Volkswagens Second Generation Sharan Is An Established Family Favourite, But What Does The All-Wheel Drive 4Motion Variant Bring To The Party? Andy Enright Reports.
Whilst cynics would note that four-wheel drive has had more rises and falls than Robert Pires in an opposition penalty box, few have the depth of experience of the Volkswagen Group. Owners of Audi, the company who brought us the revolutionary Quattro, Volkswagen also have a fair amount of 4wd heritage of their own. The latest Sharans to be the beneficiaries of this expertise are the 4Motion models.
For those not familiar with the technology, 4Motion is an all-wheel drive system based on the Haldex differential used in the Audi TT and the Skoda Octavia 4x4. It certainly makes for a suitably cosmopolitan engineering mix, the diff designed in Sweden using software from Austrian company Steyr-Daimler-Puch. The Sharan itself is built in Portugal and although its rather odd name apparently means Transport of Kings in Persian, its doubtful that any ascetic Iranian clerics would want to Khomeini closer to something quite as decadent as the 4Motion Carat version we examine here. Most will be familiar with the 204bhp V6 engine that the Second Generation Sharan 4Motion models have campaigned with and this model will accelerate to 60mph in under ten seconds and keep pulling all the way to 135mph.
Traction off the line is aided by that Haldex differential which directs power to the rear wheels when it detects the front pair slipping. Its certainly a good deal more sophisticated than most all-wheel drive set-ups, as it includes an automatic-locking Torsen centre differential that distributes engine torque to the front and rear axles in a 50/50 split in normal driving conditions. On slippery surfaces however, the wheels with more traction receive more of the power: front or rear wheels can receive up to 67% of engine output. In addition, an Electronic Differential Locking (EDL) system distributes power from side to side. This feature limits individual wheel spin and redistributes the power to the side that needs it most. 4MOTION coupled with EDL also makes it possible for the car to move if only one wheel has traction.
"The laws of physics do, after all, apply to Volkswagen too."
To complete the belt and braces approach, the 4MOTION adopts a computer-controlled anti-skid system called ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation). While EDL functions as a form of traction control at speeds up to 40 km/h, the ASR system uses sophisticated electronics to control the throttle and maximize traction and stability at higher speeds. ASR can be deactivated with the push of a button on the dashboard. The four-wheel drive system is a boon for those planning on using the Sharan for towing.
For the rest of us it utterly eliminates torque steer. Although there are cleverer ways to seat seven (step forward Vauxhall Zafira) none boast the Sharans capacity for banishing the compromises of driving a large MPV. The Sharan V6 has the sort of urge youll need for effective overtaking and the handling isnt the sort of spongy mess that betrays the van-based underpinnings of many manufacturers large MPVs. Fitted with a six-speed gearbox as standard, the 4Motion model offers a reasonably sporting drive without the attendant traction problems suffered by their front wheel drive brethren.
In wet or snowy conditions its possible to feel the 4Motion mechanicals at work, shuttling torque to the rear wheels. ESP stability control is fitted as standard, acting as a backup in case youre overcome by feelings of invincibility. The laws of physics do, after all, apply to Volkswagen too. Inside its the usual Sharan excellence.
The Passat-style dashboard with the blue-tinted chrome-ringed instruments looks a cut above the norm, whilst the centre console now offers breathing space for the optional satellite navigation system. Though the basic design is unchanged, it now comes in a package that smacks of much greater quality, crammed with features to please family users. The Second Generation Sharan features a redesigned centre console with space for the optional satellite navigation system and a multitude of cubbies. The sole Carat 4Motion trim level features security central locking, four airbags, ABS, an electronic engine immobiliser, electric windows, power steering, wood trim, heated leather/alcantara front seats and electronic climate control amongst others.
Seven seats are standard on all models and as far as their layout is concerned, things are much as before - though even the sports seats arent exactly light, so lugging them in and out remains a job not to be undertaken by the weak or faint-hearted. The two front seats can be swivelled round completely to face the rear - which is great for picnics and business meetings if you're stationary and there's only four in the car. It's annoying however, that you still can't do the same with the middle set so that occupants behind the driver can face each other and talk on longer journeys. Whether you feel you need the benefits of all-wheel drive will depend on the sort of motoring you do. For the average motorway bashing Sharan driver, 4Motion is about as relevant as the GNP of Burkina Faso, but if you live in rural or upland areas, it could make the difference between shrugging off conditions and crying off work. The work shy will hate it.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
CAR: Volkswagen Sharan 4Motion V6 Carat
PRICE: £27,285 - on the road
INSURANCE GROUP: 15
CO2 EMISSIONS: 278g/km
PERFORMANCE: Max Speed 135mph / 0-60mph 9.9s
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (average) 27mpg
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front and side airbags, ABS with brake assist, ESP
WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: Length/Width/Height, 182/84/69"