara and leather upholstery and adaptive cruise control included in the package.
The Sharan may not be more nimble than its rivals – the Ford Galaxy remains the large MPV benchmark in that respect – but buyers will love its quality feel, its ease of use and the VW badge kudos while it manages to keep the smaller and more versatile S-Max and Touran at bay, which is enough for the Sharan to remain a serious contender in the seven-seat MPV market.