Vauxhall's Zafira Tourer is a big vehicle but a small diesel might just be its best engine. Jonathan Crouch explains why.
Ten Second Review
If you want a seven-seat MPV, it's hard to do a lot better than the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer. If you've already extended yourself to buy one, many will see the sense in opting for its most economical engine, the 1.6 CDTi diesel powerplant. With 136PS of power and a healthy 320Nm of torque, it's far from underpowered. In fact, this is where the smart money goes.
The original Vauxhall Zafira may have defined the market for seven-seat compact MPVs, but its successor, the Zafira Tourer, takes an altogether more upmarket approach. That might feel a little odd for a car that wears one of the most blue-collar badges around, but an informed public know that with this latest Zafira Tourer, they're buying into a quality vehicle. Vauxhall knows they know, and it's priced accordingly. If you want cheap wheels in which to schlep a big family about, you're probably best served elsewhere. But let's say that you really want a Zafira Tourer, as indeed you probably would were you to test drive one. You've spent a few hours on Excel and without putting the mother-in-law behind the tills at LIDL, the maths aren't working in your favour. Step forward the Zafira Tourer 1.6 CDTI diesel. Here's a more affordable entry point into the range with a smart and economical diesel engine that really punches its weight. What are you waiting for?
To give you an idea of how punchy this tiny diesel is, when the Zafira Tourer was first launched, it came with three versions of a 2.0-litre diesel, rated at 110, 130 and 165PS. This 1.6-litre diesel is more powerful than all but the range-topping version and this translates into some sparky performance figures. Granted, you probably don't buy a seven-seat MPV to indulge in Le Mans starts, but a sprint to 62mph in just 10.4 seconds demonstrates that this Zafira has a bit about it. Or to put it in more relevant terms, it won't leave your family ashen-faced when you go to overtake a dawdling caravan. The Zafira Tourer has a clever suspension system, using the same strut front mounted on a separate subframe as the Insignia. The rear end doesn't feature a multi-link arrangement, Vauxhall rightly reasoning that this adds bulk and cost where it's not required but features a neat Watts link arrangement. Building on the chassis' dynamic prowess is the option of Vauxhall's FlexRide adaptive damping system. This automatically adapts the car's damping to suit road conditions, cornering speed, vehicle movements and an individual's driving style. In addition, drivers can select from a choice of three settings - Standard, Tour and Sport.
Design and Build
The Zafira Tourer is a smart looking piece of design, the flanks featuring deep twin swage lines that are about as far from the archetypal slab-sided minivan look as it's possible to get. When combined with the voluptuous wheel arches and the headlamps that merge seamlessly into the driving lamps and intakes to form a characteristic arrowhead, it's clear that the Zafira Tourer is one that will appeal to the aesthete. With seating for seven, the entire third row can be folded flush with the floor of the luggage area, but rather than being a bench, the second row instead comprises three separate seats that can be folded and moved fore and aft through 210mm, giving third-row passengers the potential of extra room compared with the outgoing Zafira. Passengers in the second row also benefit from more space. Thanks to a clever folding mechanism (available on certain models), the back of the middle seat can fold forward and rotate, providing occupants in the outer seats with individual armrests. The Zafira Tourer's load volumes have increased over the original Zafira. In five-seat mode, the luggage area holds up to 710 litres (up 65 litres), and up to 1860 litres (+40 litres) when all rear seats are folded. There's also an optional FlexFix integrated bicycle carrier.
Market and Model
The 1.6-litre CDTi slots into a revised Zafira Tourer line up that prioritises clean efficiency. Prices sit in the £25,000 to £27,000 bracket. Beyond this variant at the top of the range, customers can get a 195PS BiTurbo 2.0-litre CDTi diesel that really can lift its skirt and fly, and there are also three other diesel units and a couple of petrol engines from which to choose. All models get ESP+ stability control, twin front, side and curtain airbags, cruise control, wheel-mounted audio controls for the MP3-compatible stereo, air conditioning and the Flex7 seating system. If you're willing to spend more, there are all manner of high tech function on offer. This includes a radar-based Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Collision Mitigating Braking (CMB), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR). There's also Intelligent Light Ranging (ILR) which is an additional function to the existing Automatic Forward Lighting + option. Then there's Side Blind Spot Alert (SBSA) and Advanced Park Assist (APA) which helps drivers to find an adequate space to park and then guides them into it with the assistance of a rear-view camera.
Cost of Ownership
The best bit about this 1.6-litre diesel engine is the fact that it improves so markedly on its predecessor. Even the wimpiest 110PS version of the old 2.0-litre diesel lump would return 54.3mpg and emit 137g/km. Tack another 26PS onto that power figure and you arrive at this 1.6-litre engine which trounces it in terms of economy and emissions. The combined fuel figure is a quoted 68.9mpg, which is amazing for a car of this size and weight, while emissions are rated at just 109g/km. This model is bound to be in huge demand amongst used buyers who want what already appears to be the pick of the bunch when it comes to compact MPVs, although the Zafira Tourer stretches the 'compact' part of that to breaking point. This means that you'll need to be very careful when working out whole life ownership costs. Spending a little more upfront on this Zafira Tourer may well work out to be a very cost-effective move compared to some rivals which may appear more affordable at first glance.
We've gone on record before proclaiming the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer to be the pick of the mid-sized seven-seat MPVs and nothing that's been launched since has caused us to revise that verdict. In fact, the unveiling of this clean 1.6-litre CDTI diesel engine only underscores our opinion that the Zafira remains the go-to pick. Vauxhall's problem may well be that it has developed an engine here that's too competent for its own good. After all, if you can get an engine that develops 320Nm of torque yet can still return 68.9mpg, why bother looking beyond it? That may well be a General Motors problem but it certainly isn't yours. If you were wavering over your MPV purchase, this latest Zafira Tourer should really make the decision somewhat simple. There aren't many vehicle categories where there's such an easy recommendation. If only every life choice was this easy.