The Zafira Tourer is the most sophisticated People Carrier that Vauxhall has ever made. Jonathan Crouch tries it.
Ten Second Review
Families demand more from People Carriers these days. Much more. So Vauxhall's Zafira Tourer offers it. Sharp styling, taut handling and achingly clever seven-seat versatility from a shape not too big and not too small. It's everything a modern MPV should be.
Buying a seven-seater People Carrier used to be a frustrating process. Those in the so-called 'compact' sector - cars like Volkswagen's Touran and Vauxhall's Zafira - weren't usually quite big enough if you regularly intended to use their third seating rows. While those in the 'large' class above - Ford Galaxys, Volkswagen Sharans and so on - felt too big and bus-like. Thoughtfully addressing this issue in 2006, Ford brought us this car, the S-MAX, an MPV that straddled these two sectors, at the same time surprising those who thought such a vehicle could never be good looking, could never be sporty, could never be... like this: Vauxhall's Zafira Tourer. If you thought the Ford was good looking, then you're going to like this design very much indeed. From its boomerang-shaped headlamps to its 'blade'-inspired flanks, this is less a People Carrier and more an automotive bullet train. Families get state-of-the-art seating origami. Enthusiasts get hi-tech adaptive damping. And friends of the earth get engineering capable of supermini-style emissions. It's not a cheap combination of values, which was why from the launch of this car in early 2012, the old second generation Zafira continued to sell beneath this model for those wanting something more affordable, something more Touran, Scenic or C-MAX-like. This is a cut above. This, we're told, is Vauxhall at its best. And this is the car that right now, we're going to put to the test.
Let me start by saying this. If you haven't driven any of the latest seven-seat MPVs, you're going to be seriously impressed by this one as a driver's tool. Come to think of it, even if you are familiar with a few of them, you'll find much to like about this Vauxhall. It turns into corners with remarkably little body roll, much like a sports estate car rather than any kind of People Carrier. As a result, find yourself running late and, if you're not careful, you'll end up driving in a fashion that'll be most unwelcome to your occupants should you be travelling seven-up. It may lack the ultimate sharpness of response you'd find in a Ford S-MAX, but there's remarkably little in it, especially if you opt for the FlexRide adaptive damping system. Which means that once you've dropped off the kids, this is a car you can actually enjoy on the twisty route home. Under the bonnet, Vauxhall expects almost all Zafira Tourer buyers to select a diesel. There's a 136PS 1.6-litre CDTi unit but presently, most customers choose the 2.0 CDTi unit that's also on offer a 130PS guise. There's also a hi-tech 170PS 'Whisper diesel' option - or the 195PS BiTurbo variant, but these could stretch the average family's budget beyond the point that most are prepared to stomach. Rest to sixty in the 2.0 CDTi 130 occupies 10.6s on the way to a maximum of 119mph. Go for the pokier 170PS variant and those figures improve to 9.1s and 129mph. The main petrol option is a 140PS 1.4-litre Turbo model, which manages sixty in 9.9s on the way to 124mph. At launch, to offer an inexpensive entry-level model, Vauxhall also included a slower petrol 1.8-litre variant in the line-up developing the same 140PS output. A reasonably slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission is fitted as standard on most models across the range, with the option of a six-speed automatic on the 1.4-litre petrol Turbo and the most powerful diesel version.
