Review and road test of the Volkswagen Sharan (2015 - 2021)
BIG - AND CLEVER
By Jonathan Crouch
Families ask a lot of their vehicles but few kinds of car can answer more of those questions than a properly large MPV. Back in 2015, this much improved, more efficient and better-connected version of the third generation Sharan model was Volkswagen's idea of what a car-like People Carrier of this sort should be, with a variety of seating options and punchy yet economical engines. Sliding side doors enhance access, plus all the seats offer plenty of space and magically disappear when you don't need them. There are more affordable options in this class from this period - but few better ones.
5dr MPV (1.4 TSI petrol / 2.0 TDI diesel)
Back in the early Nineties, there was nothing 'compact' about People Carriers. They were properly big, with proper boxy space for seven adults. If for you, that's still what an MPV should be, then here's a contender you're going to need to consider, the much improved version of the third generation Volkswagen Sharan launched in 2015.
By then, we'd had two decades and three generations of this Multi-Purpose Vehicle and over 800,000 Sharans had been sold since the model's original launch back in1995. Hundreds of thousands of young people now starting work or entering university back in 2015 had grown up with one of these, if not the first design co-developed with Ford, then certainly the MK2 model launched in 2000 which sold until this third generation version was first introduced in 2010. By that time, Ford had gone its own way in this segment, but Volkswagen continued to share the design of this car with its partner brand SEAT, whose Alhambra, back in 2015, remained the most direct alternative for potential Sharan buyers.
At that time, there aren't many other options for those in search of a similarly capable car of this kind, though looking back, it's easy to get confused into thinking that there were. In talking of alternatives to this Volkswagen in the 2015-2020 period, a lot of the magazines, websites and so-called 'motoring experts' will refer to seven-seater People Carriers like Citroen's Grand C4 Picasso, Vauxhall's Zafira Tourer and BMW's 2 Series Gran Tourer: ignore them. These contenders - and others like them - were merely stretched versions of compact MPV models with third row seats really only intended for kids. In contrast, this Sharan was a proper large-segment People Carrier, which means that it wasn't based on the small underpinnings of something like a Focus or an Astra. So it'll have no trouble in taking seven fully-sized adults as far as they need to go. If you want another People Carrier that can do this and would like something properly designed as a car - rather than directly derived from a van - then apart from that SEAT Alhambra model we mentioned, the only other alternative to this vehicle in period was Ford's Galaxy.
Ah yes, the Galaxy: once a relative, by 2015, it was this car's fiercest rival. Ford had launched a new fourth generation version of it in the same year and though Volkswagen couldn't respond with a completely redesigned version of this Sharan, they did meet the Blue Oval brand's challenge by thoroughly revising this third generation model in the Summer of 2015 and creating the car we're going to look at here, with its more frugal engines, extra connectivity and stronger safety provision. It slotted into the Wolfsburg maker's vast MPV range just above the more compact Caddy Life, Golf SV and Touran models. And just below the huge Transporter van-based 'Transporter Shuttle' and Caravelle People Carriers. These mid-life changes were just enough to keep his Sharan current for buyers prioritising space with sensibility in this segment until sales finished in 2021, after which this model line wasn't replaced.
What You Get
In this post-2015 facelifted guise, this third generation Sharan remained a quietly confident piece of design, very obviously car-like in comparison to big van-based models and still to most eyes smarter than a rival Ford Galaxy. So much so in fact that Volkswagen resisted the temptation to meddle too much with the looks of this revised model as part of this update.
So much is the same as with the original version of this MK3 model for passengers. In the second row, you get three individual seats with Isofix attachments that can be separately reclined by up to 20-degrees and slid back and forth by up to 160mm as required. As for the third row (which is often where kids always want to sit), well access to the two rearmost chairs is made easier 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 seven-seater that seven fully-sized adults can actually fit into.
Up front, the dashboard is almost exactly as it was on the original version of this third generation model, a decorative mid-height trim strip dividing the fascia neatly into upper and lower zones. Whatever type of infotainment package if fitted to the car you're looking at, in most cases it was embellished by original owners with the inclusion of Volkswagen's Car-Net 'App-Connect' system. Via this, you can integrate with the 'Apple CarPlay', 'Android Auto' and 'MirrorLink' systems that will enable you to duplicate the functionality of your smartphone handset onto the infotainment screen and access selected apps. As for interior practicality, well yes, that's been well thought through, with a plethora of storage compartments. There are up to 33 of these apparently, with this tally also including more cupholders than you'd find in the Real Madrid trophy room.
And luggage space? Well the five rearward seats fold flat into the floor in single easy movements, instantly freeing up an enormous 2,297-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.
What to Look For
We didn't come across many issues with owners of this post-2015-era version of the MK3 Sharan- Volkswagen had ironed out most of this design's issues by this point. Even so, What Car's reliability saw the Sharan score a rather surprisingly low 78% result, so buy carefully. 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 2016 Sharan 2.0 TDI excl. VAT) Front brake pads are between £34-£58 for cheap brands and between £33 and £62 if you want a rear set. Front brake discs sit in the £58 to £100 bracket, depending on brand (rears £42-£91 approx) and brake callipers are up at around £130. A drive belt is around £12. Air filters sit in the £6 to £15 bracket. A pollen filter is around £7-£27 and a fuel filter around £17 to £31. Smash a tail lamp and you're looking in the £98 bracket for a replacement. Oil filters are in the £5 bracket. Shock absorbers are around £50 depending on brand. A water pump is around £103.
On the Road
On the move, the Sharan handles much like you'd expect a large MPV of this size would: it's predictably not as nimble as a smaller Scenic or C-MAX-style seven seat People Carrier but it's a lot more agile than a large van-based model would be - Volkswagen's own Caravelle from this period, for instance. Under the bonnet of this post-2015 facelifted MK3 model, the engine range was broadly as it was before, though all the units on offer were made more efficient and Euro6-compatible, while the TDI diesels boasted slightly more power. There was an entry-level 1.4-litre TSI 150PS petrol-powered unit, but most buyers will want the 2.0-litre TDI diesel unit we'd recommend. This comes in low-powered 115PS guise and high-powered 184PS form, but the sweet spot in the range is occupied by the 150PS variant most original buyers chose. It's a derivative that offers willing performance and strong efficiency - 56.5mpg on the combined cycle and 130g/km of CO2 (both NEDC figures). A variant with smooth the brand's DSG auto transmission is worth seeking out.
So a large-class car-like MPV like this makes sense. But why this one? After all in the 2015-2021 period, a rival Ford Galaxy was a newer design and a SEAT Alhambra was slightly cheaper. Which, before experiencing this Volkswagen model, might be enough to make you wonder whether buying this updated MK3 Sharan makes as much sense as living with one. Having spent some time with this car though, we feel inclined to argue a case for it. Thanks to the tenacious way it holds onto its value by class standards, the price issue.. well, isn't such an issue if you consider whole life costs rather than the up-front sticker price. And as for the newness of design, well the 2015 model year mid-life changes did just enough to keep the total package here feeling quite fresh.
Ultimately then, what you're left with in summary is a pretty complete proposition. In this Volkswagen, you can breathe Climatronically-filtered air and watch your children on the dash while you voice control the sat nav. As they stream music from their phones and tablets through the infotainment set-up, you can be checking the weather at your destination and asking for directions to the cheapest places to park and fuel up. This then, is the world of the 21st century MPV. And if what you actually need is a large one, then a Sharan remains one of the classiest ways to get the job done.
Volkswagen Sharan (2015 - 2021) review by Jonathan Crouch