Volkswagen Sharan S 1.4 TSI

IN this day and age where car makers revamp and relaunch new models every four to six years, it’s quite amazing to encounter a vehicle that notched up a full 15 years on the production line.

Well, the Volkswagen Sharan did just that. Initially built alongside the virtually identical Ford Galaxy, with which it shared the production line at the factory in Palmela, Portugal, it found homes with over 600,000 buyers around Europe.

But all things have to come to an end – and time was called on the old timer at the Geneva Motor Show last year, when Volkwagen finally revealed an all-new Sharan. Bosses hope it will win back buyers from Ford, which got its act in gear a full four years earlier when it launched the impressive replacement for the mark one Galaxy.

That car’s gone on to record impressive sales – both to families and businesses – thanks to its good looks, seven seats, space and driveability.

Determined not to be left behind any longer, the new Sharan is longer and wider than the model it replaces – but it’s also lower and, in this environmentally conscious age, also 30kg lighter in a bid to maximise miles per gallon and lower CO2 emissions.

It trumps its Ford rival too when it comes to ease of access because all models come with twin sliding rear doors, which are a real boon for families with children and the elderly especially. In higher specification models the doors can be electrically operated – but either way what remains clear is just what a useful feature they are compared to the more traditional opening.

Visually, the big Sharan can best be described as functional with rather plain looks. Line one up alongside a Galaxy and there’s only one vehicle anyone with a vague interest in style would choose – and that one comes with a blue oval on its grille.

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But look beyond the skin and the VW offers plenty of appeal. Build quality outside and in is first class, with tight shutlines between panels and plenty of soft-touch plastics in the interior – which is vast. All rear seats boast VW’s new EasyFold seating concept, which allows both middle and rear rows to fold flat down to the floor, meaning the days of having to remove seats to gain maximum space are long gone.

Talking of space, with all seven seats in use – the back row chairs offer more than enough space for the average-sized adult – there is still enough room for several holdalls, and even a pushchair. With five seats in use and a mesh partition in place, the Sharan can be loaded up to the roofline – offering a whopping 1,167 litres in total.

Fold all five rear seats down and forget about rivalling the Ford Galaxy, the VW has the Transit van in its sights with a massive 2,297 litres.

Unlike other models in the Volkswagen range all Sharans - apart from the 198bhp version with its oh-so-slightly detuned engine from the turbocharged Golf GTi - come as standard with the firm’s eco-friendly Bluemotion stop-start and energy recovery systems. Engine choice is interesting too, with the car tested coming with a 1.4 litre engine! Such a pairing would have been unheard of just a year or so ago but thanks to technology which sees a turbocharger and supercharger bolted on, the small powerplant churns out a very health 148bhp and 240Nm of torque.

However, if you intend to load your Sharan to the max on a regular basis then the little engine will still feel a touch underpowered on motorway trips, and one of the two diesel engines offered (138bhp and 168bhp) have to be the powerplant of choice. But for regular family trips to school and the shops, the smooth-revving 39.2mpg 1.4 litre is well worth auditioning.

The small petrol engine certainly offers a refined driving experience and the lower overall height of the car makes it feel like a large estate car on the road. The standard six-speed gearbox delivers accurate, light changes – and while the Sharan fails to match the Galaxy’s more dynamic driving characteristics it’s always feels a composed, relaxing vehicle to munch up the miles.

Prices start from �22,980 for the well-equipped 1.4 TSI S model tested, which boasts two-zone air conditioning to allow front and rear passengers to individually adjust their own temperatures and all-round curtain airbags. One notable omission is rear parking sensors which are an absolute must in a vehicle measuring not far shy of five metres long.

The previous generation Sharan was well past its best and the new model brings it bang up to date - and even though the Ford Galaxy is still the car to beat for ultimate driver satisfaction, it’s practicality that sells cars in this class. That’s why the Sharan’s twin sliding rear doors are the real highlight - and they could well prove to be a deal clincher for many. - NEIL GREENFIELD

Volkswagen Sharan S 1.4 TSI 150 – from �22,980 otr