While SUVs rule the roost, let’s not forget the spacious MPV

Almost a generation ago, in human not automotive terms, writes Iain Robertson, people-movers, or Multi-Purpose-Vehicles (MPVs) were all the rage, although their reducing production numbers might suggest that they are forgotten assets.

The millionth Sharan rolled off the assembly line at Volkswagen Autoeuropa, based in Palmela, south of the Douro River, Portugal, since production commenced at the factory 24 years ago. Its inherent safety standards, space utilisation and sliding door access to the rear seats continue to impress families and both taxi and long-haul drivers around the world. The same plant also produces the current Seat Alhambra, which we tested not so long ago but it was also home to the Ford Galaxy, when both the firms had reached a product share agreement, Ford relocating its second generation Galaxy and S-Max models, when the deal was terminated.

Of course, these days, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) dominate the roads but at the beginning of the 1990s, it was the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) that triggered a genuine ‘van’ boom. While some developments were based on light commercials, the Sharan/Galaxy/Alhambra line-up followed a precedent established by the Renault Espace and the Japanese manufacturers (Mitsubishi, Toyota and Nissan) to use a conventional platform and build upwards. Both Sharan and Alhambra have remained immensely popular vehicles in this segment to this time, as has Espace and its derivatives. However, the Sharan/Alhambra has not only been successful in Europe, but also as a top-of-the-range business van (predominantly VW) on the continent of Asia. Currently, the multivariable vehicle is available in a total of 33 markets, with Germany being one of the main centres of interest.

The concept of providing up-to-seven comfortable seats, which is admittedly available on a number of SUVs too, albeit with good leg, hip and headroom, plus a modest boot but usually several space-providing ‘tricks’, is appreciated by both business and family buyers. Not all SUVs, with their afterthought ‘plus-2’ chairs, truly meet the brief. In fact, it is a body type that, instead of being ignored by motor dealers and even the carmakers themselves, should be promoted more for its greater practicality, even though it might not have the sex-appeal of a pseudo go-anywhere vehicle.

The family-friendly Sharan/Alhambra impresses with its huge variability and particularly good space utilisation, on a relatively compact footprint. The current generation offers numerous new safety features as standard, making it one of the most advanced vehicles in its class. The Lane Assist and the Front Assist monitoring systems are fitted as standard. Front Assist, or Distance Alert, warns when you are driving too close to the vehicle in front and intervenes by applying the brakes within the system’s limits.

The first Sharan and Alhambra models came onto the market in autumn 1995. Even then, the engine portfolio managed to be punchy enough, allied to modest fuel consumption. This approach has remained unchanged. Since September 2019, the Group’s engines have complied with the obligatory Euro 6d TEMP emission standard. 

MSG Summary

Apart from the Sharan and Alhambra, Volkswagen Autoeuropa also produces the compact T-Roc (SUV) and around 2.7m units of a variety of models (including the Eos and Scirocco) have been manufactured at Palmela. If you want an MPV, just let us know your requirements.

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