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Motornet: Stylish, Sporty And Stacked

Stylish, Sporty And Stacked… With Seats That Is

Multi Purpose Vehicles, or MPVs are usually seen as worthy, but a little dull - certainly not the drivers' choice. But apparently, dull is not a word in VW's vocabulary...

Before I have even driven VW's updated Sharan, before I have even got behind the wheel, it is crystal clear to me that I am not the target market for this vehicle. As a twenty-something male, currently single and with no dependents, there is absolutely no reason in the world why I would want a vehicle that is primarily designed to move people - in this case, seven of them - though an optimist might argue that being single, six spare seats could come in quite handy...

In terms of non-Japanese vehicles competing in the full-size MPV market, VW are pretty much it. Chrysler has the Voyager and Citroen has a model that has been imported in low volumes, but that's the extent of the choice. With a list that short, it's not surprising that VW and Chrysler are reasonably close on price, with the VW weighing in at about $63,000, or close to six grand less than its US sourced competition. Keep in mind though that most Japanese equivalents are nearly $10,000 less, and for a Korean version, more like $20,000.

So what do you get to justify the extra dollars? Well, for a start, a pretty stylish ride. Most MPVs can't hide the fact that they are big vehicles designed to carry big loads. Good design can only take them so far. The VW is different in that it has a very clean look, one that is both distinctive yet attractive at the same time. Not quite a Kombi for the new Millennium, but pretty close. It is instantly recognisable as a VW, and that can't hurt it in a market where a little class-consciousness could go along way.

But it's under the bonnet where most people will find their real source of pleasure. Plenty of upwardly mobile young people aspire to a VW with a V6. Just because you need the extra seats, doesn't mean you miss out on the engine, as this people mover comes with the same power plant as the V6 4Motion Golf.

With 150kW on tap at 6,200rpm and 265Nm of torque, the Sharan has more to it than first meets the eye. NZ Autocar recorded a 0-100 kp/h time with the Sharan of 10.7 seconds - or nearly 2.5 seconds slower to 100 than the V6 Golf. Not surprising really considering the extra size and added bulk. What is surprising is how responsive the car feels.

The short accelerator travel, combined with a five-speed tiptronic transmission, and the naturally enthusiastic V6 fair throws the driver back in the seat. Tooling around town, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that you're driving a sporty Golf rather than a full sized MPV. It was all I could do not to bury the accelerator at the lights to show fellow motorists that just because I was behind the wheel of a people mover didn't mean I wasn't enjoying the experience!

A lot of the credit must go to the transmission. My first thought when I saw the tiptronic box was, 'is this really necessary on MPV?' My final thought before returning the car was it should be mandatory. Not only is it easy to use, but it adds immeasurably to the overall sporty feel of the vehicle. Dropping the shift into any gear gets instant response, and unlike many of its counterparts, the system is quick. Normally, I leave test cars with this feature in drive, but not with the VW.

Of course, as hard as it tries, an MPV cannot handle like a two-seater sports car - even one as good as this. Inevitably, pushing the Sharan hard through corners will result in reasonable understeer. It's not unexpected and considering the weight distribution that sees 60 percent of the weight over the front wheels, it's almost a given. Even so, in this class, they don't get much flatter in the corners. Roll is virtually undetectable, and it's hard not to forget that you're driving such a big vehicle much of the time.

So it feels a bit like a sports car, but does it do the job it was designed for - namely shifting people? Quite easily, I manage to pull together a group of friends (and strangers!) to test out the multi-purpose element of the VW – you should never underestimate the pulling power of a new VW. Conveniently, I forget to mention to prospective passengers that the VW in question is an MPV, but nobody seems to mind.

And neither they should. An afternoon of ferrying friends (and others) leaves me with the solid conclusion that this car makes for a very fine transporter of bodies. But more than that, the bodies it transports are very complimentary of the Sharan. Each occupant gets a fully functional individual seat that pretty much mimics those of the front seats. Add to that climate controlled air con for the front and rear, a good quality multi-speaker stereo, remote central locking, electrics (that includes two 12v power outlets in the rear) and even removable coat hangers, the interior of the Sharan is a pretty comfortable place to be.

It is also safe. ABS is standard, as are four airbags and the vehicle comes equipped with EBD, which is basically another name for a stability control system that brakes any wheel it senses slipping and transfers power to the remaining wheels with traction. Those with very young children are especially well catered for. One of the rear seats is equipped with a built in baby seat - a truly ingenious piece of design that sees a fully functional seat transfer to a baby seat and back again in seconds with only the minimum of fuss.

So it works for passengers, that much is clear, but what if I was moving house, or needed to transport a whole lot of football equipment as well as kids (as I imagine fathers and mothers do occasionally). How would the Sharan stack up?

To put it to the test, I decided to take out all the seats just to see how much room I would be left with. For a start, the seats though heavy, come out easily. With all five rear seats removed and safely stored in the garage, the space remaining is truly cavernous. Fortunately, I had no need to move house, but if I had it wouldn't have taken long with the Sharan. Forget the trailer hook option, unless you have a boat, you won't need it...oh, and putting the seats back was pretty easy too...

There is no doubt that VW have put together a very comprehensive people mover that will be suitable for a wide range of tasks. Will it appeal to the masses? Probably not. It is kind of pricey, and unless you have to drop your kids to a private school, you might not be able to justify the extra spend. On the other hand, if you have always hankered after a VW but have the need for a family transport as well, the news is all good. Practical it may be, but driving it is surprisingly rewarding. MPV drags anyone?

Specifications

Price - $62,990

Engine - 2792 cc transversely mounted, six cylinder, 150kw at 6200rpm, 265 Nm at 3400rpm

Weight - 1785kg

Performance - 0-100km/ph in 10.7 seconds (NZ Autocar recorded time)



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