Home » The VR6-Powered Volkswagen Sharan Minivan Was a Different Kind of Hot Hatch

The VR6-Powered Volkswagen Sharan Minivan Was a Different Kind of Hot Hatch

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Every corner of automotive enthusiasm has its own kind of forbidden fruit that was never sold in the USA. For JDM fans, the R32-R34 Skyline GTR was endlessly craved before being legal to import. For lovers of sprightly hot hatches, there’s so much cool French fare that we yearn to rip laps in. Like anything with a RenaultSport badge. Then, we come to the mildly esoteric stuff, at least in America: The Volkswagen Sharan minivan (also known as an MPV on its side of the pond) which was never sold here.

Since the Sharan’s debut in the mid-’90s, I’m not sure many folks who saw them on the regular would ever consider them hot hatches, but bear with me: It’s got a hatch, and one of the available engines was Volkswagen’s deeply-admired 2.8-liter VR6. You can see where I’m going with this.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

This plain James egg recently caught my attention after a pal sent an example to me on Instagram. This weirdo’ll dig this, he probably thought, and was right. Here’s why I, and you, should be in love if you aren’t already.

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Volkswagen

Covert Commuter

The Volkswagen Sharan was by and large a minivan meant to haul a family comfortably and safely around its respective markets. It’s unassuming on the outside, and shared a platform with other unassuming options like the Ford Galaxy (the other, non-ending-in-ie one) and Seat Alhambra. This sleek people carrier debuted in 1995 and ran all the way until 2022, covering two generations, though a handful of facelifts during the first. It was available with a manual transmission, too; I think all we ever got was the mid-’90s Dodge Caravan for stick minivan fare.

After a quick perusal, it seems like consumers generally liked it and it sold well. “Rarely interested in way out styling or ridiculous engines, the key demands are practicality, reliability, and quality all underlined by manageable costs,” the UK’s Royal Automotive Club (RAC) wrote of it. “Perhaps that’s why the Volkswagen Sharan has been such a consistently high performer in the UK sales charts.”

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Volkswagen Sharan 2000 Images 1
Volkswagen

Personally, I favor any that fall under the first generation; not only do they look better, but for hypothetical-sake, it’d be easier to pick one up for a song if I lived in a respective market, or were to import one. My stars does it look great lowered on B5 RS4 wheels, too.

The Sharan was not only available with a smattering of diesel options, but also the afore-hyped 2.8-liter VR6 and venerable 1.8T. God bless a 20-valve turbo lump, but I’d still opt for the former. The engine sounds great in stock form, but is truly beautiful music with an aftermarket exhaust bolted up.

Volkswagen Sharan 2000 Wallpapers 2
Volkswagen

Positively Potent

I’m not sure why it took me this long to discover the Sharan, as I’ve dug on VWs since I got my license back in the early aughts. “Absolutely pathetic,” 2004 me would probably post to VWVortex.com about me. Anyway, many folks have cashed in on the Sharan’s potential and created some real monsters, like this 700 horsepower example in Germany:

It makes sense, too, the VR6 is not only well-regarded for its great sound and decent stock power, but its ability to take boost and be easy to toughen up, too. And to replace if it treats a rod like a lawn dart—big-power B5 Audi S4 builds sport them for a reason. Not only that, but the Sharan was also available with 4Motion all-wheel drive—I’m not sure how much power this drivetrain can take, but apparently, it too can handle some extra oomph, as stated by this 430 horsepower example in Poland.

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Epic, right? Now, time to dig into researching the cheapest way to get an old Sharan VR6 to my driveway in Southern California, take comfort in the fact that it may share a lot of parts with other VWs that were sold here, and to peruse my local household tool retailer for a sawzall. Why? To do its most crucial mod, of course: A muffler delete.

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B3n
B3n
18 days ago

As much fun as a VR6 is, I think the TDI suits these vans much better.
Especially the later PD TDIs with the 6-speed manual have really good grunt and also get great MPGs.
And fun fact, they are rated to tow 2 tons / 4400 lbs which is why you see them towing stuff all over Eastern Europe.

