24 May 1996

LOOKS LIKE A VAN,

BUT GOES LIKE A RACER

MULTI-Purpose Vehicles look like vans – and drive like them, too. Given their bulbous dynamics, they have no choice; well, almost no choice.

The Volkswagen Sharan VR6, or Galaxy V6 to give the vehicle its name in Ford clothing, is an MPV with fire in its belly. Under its duckbill-shaped bonnet lurks the storming six-pot motor from the Golf VR6 flyer. And it shows.

On-road performance is simply staggering for a seven-seater which stands at over 1.7m (5ft 6in) high and weighs in at almost 1.7t. Top speed is 124mph and 0-62mph comes up in about 10.5sec.

But statistics rarely convey genuine motoring pleasure. This is particularly true of the Sharan, which, due to its motors peaky nature, almost seems lethargic at low revs. Get over 3500rpm, though, and everything starts to happen quickly – very quickly.

But VWs MPV flagship is more than a minibus with muscle. A thumping motor is of little use if the rest of the vehicle behaves like a lusty bull hippo with a rocket betwixt his nether regions. Fine in a straight line, not so clever around corners.

Ford and VW have addressed this bulky body/perky motor dilemma with a front/rear suspension combination which lives up to their claims of a car-like feel. Obviously, this VW is no Golf or Corrado but the Sharans independent set-up does a reasonable job of doing the eager engine justice.

Enough of the fun, back to fatherhood.

Versatility is what the MPV sector is all about and here the Sharan competes with the best of its rivals. Both the mid and rear rows of seats are removable. Taking out the rear pair gives a five-seater with loads of luggage space, while removing both rows converts the MPV into a two-seater van with a payload of 700kg.

All the usual MPV interior fripperies, along with a few less usual ones, abound. The seemingly endless list includes cupholders, security hidey-holes, separate heater controls for rear passengers, aircraft-style flip-down trays and auxiliary power sockets for those most essential of motoring accessories – a TV and a fridge.

The verdict: Proof that parenthood really can be fun, the Sharan VR6 gives a performance touch to those unavoidable family obligations. Youngsters love the high seating position and excellent visibility, while the V6 motor certainly counters the argument that family motoring, by definition, must be dull. But to some the MPVs image will remain a problem. On a test trip to Yorkshire there were plenty of northern smiles whenever our red rocket pulled into a service station. Passenger consensus was that these were expressions of pity, not envy.


&#8226 Model: VW Sharan VR6 GL.

&#8226 Price: £21,299.

&#8226 Engine: 2.8-litre, six-cylinder petrol.

&#8226 Top speed: 124mph.

&#8226 0-62mph: 10.5sec.

&#8226 Test fuel consumption: 24.6mpg.

&#8226 Insurance group: 14.


SHARAN DATA

All Sharan seats are removable, bar front two.

Royal Mail-red Sharan VR6 is certainly capable of express delivery. The VWs 174hp, 2.8-litre engine shovels the seven-seater from 0-62mph in just over 10sec and tops out at 124mph. Subtle VR6 badge is all that sets it apart from lesser Sharans.