By Jonathan Crouch
Families ask a lot of their vehicles but few kinds of car can answer more of those questions than the large MPV. The Sharan is Volkswagen's idea of the ultimate big people carrier, with a variety of seating options and punchy yet economical engines. In 2010, this third generation version introduced sliding side doors to enhance access, plus an increase in size meant that even third row seating could offer buyers adult standards of space, before magically disappearing when not needed. If you're looking for a used large People Carrier from this era, there are more affordable options in this class - but few better ones.
Volkswagen wasn't the first maker to popularise People Carriers across Europe but, along with partner Ford, they were the first, back in the Nineties, to make them palatable. MPVs, it seemed, didn't have to be bus-like. They didn't have to be grudge purchases. Having a family is supposed to be fun. In many respects, owning an original Volkswagen Sharan actually was.
But time moves on and so do the needs of People Carrying-people. By 2010, the Sharan was only one of four MPVs the German brand offered and the availability of less expensive Caddy Life and Touran models that also had seven seats had pushed it up-market, making it bigger - and more powerful. All of that had to happen at the same time as the Sharan becoming more efficient and less expensive to run. Not an easy brief to meet, but the result of it was that the third generation version of Volkswagen's defining People Carrier did, once again, become more palatable for fast-moving families. Is it a good used buy? Let's find out.
What You Get
This MK3 model Sharan's extra size isn't immediately obvious at first glance, possibly because family front-end styling borrowed from Volkswagen's compact Golf and Polo models offers a feeling that it's smaller than is actually the case. A feeling certainly not supported by the tape measure. A 220mm increase in length means that it's nearly five-metres long, as well as being 92mm wider and 12mm lower than its immediate predecessor. All increases which, as you'll find from a seat inside, have been put to very good use.
Especially at the very back. Entry is by sliding doors (so your kids won't re-sculpture the bodywork of adjacent cars any more as they throw themselves out into the supermarket carpark), portals that optionally can be electrically powered. Access to the third row was also made easier in this MK3 model by the Easy Entry function through which the outer seats in the second row tilt and slide forward in a single motion.
Once in these rearmost chairs, kids will be delighted to find that they sit a little higher than those ahead, while their parents will discover that this is one of those unusual things: a 7-seater that seven fully-sized adults can actually fit into. Seats like these in compact MPVs and most 4x4s are usually for kids only - or very uncomplaining and agile adults unfamiliar with the offerings of Colonel Saunders. Earlier MK1 and MK2 Sharan models weren't much better either but thanks to its 75mm of extra wheelbase, this MK3 design was able to make a real step forward and the cabin's huge glass area removes the feeling of claustrophobia that you'd normally expect to find.
Second row occupants, who can recline their three individual seats for greater comfort on longer journeys and slide them by up to 160mm back and forth as required, are even better looked after, with the option for parents of flip-up booster cushions for use when needed. The problem though, with all these seats in the old MK1 and MK2 Sharan models came when you didn't want them. For the really van-like carrying capacity promised by that boxy shape, you had to lug them out of the vehicle and store them in your garage - hardly ideal. Thanks to the clever EasyFold seating system in this MK3 design, it's all very different. The five rearward seats fold flat into the floor in single easy movements, instantly freeing up an enormous 2,430-litres of cargo space that can be extended still further by folding the front passenger seat flat, allowing nearly three metres of load length. With five seats in use, the boot space is as much as 1,339-litres if you make use of the detachable mesh partition that allows cargo to be stacked to the ceiling. Travel 7-up and of course, it's a total that falls substantially - to 300-litres.
Wherever you're seated in this car, head, shoulder and legroom are ample but of course, the most comfortable perch is to be had behind the wheel, where ample adjustability for both seat and steering wheel means that it's easy to find the ideal driving position. As you'd expect from this brand and this pricepoint, it's a classy cabin with lots of soft-touch materials and classy switchgear.
What To Look For
What to Look For
Some users we've come across have complained of issues with electrics. Some said there were issues with the sat nav being slow or the Bluetooth pairing system not working. Electrically-sliding doors can be particularly glitchy. Check all this functionality before you buy. As usual with an MPV, check the interior for signs of over-exuberant family wear and tear - and the alloys for parking scrapes collected whilst mum was shouting at the kids in the back. All of these things can act as price negotiation points. Otherwise, the engines are strong, sturdy items, well proven from other Volkswagen Group models.
(approx based on a 2011 Sharan 2.0 TDI excl. VAT) Brake pads are between £10-£25 for cheap brands and between £45 and £55 if you want an expensive make. Brake discs sit in the £60 to £95 bracket, depending on brand and brake callipers are up at £380. A drive belt is around £12. Air filters sit in the £6 to £18 bracket. A clutch master cylinder is around £75 and a cylinder head gasket around £25 to £35. Smash a tail lamp and you're looking in the £40 to £70 bracket for a replacement. Oil filters are in the £5 to £8 bracket. Shock absorbers are £30 to £50 depending on brand. A water pump is around £50.
On The Road
On the Road
Bigger though it is, this car is actually about 30kgs lighter than its predecessor, a rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick that must have occupied Wolfsburg's finest brains for many of the fifteen or so years it took Volkswagen to bring an all-new Sharan to market. As a result, perhaps you shouldn't be too surprised that it's actually quite an eager thing to drive on the road, even fitted with an apparently unpromising 1.4-litre TSI entry-level petrol unit. Both turbo and supercharging generate 148bhp, which is actually enough to drag 1.75-tonnes along at quite a lick, though frequent use of the smooth 6-speed gearbox is required to maintain rapid progress.
More relaxed, predictably, is the 2.0 TDI 140PS diesel that most customers will choose, relaxed, refined and with plenty in reserve for short notice overtaking. Its merits are certainly enough to ensure that two more powerful options - a 170PS 2.0 TDI diesel and a 200PS 2.0 TSI petrol - will remain of minority interest. As usual with Volkswagen Group products, the clever twin-clutch DSG semi-automatic 7-speed gearbox was available as an option.
Also optional for original model buyers was ACC adaptive chassis control, one of those systems that individually adjust the dampers at each wheel to give better body control, improve ride comfort or try and achieve a workable combination between the two should the driver over-ride the normal setting and select either 'Sport' or 'Comfort' modes. Normal seems the best compromise to us - which rather defeats the point of specifying DCC in the first place.
Creeps up on you doesn't it? The need for this kind of car we mean. The process that starts with that first wrestling match against an ISOFIX child seat and ends with mum and dad buried beneath a pile of bicycles, nappy bags, footballs and pushchairs ultimately leads to a large MPV. There are, it's true, bigger ones than this Sharan, but they relinquish the rewarding driving experience that this car pioneered at its launch all those years ago. And as we said at the beginning, having a family ought to be fun.
Not much chance of that if you're having to lug seats in and out every time you want to go to the dump - or indeed confining poor old granny to a third row berth so cramped she'll need massaging by the time you reach the garden centre. Which is why, with both these issues at last properly taken care of in this MK3 Sharan, this Volkswagen is such a hard option to ignore in the big people carrying sector. It isn't inexpensive but holds its value tenaciously and offers hi-tech features to match the advanced engineware under the bonnet. Bottom line? If you can afford one of these and need to move a large family, this is one of the classiest ways to get the job done.