Design and Build
If you think this car looks smart from the outside, you'll be especially impressed with the interior, essentially a reinvention of every neat MPV idea you can think of packaged together into an improved 'Flex7' format that really works. The 'Flex7' thing has always been a Zafira trademark but it had got to the point where third row seating that folded into the floor behind a central rear bench really didn't seem that clever any more. So with this system, there is no central bench, three individual more comfortable and more flexible seats instead provided. These can individually slide by around 100mm backwards or forwards and recline for greater comfort into three different positions of 16, 20 or 24-degrees. Go for a plusher Zafira Tourer with so-called 'Lounge Seating' and you'll find that they can do even more, should your need be restricted to the carriage of two rearward occupants seeking greater Club Class comfort. To create such a layout, you've only to slide each of the two outer seats in a L-shape, backwards then inwards. As you do so, the central seat also folds itself inwards, its bolsters becoming comfortable armrests for the remaining two passengers who suddenly find themselves with limousine-like standards of leg and shoulder room. It's certainly not very limousine-like if you've been confined to a place at the very rear, where the seats do very little other than to fold out from the floor. They'll be fine for reasonably agile uncomplaining adults on short to medium-length journeys but it would be a mistake to think of this car as some sort of 7-seater mini-bus. 710-litres of luggage room is available with the third row folded away and up to 1860-litres if you want to fold down the second row as well and switch to removal van mode - which is 40-litres more than an ordinary MK2 Zafira offers.
Market and Model
Pricing sits in the £21,000 to £30,000 bracket and whichever Zafira Tourer variant suits your needs - 1.6-litre CDTi diesel, 2.0 CDTi 130 diesel, 2.0 CDTi 170 'Whisper diesel' or 2.0 CDTi BiTurbo 195PS diesel - or indeed the 140PS petrol variants with either 1.4 or 1.8-litre power, you should find your car to be decently equipped. All versions include cruise control, wheel-mounted audio controls for the MP3-compatible 7-speaker stereo with aux-in point, a DAB digital radio, an illuminated vanity mirror, a 12v rear power point, air conditioning and the Flex7 seating system. Most will want to pay extra for the optional foldable and space-saving luggage compartment FlexCover which can create a level load floor and protect the backs of the seats from dirt. The Panoramic windscreen, where glasswork extends up above your head, and the vast Panoramic Sunroof are also both tempting options, the latter explaining the regrettable absence of the central-spine interior roof storage system so useful on plusher version of the old MK2 Zafira. The other extra cost feature you'll need to think about is the FlexRide damping system, a feature that enables you to match engne and suspension response to the road you're on and the mood you're in. And of course, there's a wide range of infotainment and sat nav systems, the top version of which can even display your own family photos on the central dash display screen. Nice. Talking of hi-tech, I'd also want to think about specifying the extra-cost APA Advanced Park Assist system, which helps you to find an adequate space to park and then automatically steers you into it with the assistance of a rear-view camera.
Cost of Ownership
The relatively few customers who opt for this car with petrol power will find it reasonably efficient - the 140PS 1.4-litre petrol turbo manages 42.2mpg on the combined cycle and puts out 158g/km of CO2. Most though, will want a diesel - and may be surprised to find that the 136PS 1.6-litre unit manages 68.9mpg on the combined cycle. Go for the mainstream 2.0 CTDi units (110, 130 or 170PS) and all return a combined fuel figure of around 54mpg on the combined cycle. That'll give you a usefully long range from the 58-litre fuel tank. All three versions emit the same amount of CO2 as well - 137g/km - so they won't nail you when you fill in your tax return. These are the kinds of figures that a little family hatch was delivering until just a few years ago. Not bad for a heavy seven-seater that'll get to sixty in around 11s on the way to around 120mph.
In the Zafira Tourer, families have pretty much the ideal People Carrying formula. Big - but not too big. Sporty - but comfortable. Surprisingly good looking. And clever enough to re-invent itself around almost any permutation that seven people and their luggage can create. OK, so the idea of a sporty, good-looking MPV pitched ideally in size between overly compact and overly large MPVs wasn't originally Vauxhall's - credit for that must go to the Ford S-MAX. It seems on this evidence though, that the Griffin brand has perfected the concept, with a more ingenious interior layout, lower pricing and sharper running costs. It's arguably the best-looking MPV you can buy too - though of course that's a subjective call. What's not up for debate is the Zafira Tourer's status as easily the most accomplished People Carrier Vauxhall has ever brought us. Got kids? Take it from me: you'd like one.