Can the UK’s favourite MPV still cut it amid such fierce competition? Gareth Butterfield finds out
BELIEVE it or not, Vauxhall’s Zafira is still the favourite choice for the UK’s MPV buyers. Truth be told, most poeple after seven seats and gargantuan load spaces will be opting for SUVs these days, but there’s still a market for these smaller, more driveable people-carriers, so Vauxhall has invested quite heavily in updating its multi-purpose mainstay.
The Zafira Tourer does the same brilliant job its always done of hiding away a third set of seats, in a pair, under the boot floor, ready to be popped out whenever required, or stowed away to offer a big boot. Back at the launch of the original Zafira this “Flex7” seating system was clever and innovative, but a bit hefty. And it’s nowhere near as unique now, it’s been copied and refined many times over. That said, Vauxhall has continued to improve the setup and it’s now easier than it’s ever been to raise and lower the two small seats. Still an impressive trick.
The big differences in the new one are inside, and I’ll come to that in a minute, once I’ve finished expressing my disappointment at the other big change for the newcomer – the front styling. I loved the look of the last Zafira Tourer. It arrived at the start of one of Vauxhall’s golden eras of design, that gave us stunning cars such as the three-door Astra and the original Insignia The new family snout, which has been grafted on to the new Zafira Tourer, is by no means unattractive, but it misses the visual loveliness of the old one – which, weirdly, always reminded me of the face of a kestrel. No, really, it did.
That aside, the interior update is not just an improvement, it’s a veritable transformation. The fly in the ointment of the last batch of Vauxhalls was always the clumsy and complicated mess of buttons on the dashboard. Vauxhall has learned from this error and made the whole thing simpler and far more attractive. It does mean even more functions are now bundled into the central display, which feels a bit small and low-tech compared to some new cars on the market, but it works pretty well.
Not everything about the interior is impressive though. There are some useful cubbies and storage boxes, but the glove box is unforgivably small for such a family-focused car and I can think of a few rivals which feel as if a lot more thought has gone into them. Only two Isofix points leave it trailing a little, too, although this won’t bother everyone.
Thankfully, it’s still a good car to drive. Opt for a mid-range model instead of one of the pricey top-models and you’ll get 17″ alloy wheels that allow a good ride, while not feeling wallowy. It’s not really a driver’s car, but it does handle better than you might think.
My test model came with a 1.4 turbo-charged engine which, although peppy at high revs, feels a little small for such a big car. It does give a meaty 138bhp but the trouble is you’ve got to hunt for that by revving the engine and, thanks to a fairly sloppy gear change, that’s far from fun. It did deliver decent economy, often breaching into the 40s, but the better engine is arguably the 1.6-litre diesel. A two-litre version is also available, but the smaller lump is so good, there’s not a lot of point to be honest.
On the whole, though, the Zafira Tourer does deserve to be such a big hit with buyers. It’s comfortable, good to drive, economical, keenly-priced and it does have lots of space.
It might not be the looker it once was, but we all lose our looks eventually. Happily though, the improvements elsewhere are more than welcome and, while its rivals might seem to be advancing quicker than the Zafira, it’s probably testament to the original design that it can still compete so successfully.
The facelift might not be my cup of tea but, in just about every other way, it’s still one of the best ways of transporting seven people and their luggage around – without resorting to a pointless, gas-guzzling SUV. Keep up the good work, Vauxhall.