road test
Let's get the name out of the way first. Even VW has come close to saying it is a mistake. I don't agree. Once I had overcome the moniker's initial strangeness, I found myself warming to this beast precisely because it had a friendly name. You may like or admire your 325 or Mondeo, but it is difficult to put them on a par with the family pet. You can with a Sharan.

So is she a cat or a dog? That depends on what you are expecting. I have driven an old model Espace for the last three years, and have come to enjoy the commanding driving position and extraordinary flexibility of the "people carrier". I read with bafflement attempts by VW and Ford (who sell the Sharan's twin sister, the Galaxy) to claim that this was not really a people carrier at all, and that it would drive just like a real car, honest. I have never found that the Espace drove like anything else, so I was not surprised that the Sharan was as easy to drive as any ground hugger.

What did surprise me was how similar Sharan felt to my elderly Espace. Fewer rattles, certainly, and a slightly more solid feel (it is made of steel, where the Espace's body is plastic). It also had stiffer suspension and harder seats: long journeys are not as relaxing, though the handling is a little better. But the overall feel was familiar. I suspect this would horrify VW's marketing people, but I was happy enough with it.

I was less happy that two of my minor Espace bugbears have not been sorted 10 years after the French car's launch. First, anything you put on the massive dashboard whizzes across it unhindered (an anti-slip surface would do wonders). Second, it is true that up to seven seats can be arranged in astonishing combinations - but only if you wrestle with the primitive and frustrating fixing mechanism.

But in general I would be content driving a Sharan. It is a competent, flexible people carrier, with a good level of equipment and an adequate two-litre 115 bhp engine, which is particularly smooth at speed. The instruments are clear, and it has a sophisticated electronic heating/cooling system and masses of extras.

Why buy a Sharan rather than a Galaxy? I drove a 2.8 litre V6 Galaxy for comparison, and can tell you that the extra power - which actually comes from a VW engine - transforms the car into an effortlessly surging beast that is fun to drive. But Ford versus VW? The Galaxy is cheaper model for model but, VW claims, the Sharan more than makes up for this with better equipment. The VW has a slightly classier feel - the radio looks more sophisticated, for example, although in my view Ford's column- mounted sound controls compensate for this in bags. In the end your decision should probably be made on the relative proximity/helpfulness of your VW/Ford dealer. But don't be worried about switching from, say, a Volvo estate: people carriers are a more than satisfactory alternative to a "real car".

David Bowen


Engine: 1984cc, four cylinders, 8 valves, 115bhp. Manual: five-speed gearbox. Top speed 110mph. 0-60mph 13.1 seconds, average consumption 23.7mpg

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