New Wheels Coming

After much on-line research and reading of brochures, several visits to car showrooms, test drives and the resultant deliberation, we finally reached the point of ordering a new car yesterday. It should be ready in week 28, just before the new baby puts in an appearance.

Our Audi A6 Avant has served us well, transporting us to approximately 30 European countries over the last five years, but it’s just not big enough for long family holidays with five people and all of the accoutrements that accompany them. Even with just four people, it’s becoming a squeeze. Eloïse isn’t a baby any more and needs more of her own stuff than she used to. Lucas is developing, too, so we really need something with more room. Besides which, the middle seat on the rear bench isn’t ISOFIX-ready, so you can’t secure a child seat to the chassis in that position.

We’ve settled on a Volkswagen Sharan, because this type was recently the subject of a comprehensive revision and now has some very economical engines to choose from. The energy label of our A6 Avant was a D, if I remember correctly. The new car will be a B, even with an automatic gearbox on board. OK, there’s only a 1.4 litre petrol engine at its heart, but that energy label is still pretty amazing for a car of this size. We’ll be sacrificing some power, but that’s OK. After a test drive, I’m willing to bet that we’ll only really appreciate the difference on the German autobahn.

You don’t pick an MPV to be sporty; you pick it to be practical. As such, we resisted the temptation to go straight for the 2.0 litre model, as that lacks Volkswagen’s efficient BlueMotion technology, which makes it a much cleaner car to run, in terms of CO2 emissions. BlueMotion also makes it more economical, of course. The lower emissions mean that we can knock off about five grand in heinous Dutch BPM tax, which was ratcheted up to astronomic levels at the start of this year. Some car manufacturers have even felt the need to entirely withdraw several of their models from the Dutch market, because the price of the car increased by about €15,000 in extra BPM tax on 1st January. That’s substantial enough to price many an MPV way out of its target segment.

With the expectation of the continued raising of penalties for cars with anything but mint on their breath, we have to be mindful of resale value a few years from now. If the 2.0 litre model gives us pause for thought now, it may have become very unattractive as an exchange or resale vehicle four or five years down the road. On the other hand, I’m confident we’ll still be able to shift a B label MPV, because the competition is still quite some way behind in producing clean, efficient engines.

In contrast, The 2.0 litre diesel model does have BlueMotion and doesn’t come with the same BPM burden, but diesel vehicles are penalised in other ways here, so it’s not economically viable to own one unless you drive close to 30,000 km per year. We manage about a third of that, so the only sensible choice for us is a petrol engine.

I’d been dreading the day that we were faced with the inevitable prospect of entering MPV land. If there’s one type of car that isn’t appealing, it’s the frumpy, oversized MPV, devoid of luxury and no fun to drive.

Closer inspection of some MPVs, such as the Ford Galaxy, confirmed this analysis. That car feels as if it was constructed from a kit by an enthusiastic amateur. It just feels so cheap and nasty. Everything is made from rattly plastic and it feels as if a chunk could break off in your hand at any moment. This is, of course, a problem with American cars in general. It must surely be one of the motoring world’s greatest irony that the country most obsessed with luxury and cars seemingly can’t produce a luxurious vehicle for the mass market.

The Sharan has a lot of very appealing features, but I’ll name just the highlights:

  • Energy label B for the 1.4 litre petrol model with automatic DSG gearbox.
  • Modern satellite navigation system.
  • A decent 8 speaker sound system.
  • 7 seats across 3 rows: all 3 in the middle row and both in the back row have ISOFIX mount points. The 2 edge seats in the middle row also have built-in child booster seats.
  • All seats can be folded completely flat, leaving them recessed in the floor to create extra space for luggage.
  • Huge, front-to-back panoramic sunroof.
  • Electrically sliding back doors and boot hatch.
  • Keyless entry.
  • Side airbags in the front and back (at extra cost).
  • A decent EURO NCAP score.

I’ve gone from dreading the transition to an MPV to really looking forward to taking receipt of the Sharan in July. I really think this is going to be a lot of fun to own and drive. The children will have plenty of room for their stuff and there are lots of places to store stray items in the cabin. We’ll likely get a multimedia system built into the rear seats, so that the children can watch DVDs during the journey. They’re getting old enough now that playing with a length of string or a pebble no longer holds their concentration in quite the same way it used to.

For one thing, the new car will give us the option of going on trips when visitors come. Currently, we can transport our children or our visitors, but not both. That will change with the new vehicle.

Parking it will be harder, of course, and it may not even fit through our gateposts, so we’re just going to have to try it. Even if it doesn’t fit, you can’t choose a vehicle based on your gate, so we’ll just have to live with the problem.

Eloïse has already cried at the idea of no longer having the car to which she’s become so accustomed. It’s been with us for all of her remembered life, so she can’t imagine being without it. On the other hand, she grins like a Cheshire cat at the prospect of sliding doors and being able to sit all the way at the back of the car, so hopefully the new vehicle will bring enough excitement with it that she can cope with the loss of the old.

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