New Zafira is an ecoFlexible family friend

VAUXHALL has been busy rolling out ecoFlex versions of all its mainstream products with the same commitment that it used to reserve for its fire-breathing VXR performance cars. It's by no means the only manufacturer to come up with an efficiency brand, with most of the mainstream marques having adopted a similar strategy to highlight the most environmentally friendly models in their respective ranges.

If nothing else, it's a handy tool for consumers to pick out the cars with the lowest running costs and, in the case of the Zafira ecoFlex, Vauxhall can lay claim to one of the most efficient seven-seat vehicles currently available.

The engine in the Zafira ecoFlex is the 1.7-litre CDTi engine previously seen in the Astra and Corsa. It's not massively powerful, but offers plenty for most customers in a sector where comfort and costs usually take priority. To help it achieve optimal fuel economy, the Zafira has a higher top gear so the engine works less hard at normal cruising speeds.

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The one thing you can never have enough of in an MPV-style vehicle is space and, sure enough, the tale of the tape reveals that second-generation versions of the Zafira have succumbed, if not to middle age spread, then at least a little loosening of their belts. Six inches longer, 1.5 inches wider and a shade taller than the original, this Mk2 Zafira retains the seven-seat configuration, with a middle bench seat offering three berths and two seats in the back that also fold flat into the floor.

What has changed is the amount of legroom on offer to the occupants. Whereas the first-generation model would have been hideously cramped with all seven seats in use, the current version offers a little more breathing space. For the larger family, it's close to perfect. As before, the seating system is so versatile that the Zafira can be configured in two, three, four, five, six or seven seat guises in a matter of seconds. Most buyers will run in five-seat format, and in this mode the Vauxhall can cope with 620-litres of luggage – fully 20 more than the old car.

Depending on the trim level, the Zafira can also boast up to 30 storage compartments. The "Flex Organiser" luggage bay stowage system that has proved a success with Astra Estate buyers is also available on the Zafira.

It is to the Astra that the Zafira owes many of its exterior design cues. Whereas the old Zafira was clearly related to the Astra Mk IV, the current model looks for all the world like a MkV Astra Estate that's been attached to a garage airline. A particularly interesting feature is the optional panorama roof. With four large glass panels, this offers passengers a light, airy atmosphere in the back, while tinted glass and a powered shade protect against dazzle. A centre console running the length of the ceiling has a number of overhead compartments.

The ecoFlex versions of the Zafira are available across the model's trim level range, allowing customers to select the specification and the price tag that best suits them. All models feature six airbags, anti-lock brakes and a CD stereo at prices just 100 above an equivalently specified 1.9-litre CDTi version. With this in mind, some might be tempted to go for the 1.9 CDTi and pocket the difference but, over a long ownership period, the ecoFlex model should pay for itself through its low running costs.

Ultimately, the ecoFLEX is all about economy and emissions because most customers will find one of the more powerful diesel engines a more satisfying ownership proposition from a driving perspective.

A word of caution is needed, however because, despite its exemplary economy and a theoretical range of 680 miles, the Zafira ecoFLEX will only make financial sense for those who cover medium to large annual mileages. The entry-level 1.6-litre petrol Zafira returns 39mpg and is some 4,000 cheaper to buy than the ecoFlex. Clawing that back in fuel and tax savings will take a while if all you're doing is shopping trips and the school run. As always, it pays to do your sums before signing on the dotted line.

Vauxhall's Zafira remains one of the top compact MPVs on the market and its portfolio looks all the stronger thanks to the economical ecoFLEX derivatives. High-mileage family buyers and company car users will find the strong fuel economy and low emissions offered by these efficiency-focused models a real benefit while the underlying practicality of the Zafira continues to keep it mostly ahead of the pack.


CAR: Vauxhall Zafira ecoFlex

PRICE: 19,029 - 23,925 – OTR


EMISSIONS: 138g/km

PERFORMANCE: Max speed 112mph; 0-60mph 12.6 seconds

FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 53.3mpg