SINGAPORE – Elsewhere in this issue we cover many cars that need to have their existence justified. If they were people they might be erudite philosophers or simply angsty teenagers with existentialist crises and not the sort of people you’d want to hang out with.
I’m not saying their existence is without merit (the two topics are separate), but the increased practise of ‘segment splitting’ means you can no longer sum up what a car’s about in a single sentence.
Which is why the Volkswagen Sharan is so refreshing. If it was a person it’d be a large guy in plain clothes who would say, “I’m here to move people and chew bubblegum, but Singapore has banned bubblegum.” And then only if you asked him a few times.
The Sharan, VW’s big MPV, debuted here only in late 2011, and this is the first time we’re testing a diesel variant, in this case the ‘2.0 TDI CR with BlueMotion Technology.’ TDI is Volkswagen (and Audi’s) acronym for turbocharged direct-injection, with ‘CR’ denoting the presence of a diesel common rail injection system.
Compared to the gasoline 2.0, the diesel has less power (177bhp compared to 210bhp) but more of everything else – torque, usability and efficiency. It never feels the slightest bit weedy, with 380Nm swell of push to use, while the clever, quick-shifting DSG is never caught out. From the outside, the oil-burner clatter is noticeable, but on the inside it’s a moderate purr and only obvious if you’re holding gear repeatedly.
Given this is a large MPV, measuring 4.8-metres long and just over 1.8-tonnes in weight, it’s not fast, but the diesel offers a punchy, direct user experience that’s not un-entertaining – the rorty purr puncutated by quick shifts – and the natural refinement of the car means it arrives at highway cruising speeds faster than you realise. At even higher speeds, only wind noise along the top of the roof (which has rails) is noticeable.
In the spirit of showing up and generally getting on with the job at hand, the Sharan’s handling is, by MPV standard, very good. The height is apparent (it’s 1.72-metres tall) when tucking into corners, but the chassis is a delight of response and predictability and is perversely fun to drive fast. Like most MPVs, it does understeer and roll, but this is fully correctable from the excellent helm. With the optional ACC (Adaptive Chassis Control) it gets even more flexible, with the Comfort and Sport modes to help dial out bumps or body movement, respectively, yet it’s the car’s fundamental accuracy and control that really shines through and serves you well in all driving situations.
After having all that fun chucking it around, what’ll score more brownie points is just how efficient the car is. The official figure is 5.9L/100km, close to 17km/L, but our real life test drive which spanned 440km (through highway, city and a few traffic jams) gave us 7.4L/100km, pretty standard for a bigger diesel car and equivalent to our rough fuel economy figures for a family sedan like the Kia Forte or Toyota Vios. Start-stop (that’s where the ‘BlueMotion’ bit comes in) helps this figure too, and works well, even in 34 degree heat, for short periods. Given the 73-litre tank, that’d mean a theoretical ‘real life’ range of 986km.
Get to your destination in town and the trickiest bit of big MPV ownership, squeezing it into a small lot, is more or less solved thanks to VW’s automatic parking system. Like many auto-park features, it does take time to detect an empty lot, sometimes requiring multiple ‘fly-bys’, but where most human drivers will give up, it will shove the big people-mover into a lot only 80cm longer than the vehicle itself.
But the Sharan’s key draw lies in being something the whole family, and not just the driver, can grow to love. The tall, roomy interior comes with a panoramic sunroof as standard, which makes the cabin both spacious and full of light. It does get warm with Singapore’s weather, but the rear air-conditioning goes a long way to offsetting that, as do the second row window blinds. If the victims, sorry occupants, get restless, then they can take some respite in the fact that the second row seats are adjustable for position and backrest angle. Even the last row of seats, typically the automotive equivalent of a figure-four leg lock are fully occupiable by regular-sized humans.
Being an MPV you can configure the interior to your heart’s content – in between the two rows (five seats) that can all fold down and the variable length tonneau cover, there’s space for 885 to a ridiculous 2,450-litres of room, so you’re more likely to be limited by weight (payload is 641kg) rather than dimensions. VW doesn’t list a capacity when all the seats are occupied, but the recessed boot has plenty of room for anything smaller than full-sized luggage.
The great thing is, drivability, efficiency, huge space and flexibility isn’t the end of the Sharan’s list of talents. With this model you can option an integrated child seat ($1,000 a piece, two maximum) that comes with a booster cushion, seatbelt strap and expanded headrest for little wrigglers ages two to ten, or weighing 15 to 36kg. Other features to make your life even easier are the active headlamps (they bend into corners), cornering lamps (for slow speed, VW’s infotainment system with navigation and very nifty voice input.
Taking all that into account, the Sharan does just about everything and does it well, to boot. The only fly in the soup are the tiny mirrors, which look like they were borrowed from a Touran, and the extra diesel tax, $1964 annually, versus $1194 for the 2.0 TSI, but it’s offset by the CEVS bonus (A4 band, $5,000) and the greater fuel efficiency. Everywhere else, the Sharan 2.0 TDI just shows up and lets you get on and on and on and on and on with the job at hand.
Volkswagen Sharan 2.0 TDI
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,968cc, 16V, turbodiesel in-line 4
Power 177bhp at 5,800rpm
Torque 380Nm at 1200-5000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 206km/h
0-100km/h 9.6 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.9L/100km
CO2 154g/km (A4, $5,000 rebate)
Price $207,800 with COE
Also Consider: Chrysler Grand Voyager Diesel, Ford Galaxy, Mazda 8, Nissan Elgrand, Toyota Previa