VW Sharan

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A LOT can happen over the course of 10 years, and for confirmation you only have to take a look at the motor industry.

A decade ago, for a family runabout, I bought a brand new Volkswagen Golf with a 1.4 litre engine – a unit that never really had the credentials to seriously worry the skin on a rice pudding. It did its allotted job, fair enough, and that’s why we bought it, but like other pastimes it was a case of three weeks warning and a fire in the grate if you wanted to move quickly.

Now it’s 2011 and one of the bigger vehicles in the Volkswagen star fleet has rolled out in its latest guise. And under the bonnet is a 1.4 litre engine.

Asking for trouble? Certainly not, for the new Sharan, even with just 1390ccs under the bonnet, is something of a revelation.

Both supercharged and turbocharged, it develops an impressive 150ps and 240Nm of torque to propel the Sharan along at a pace you would not expect.

Quick off the mark when it needs to be, Sharan is a mindblowingly simple care to drive around town because the gearbox/clutch/steering setup is light in use.

There are a couple of other areas where it scores over its predecessor, which first appeared here in 1995. It’s so much more comfortable, with seats that you feel you could drive all day in. I did just that in the original on a trip to see friends in rural France and knew about it by the time we arrived. Front seats now sit slightly lower which, coupled with the more angled steering wheel, makes for a better deal for the driver.

But the most noticeable change is the rear sliding doors – the sort that some said a decent sized MPV like this should have had ages ago.

They make entry and exit so much simpler and safer for young and old alike. You won’t be causing any car park bumps, although that doesn’t mean you won’t be a victim of course….

The EasyFold seating system gives you easy access to the two rear seats, which now fold flat into the floor when not in use, and are a vast improvement over the solid – and heavy - seven seats of old. It’s easy too to stow the second row of seats to give a vast cargo area when needed.

The Wolfsburg designers have performed something of a minor miracle with the latest model which has a modern and stylish look. In fact the only bits carried over from the old model are the sun visors.

It’s 220mm longer, 92mm wider and 12mm lower yet somehow it actually looks smaller than the car it’s replacing. It’s also lighter by some 30kgs which could explain its willingness to get up and go even with that 1.4 engine providing the power.

All Sharans with the exception of the 200ps model are designated BlueMotion Technology models and as such have stop/start and a battery regeneration system as standard.

There are four trim levels – S, SE, SEL and Executive, which has six seats and is aimed at the business market.

Engine choice is two petrol, two diesel – the 1.4 sampled here returns something like 39.2 on the combined cycle and belches out 167g/km of CO2.

There’s one other thing I guarantee you’ll appreciate. The big doors wrap down and over the door sills, which means they never get dirty. So neither do your trousers. Nice touch.

AT A GLANCE

Volkswagen Sharan S 1.4 TSI

£23,470

1.4 1390cc four cylinder, 150ps@5800rpm, 240Nm@1750-4000rpm.

Top speed 122mph, 0-62mph 10.7 secs.

Fuel: urban 30.7, extra urban 46.3, combined 39.2

Standard features include ABS, ESP, nine airbags including a knee airbag, sliding rear doors, seven seats, climate control, iPod connectivity, electronic parking brake with auto hold.