Phuzz
Phuzz
18 days ago
Reply to  B3n

My dad had one of the ones with the chonky TDI and it was surprisingly swift for it’s size. Less power than the VR6, but loads more torque.
It got passed down to my little brother, who drove it into the ground, using it as a taxi/van/party bus.
(For the shared parts, my dad found that the Ford versions were cheaper than buying from VW or Seat)

Last edited 18 days ago by Phuzz
Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
18 days ago

The problem is that it’s a fucking VW, which isn’t known for making the best cars. And the 15-degree V6 is scary as fuck too.

The best version of these is the manual I4 petrol/gasoline Galaxy, because that actually gives you a Ford engine and transmission. The gas/petrol I4’s in the Galaxy (either 2.0L or 2.3L) came from Ford, as did the manual transmission. But if you wanted diesel, V6, and/or automatic, that came from VW. Eithe the same VR6 or the TDI diesels.

Now, Ford is no Toyota, either, but still better than fucking VW.

LOL I’d take a Sintra over VW

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
18 days ago

Interesting that Ford had not one, but two minivans they were selling at the same time that didn’t have Ford engines in them.

World24
World24
18 days ago

 I think all we ever got was the mid-’90s Dodge Caravan for stick minivan fare.

I’m 99.9% sure the first Caravan/Voyager models all came with the option of a stick. The seemingly unknown turbo Caravan’s from the late 80’s could be had with 5 speeds.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
18 days ago
Reply to  World24

They did, my parents had an ’85 caravan with the manual and N/A 4 cyl. Of course there was the turbo version too. From other manufacturers there was the Mazda MPV and Mazda 5 that all came with manual options, the 1st Gen Honda Odyssey (with the hinged rear door), the Toyota Previa (mid engine) and the Ford and GM vans built off of their small truck platforms (the Aerostar and Astro respectively) also had manuals, plus RWD

Last edited 18 days ago by Peter Andruskiewicz
FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
18 days ago

I’m pretty sure the Odyssey was auto-only – at least I’ve never heard of a factory manual example – though of course it wasn’t exactly rocket surgery to swap in some Accord parts.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
18 days ago
Reply to  World24

In the US, you could get a manual Caravan/Voyager all the way until 95.

The third gen that came in 96 is when they stopped offering them with manuals here, but of course Europe still got them.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
18 days ago
Reply to  World24

The mid-engined Toyota Previa could be had with a 5-speed stick, and for two years with a stick + all wheel drive.

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
18 days ago

I had a 2nd gen sharan for a month as a rental last year. I was generally impressed, but could have really used a SLIGHTLY bigger trunk. I am a niche customer though, I have 4 kids. I’m generally relegated to suburban/full size van territory if I have to carry more than just the family. A long wheelbase sharan would have been great.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
18 days ago

It’s simply too good.

I’m a sucker for actually small minivans so this is right up my alley. I’ll take a green one, please.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
18 days ago

I think all we ever got was the mid-’90s Dodge Caravan for stick minivan fare.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe you could briefly get a mid-engine AWD minivan with a stick…The Toyota Previa. The Ford Aerostar definitely came with a stick as well as my friends mom had one when I was a teen.

Matt A
Matt A
18 days ago

Aerostar did have an available stick. The Previa, at least in the US, was not available in manual with AWD, unfortunately

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
18 days ago
Reply to  Matt A

Allegedly, the Previa was available with AWD and a stick for 1991 and 1992 model years only. Someone found a junkyard example: https://www.autoblog.com/2020/12/12/junkyard-gem-1992-toyota-previa-all-trac-with-5-speed-manual-transmission/

Matt A
Matt A
18 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Martin

You’re right. I meant the supercharged AWD version. But the NA motor could be

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
18 days ago

I was sure you were gonna use that Sawzall to make it a convertible…

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
18 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Me too. I was hoping, actually.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
19 days ago

Kinda want.

