Taking a break from writing about his lovely Audi 80, Darren Leslie is back on PetrolBlog with some words on his Volkswagen Sharan. After the recent Ask MajorGav feature on 7-seaters, PetrolBlog will be getting a reputation for practicality and common sense. Blimey.
Three. It’s a harmless enough number in the general scheme of things. Defined as ‘the cardinal number between two and four’ by YourDictionary, it can generally be described as ‘not big’. In fact, I can, off the top of my head, think of many numbers that are bigger, and only two that are smaller. And apparently, three is the magic number. Well, it isn’t when you combine the word three with the word children. Especially where personal transportation is concerned.
Yes, we have three children. Not only that, but two of them are twins. All are of an age where specialist car seating is required, meaning that they actually take up more room than an average sized adult. Throw into this mix all the paraphernalia that young children require including the enormous twin pushchair and it’s plain for all to see that a small economical car might not be a good potential choice for the family. Indeed, the previous family car was a Nissan Primera P12 which isn’t what I would call small. But it is. With three children in, it’s what estate agents would call ‘bijou’.
For just over a year, we managed to squeeze one child seat and two baby seats in. The good part was that even if you didn’t use the seat belts to secure the seats, they weren’t going anywhere (and no, we didn’t leave the seats unsecured). But it did mean that taking the two youngest out of the car with car seats was a pain. We reverted to leaving the seats in and manoeuvring the kids around the belts, which worked up to a point. Our eldest was moved to the middle position to allow this to happen, and rather fortunately, he enjoyed using the gap between the front seats to get in and out.
Our first holiday as a family of five was interesting to say the least. The boot was full, the roof box was full, the in-laws boot was full, the in-laws back seat was full. Just as well the in-laws came along really.
And then came the realisation that with the twins growing, there baby seats were going to be replaced by two bulky child seats, and there was no way they were going to fit. Many a night was spent searching through AutoTrader and eBay for ideas, and by Googling the specs of the cars, we quickly found out that there wasn’t much about with our requirements and with our budget. The requirements weren’t particularly onerous either, three 3-point belts in the back, space for three child seats, space for children’s ‘stuff’, a petrol engine and a manual ‘box was about as picky as we got.
When I do buy a car, which isn’t very often, I do tend to do a bit of research, usually on the web these days, and this led to two types of view, The first consisting mainly of Mums who had multiple kids, extolling the virtues of such MPVs as the Citroën Picasso, Renault Scenic and Vauxhall Zafira. “Oh”, they said “there’s so much space. I don’t know how we would have coped without it”. Well, they’re all lying. They’re no bigger than the cars they’re based on, except with three separate small seats in the back. And a woeful boot.
The other type could be summarised as those who claim if you buy an MPV, your life is over, you’re a loser and they have no time for your opinion on anything else. Well these people are morons who don’t appreciate that some people decide that the be all and end all of motoring isn’t driving everywhere at 10/10ths in a high powered car. The internet is a wonderful place to get information and experiences, but ultimately you have to make a decision based on our own personal circumstances. This meant that we didn’t look at any of the smaller MPVs as, having a sneaky look at other people’s, we could see that once the pushchair was in the boot, there would be no room in there for anything else. The same applied to proper cars such as the Volvo V70 or Mercedes E Class.
Bigger was therefore better in this case.
The Japanese ‘luxury vans’ were dismissed due to the requirement of three 3-point belts in the rear and, surprisingly, a distinct lack of width. VW Transporters seem to hold their value and I would guess, come with scene tax as standard. Mercedes V Class have reports of horrendous reliability and so to do the Renault Espace.
So for our budget, it was a choice between the Ford Galaxy, SEAT Alhambra and what we eventually got, the VW Sharan.
The Galaxy, Alhambra and Sharan are all basically the same with differences in trim, engine and lights being the only notable changes. They’re all built in the same factory, by the same people using the same tools. So why are there 20 million times more Fords than SEATs and VWs? It’s very noticeable when looking through the classifieds that there’s such a large difference in availability. Maybe it’s purely down to their being more Ford dealers than the others.
It’s also noticeable, that petrol variants aren’t all that plentiful, especially the one we really wanted, the 2.8 VR6. The only examples we saw advertised were ex-police rapid response, and were suitably ‘worn’. We were even told that “you can’t see the holes from the gun rack”. Nice.
So, what did we get? Not quite what I was after, but having a long hard think I came to the conclusion that in actual fact, the choice we made was a pretty good one. I introduce the readers of PetrolBlog to the VW Sharan 2.0 SL. A smallish petrol engine in a fairly base spec car. So, what did appeal to us? It’s firstly in good condition, the best we looked in fact. The engine is basic and with plenty of room in the bay, can be easily serviced at home. And with minimal gadgets, there’s not too much to go wrong (I hope). These also come with a 6-speed ‘box and rather amusingly, the rear most windows are electric whilst the middle ones are manual……
The PR department of VW will have you believe that it’s like driving a car. It isn’t. But it’s not quite like a van either. The best way to describe it is to say it has a car like driving position and ambiance with the handling characteristics of a sporty van, if that makes sense. The six speeds are fairly close together allowing the engine to provide more forward motion than you originally thought. Indeed, we test drove a Galaxy with 2.3 engine and 5-speed ‘box, and the VW actually felt slightly quicker, even though it probably isn’t when looking at the numbers.
The kids love the car and it’s noticeably easier and quicker getting them in and out due to the height of the seats.
There’s plenty of room across the middle and the boot is simply enormous. In fact, we have trouble making sure the things don’t move about too much. So to summarise in just a few words, we decided to get a car to do a job we wanted, we found one, and it does the job we want.
I could have saved a lot of writing if I’d just said that and not the thousand odd words of waffle beforehand, but that wouldn’t be PetrolBlog, would it?