Road test: Vauxhall Zafira is a Tourer de force

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YOU know what it’s like. You have to use the car for the daily grind to work so you want to get as much enjoyment out of it as you can. Something with a feeling of flair, some style, creature comforts and a wee bit of zip when you take off from the lights.

But there’s also the harsh reality of life – the trips to the supermarket and the mountains of carrier bags; the school runs where the little blighters have to be anchored amid their mess of sticky sweets and electronic excesses; and the loading of building materials at the DIY store, followed shortly after by the dumping of the offcuts at the local tip.

Short of investing in a fleet of appropriate sets of wheels from a two-seater sports to a Transit, the answer is one which will do everything. Flexibility is the question and it’s one which Vauxhall has taken to heart, coming up with a very good answer.

It’s called the Zafira Tourer, the latest incarnation and third generation of their MPV which has been with us since 1999 when it appeared as the first compact, flexible seven-seater. What the designers came up with then was what they called their Flex 7 system which provided seating for up to seven people but, uniquely, stored the seats away when you didn’t need them. Until then, that involved a laborious job of removing the unwanted seats and then finding somewhere to store them. In the Zafira, they simply folded into the floor. It was a great success, and so far more than 450,000 Zafiras have been sold in the UK, with only one facelift along the way.

The latest version now sits in the middle of the MPV class, slightly bigger and pricier than the Ford Grand C-Max and Renault Grand Scenic, and competing more directly on price and specification with the likes of the Ford S-Max and Seat Alhambra. Vauxhall have made what seems like a surprising – but actually pretty smart – decision to continue making and selling the second-generation car alongside with an overlap of about £1,000 between the top-of-the-range previous model and the entry-level new Tourer.

They believe the original is popular enough to sustain a strong continuing market for it while they can attract fresh buyers with the latest model. Personally, I can’t see why anyone would do that. The new car is so much better and a huge amount of equipment is included in the deal, so the only justification is if budgets are tight.

The new car shares nothing with the existing model. It has a distinctive front end, highlighted by huge “boomerang” style headlamps which sweep down into the foglamps. The designers have used all sorts of visual tricks on the side profile to make it look bigger than it actually is and, for what is effectively just a large people-carrying box on wheels, it projects a significant image.

There is a choice of five trim levels and five engines – 1.4 and 1.8 petrol and three diesels producing 110, 165 or 130PS, which was in the test car. The engine was capable but I suspect the larger 165PS unit would be better at handling the demands of a family of seven while returning lively performance.

The test car was in the modest Exclusiv trim but even then came with a long list of standard features including cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, electric heated door mirrors and DAB radio, and CD with USB and MP3 connection. On the SRi and SE versions there’s the £600 option of a superb panoramic windscreen which sweeps up over your head to give what the designers claim is a “helicopter-like” driving experience. It’s standard on the Elite version.

The car feels big inside with a useful 1860 litres of space with all the rear seats folded and even with five seats in use, there’s still 710 litres, along with no fewer than 30 individual storage areas.

What’s especially clever, apart from the disappearing seat act, is that each of the individual middle row seats slides back and forward, although the centre seat is narrower than the others.

It’s all about flexibility, but no matter how much that has been achieved with success in this latest Vauxhall, inevitably there’s been a bit of compromise along the way. It’s not cheap, but there are some clever touches, and it’s happy to take on most jobs you could ask of it.


CAR: Vauxhall Zafira Tourer Exclusiv 2.0 (130PS) ecoFLEX Start/Stop

PRICE: £23,950

PERFORMANCE: Max speed 120mph; 0-60mph 10.6s

MPG: 62.8 combined

EMISSIONS: 119g/km