FlyingMonstera
FlyingMonstera
19 days ago

I drove a Ford Galaxy V6 auto (VW VR6 engine) one way on a long motorway trip many years ago and a 2.3 manual (Ford engine) the other way. With four adults and moderate luggage the V6 was smooth but very slow, lacking in torque for 80mph overtaking and incredibly thirsty. The 2.3 was far better – with three adults and tons of luggage it was nearly as smooth, felt less front heavy, torquier and needed about as half as many stops for petrol. The Sharalaxy was a great handling car for an MPV but I seem to remember it had shocking reliability with the Sharan rated Britain’s most unreliable car at one stage.

Clupea Hangoverus
Clupea Hangoverus
19 days ago
Reply to  FlyingMonstera

I think your observations are spot on. In real life the tdi engines were popular for a reason, more torque, half the consumption.
I believe these were also notorious for holding the ”top spots” in the failed inspections lists. TÜV etc. This could be partly explained by particularly weak suspension bits wearing out fast, but I don’t think these were considered particularly reliable or easy to repair by 90’s standards. Also the size was an issue, these were big and heavy ( Europe in 90’s!), but there was hardly any luggage space if the 3rd row was in use. Touran and similar cars achieved practically the same end result with less car. Think Mazda 5.
I get that tuned vans are cool, because of the novelty, but…

FlyingMonstera
FlyingMonstera
18 days ago

I was referring to the 2.3 petrol but your comments about the TDis are even more relevant – less power on paper but far more drivable in the real world and much cheaper to run.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
19 days ago

Mercedes-Benz: “Hey! We do have the van with Volkswagen VR6 engine, too! It’s called V 280!” (first generation W638, 1996–2003).

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
18 days ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

TIL. But why? Who needed a petrol V6 that badly in a Mercedes ludospace?

Martin Dollinger
Martin Dollinger
18 days ago

Well, there still are people out there who think a „real“ Mercedes-Benz has to have at least six cylinders.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
18 days ago

Of course, to each his own.

There are people who like the engines that are smoother and have more oompah than four-cylinder engines. Lest we forget about the 2007 R 63 AMG, the “van” with V8 engine outputting over 500 horsepowers.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
15 days ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

I’m just surprised that M-B considered a petrol V6 that necessary but didn’t plan for, say, the M112 to fit from the get-go. Seems odd for M-B to go with a VAG engine of all things, but no doubt it was the only thing that would have fit in the mk1 Vito.

Day One Dave
Day One Dave
19 days ago

I had high hopes for a MazdaSpeed5.
Never happened 🙁

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
18 days ago
Reply to  Day One Dave

Car and Driver built one!

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
18 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

They never got it really running right, though, did they? I seem to remember some massive wiring harness issues and difficulties getting the Mazdaspeed 3 pieces to play nicely with the Mazda 5. I know I would have done very bad things at one time to have a legit Mazdaspeed 5 given how much I loved the regular version.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
18 days ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

Google fu GOOOOO!!!

https://www.caranddriver.com/features/a15391593/return-of-the-boss-wagon-mazdaspeed-5/

It looks like they got it going, but it wasn’t as awesome as they had hoped.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
18 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Yeah, having had a second generation Mazda5 and face-lift CX-5, the 2.5 Skyactiv, 6 speed auto and i-drive in a Mazda5 would have been just that little bit extra because the 2.3 and 5 speed was a little underpowered and as 2014 it was lacking all mod cons. A turbo Skyactiv might have been a Mazdaspeed 5

Simon
Simon
19 days ago

There actually was a handful of hot-ish hatch MPVs available.
Opel offered both the Zafira and Meriva as OPC variants with around 200hp. Ford offered the S-Max with the 2.5 Turbo 5 Cylinder from the Focus MK2 ST. You could even get a Renault Espace with a 3.5 v6 making a whopping 240hp!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
19 days ago

“A muffler delete”

Ugh!

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
19 days ago

Tell us more about “This plain James egg”, please.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
19 days ago

Always loved the idea of a hot-hatchified minivan. A sporty vehicle that can haul the whole family! Never heard of the VW Sharan but now I’m intrigued, even though it is a Volkswagen and therefore potentially a money chasm.

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