Sharan

They say motorsport is expensive, but our paddock bus for this year's Uniroyal Team Challenge proves that not every aspect has to be - our VW Sharan made the annual pilgrimage to Spa in Belgium and back on little more than a tank of fuel.

  • Torquey, frugal engine, good range, slick box, service intervals, load capacity, driving position
  • Boot cramped with all the seats in place, no cubby for handbook, easily marked interior

They say motorsport is expensive, but our paddock bus for this year's Uniroyal Team Challenge proves that not every aspect has to be - our VW Sharan made the annual pilgrimage to Spa in Belgium and back on little more than a tank of fuel. Last year, we took our reader racers to the F1 track for the 25-hour Beetle enduro in a VW Caravelle that could only dream of 20mpg - but this time, our paddock refuge averaged double that. And the frugal but flexible 130bhp turbodiesel engine is the most impressive aspect of our long-term Sharan. The MPV returns around 500 miles to a tank - and then takes less than £45 to fill. In the 9,000 miles since the Sharan joined our fleet, we have averaged just over 37mpg - including plenty of inner city driving. On a long motorway run, that figure is pushed to more than 40mpg. Yet this doesn't come at the expense of performance, as the latest incarnation of VW's 1.9 TDI has a lively turn of speed - particularly when the turbo spools up, approaching 2,000rpm. The well weighted six-speed box means you can always find the right ratio, although the engine is so flexible you needn't shift constantly to make progress in town. There's little point taking the TDI to the red line, but keep it spinning in its generous powerband and throttle response is more than adequate - and on wet roads a little too exciting. The VW is also pretty refined. At low speeds with the window open, you know you're driving a diesel, but on the motorway you'd be hard pushed to tell. And our Sharan has been racking up plenty of motorway miles. Not only does it have to cope with my 60-mile commute on the M11, it's also been touring the UK's race circuits as a home for our competition winners. With the rear row of seats removed, it will carry all manner of gear. Away from the track, the VW has also been holiday transport for the Adams family. With most cars, you have to watch what you take, but that's not the case in this MPV. We packed bikes, beach chairs and luggage for three with room to spare. If that's not enough, fold the middle row of seats to double the space. Even a giant deep freeze couldn't beat the VW. However, for a vehicle that will often be used as a van, the cabin is prone to marking. The smart leather trim is fine, but the slightest touch on the plastic will leave a scrape. When carrying items such as bikes, with all their sharp metal, you have to take great care to avoid scarring the panels. That said, we wouldn't expect it to survive the worst damage we've inflicted on the interior - a penny-sized hole punched in a side panel thanks to the unhappy combination of a race gearbox and a roundabout. A specialist fix will be needed. On the subject of self-inflicted wounds, a hidden post in a grassy bank put a scratch on a rear door and we scraped the wing mirror against a wall. The car is booked into the bodyshop already. But while we've been creating problems, the Sharan has given no cause for complaint. We added a litre of oil after 5,000 miles and, apart from topping up the washer fluid, that's been the extent of the maintenance. And while the handbook suggests a service is due, the local dealer told us our VW is part of the variable service programme - so the first check won't be needed until about 19,000 miles. Apparently, the handbooks had not caught up with the cars, so if you have a Sharan of similar vintage, a call to your dealer may be worthwhile. When the Sharan joined our fleet, it had a hard act to follow in our Caravelle. Five months on and we're in no doubt. It does everything we want of a versatile car like this and, as fuel prices increase yet again, with far less pressure on the wallet.

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