If you've kids you'll understand that anything that makes life easier is a good thing, and as a full-sized MPV the Volkswagen Sharan does exactly that. Exciting in the traditional sense it is not, but it's entirely fit for purpose, which for its sleep-deprived owners is all that matters.
In the Metal:
The most space efficient shape is a box, so that's exactly what the Volkswagen Sharan is. No surprises there then, and pretty much how it's been for the last 20 years. The pointy bit at the front houses the engine and more often than not that's a 2.0-litre TDI unit, which, for the new model, is more efficient and Euro 6 compliant. The Sharan may not be as striking to look at as some of its MPV rivals, but it's typically Volkswagen handsome, with some neat detailing and a look of quality and solidity that resonates not just outside, but inside too.
Getting in the Sharan is a breeze, thanks to the sliding rear doors (electrically powered if you option it). Anyone who's wrestled a screaming toddler into a car while simultaneously managing another, trying to carry change bags, pushchairs and the peril of a dropped favourite soft toy will value the huge openings that sliding doors offer. Once you've used them you'll wonder why all family cars aren't so equipped, as anything that makes your life easier after months of broken sleep is a very good thing. If they're sleeping, please, please let them be, while you can enjoy the Sharan's finely built and well-considered cabin, with great views out and the sort of ease of operation that's something of a Volkswagen signature. There's space for seven in there if you're hopeless at family planning, while the middle row of seats allows three Isofix child seats to line up abreast - if you're mad enough to not stop after two. The boot is vast, the middle seats slide and fold, making it about as versatile as you can get, and more than up to the task of hauling buggies, travel cots and lots more besides.
Your idea of driving pleasure changes when you've filled up the back seats with your offspring. You want safe, steady, comfort and space, all of which the Sharan does very well. It's no sports car, but then it's not supposed to be. All of which makes Volkswagen's fitment of variable suspension on the launch fleet pointless; it offers three settings, from Comfort, through Normal and to Sport. If anyone ever switches it away from Comfort, we'd be astonished. The 2.0-litre TDI engine comes with a choice of 115-, 150- or 184hp. That 115hp version will be enough for most buyers, though if you want a DSG automatic transmission then you'll need the 150hp model. It brings a little bit more go, shaving 2.3 seconds off the 0-100km/h time for a respectable 10.3 seconds, and generally makes the Sharan an even more stress-free drive.
Refinement from the diesels is good, though the 1.4 turbocharged TSI petrol engine with 150hp is smoother and quieter still, but loses out over its diesel alternatives on emissions and economy - if not to quite the margin you might expect. All drive decently too, with enough body control to keep things sensible if you're in a hurry on a windy road, yet good ride comfort at the same time. Exciting it's not then, but when you're juggling the stress of school runs, nursery drop offs, kids' parties, lost toys and the occasional, momentary pang of fear you've left a stairgate open, the last thing you want your car to do is raise your pulse.
If you're not a parent, and just want a big, easy, spacious, classy and comfortable car, whether that's for ferrying people around for business, or you just like a high seating position then the Sharan's got huge merit, too.
The ultimate family car? We think so, the Volkswagen Sharan is a fine blend of effortless drive, good looks, a classy interior and masses of practicality. Sliding doors too, which, once you've owned them, you'll wonder how you did without them.