New Third Generation Vauxhall Zafira Gets the “Tourer” Tag, Whilst The Old Zafira Hangs On In!
Vauxhall made one of the worst 7 seat MPV’s in history when the Sintra was released in 1996 and because of that, it didn’t reign long, being chopped by GM in 1999 but even in that short time, and even after its demise, it managed to achieve flat last at position at number 182 in the JD Power Reliability Reports.
So what a shock it was when at the a couple of years later Vauxhall announced the amazingly innovative first generation Vauxhall Zafira as it was a trail blazer, not only because it was the first medium sized compact MPV to offer 7 seats but, it was the first MPV that let you easily fold the seats into the floor making it just such a useable and desirable thing to live with and punters loved it, resulting in sales of over 450,000 units for it and its face lifted version.
The Flex7 system as it was called simply blew everything else away by allowing you, at the drop of a hat to fold all the seats down and pick up something large. You didn’t have to forward plan or find somewhere to store the chunky heavy seats while you used you car as a van and it meant you could turn up at your local auction or car boot sale and if you just happened to buy something big, you could easily get it home.
We tested some of its competition at the time, but pretty much all of them were spoilt for us by our having to take each seat out individually and find somewhere to store them when ever we needed to carry anything large. To make it worse, the seats weighed a ton and took up loads of storage space in your house or garage, and whilst getting them out was a real struggle and putting the things back was often even worse and as awkward as hell, leaving you out of breath and if you were unlucky, nursing a bad back. OK, if you didn’t want to carry anything and were happy with the fixed 7 seats this was fine, but if you did want them gone, clearly, the Zafira showed there was another way.
So it’s pretty clear that the Zafira heralded a change in the MPV market and gave other car makers a kick in the backside, which they well deserved, but unfortunately for Vauxhall, they all reacted to the beating and set about improving their own vehicles to compete. Vauxhall had unfortunately showed its hand, and pretty much every car maker eventually came up with similar systems to Flex7 and stole the Zafiras party trick, leaving the slightly smaller Zafira struggling to compete.
2005 saw the second generation Zafira and a pretty thing it was and to be fair, we tried loads of them and they drove well and were nice to live with. Vauxhall even made a sporty VXR version and billed it as the worlds fastest people carrier, but despite a string of TV commercials featuring a couple of loveable kids from “up north” the genie was out of the bottle, its advantage had gone and the Zafira was just another 7 seat people carrier offering more of the same, whilst the competition had so obviously moved on.
Fast forward to late 2011 and things might be going to change as Vauxhall have just released a new Zafira and its larger, its longer and it’s a handsome thing and it gets the “Tourer” tag added to its name and realistically its better in every respect than the present Zafira.
MPV is the preferred way to describe cars like the Zafira Tourer, as calling it a people carrier is just one step away from mini-bus or breed-wagon, and neither do anything for the cars image. Talking image, Vauxhall have spent a lot of time trying to make the new Zafira look a bit special and apparently, the cars British designer Mark Adams has taken his inspiration for the Zafira Tourer from the Japanese Bullet Train (what’s he on?) and unsurprisingly, it looks nothing like it. In an effort to make the Zafira as aerodynamic as possible, the car was however fine tuned in the wind tunnel for over 600 hours and whilst for sure, that’s reflected in the cars design, it also means that Vauxhall can claim that the new Zafira is the most aerodynamic vehicle in its class.
The new Zafira Tourer doesn’t look anything like the old car, it’s sleeker, more modern and bang on message with everything flush fitting and with very distinctive boomerang headlights, like the ones on the new Ampera. In every way, the new car surpasses the old one and they have very little in common. Yes new Zafira does look more like some of its competition, but we feel, its arguably more attractive than most of them and of course, its also the new kid on the block and for fashion conscious car buyers, having the latest thing, is pretty important, so the car should at least make it to the pick-lists.
The exterior of the Zafira Tourer didn’t disappoint us in terms of styling and build quality, and I’m pleased to find that the interior is stepping up to the plate as well as it seems so much more luxurious, and of a much higher quality than the utilitarian Zafira its replacing (oh, I’m not allowed to say replacing). Having said that, it is less spacious than some of its rivals, although not massively so, but if its absolute space for your buck you are looking for, well there are bigger 7 seat vehicles out there.
Truth is though the MPV market is a really crowded place and there’s one obvious competitor that sticks out a mile as it has the same Flex7 seating system, is a full 7 seat vehicle and whilst it isn’t quite as big as the new Zafira Tourer, perhaps isn’t as modern and to be fair, it is more utilitarian than the new Vauxhall, it’s a car that’s going to cost you around £2,500 or so less than the new Zafira Tourer and it’s a car that Vauxhall drivers are going to like. What’s it called? Well its simply called Zafira, as Mr Vauxhall has announced he’s going to continue to make the Zafira that came out in 2005, alongside the new Zafira Tourer, so if you love it “you aint lost it”. Make sense, I don’t know, but clearly, Vauxhall are not ready to throw such a useful, sensible and well developed vehicle in the trash can just yet.
For many of us, Interior space is what these kinds of cars are all about and whilst the Zafira is a full 7 seater, it suffers as all MPV’s do to some degree or another in the way it dishes out its space. As usual, it’s the front seat passengers that get the first bite of the cherry, with plenty enough room, middle row gets OK room and in the case of the new Zafira, its now 3 individual seats (although the middle one is slightly narrower), all which can be folded into the floor and on better versions, you have the option to create what Vauxhall refer to as “lounge configuration” which means that the middle seat acts as a huge armrest and the outer seats move backwards, then inwards, turning the vehicle into a limo-like four seat vehicle, with stacks of room.
Take a step back a bit further to row 3, or the cheap seats as it might be considered in the theatre and that’s exactly what they are as they flip out of the floor, so aren’t massive and really are only best suited for teens, or small adults, and as a 6’ footer I found that although I could kind of fold myself up to get in the back, that I really wouldn’t think I could take a long journey without dying from the waist down and I can imagine a musical chairs scenario every time you stop somewhere as the 3rd row guys vie with the middle seaters, to get a better pitch for the next part of the journey.
Being the “Elite” version our car was fitted with the heated leather sports seats and they not only looked classy, but they were mega comfortable and supportive. The cars dash is attractive, but like most late date Vauxhalls we’ve tested recently, it seems the “switch man” has done a good sales job on Vauxhall as there are 34 of the things on the centre console alone, many of which are dual purpose. To give a bit of variation, Vauxhall have also thrown in 4 knobs as well “and that’s just on the centre console”. In my mind, this makes operating the cars equipment unnecessarily complicated and confusing and meant we took our eyes off the road for far too long to do the simplest of things. Still, on the upside, it wouldn’t surprise me in years to come to see a contestant on Mastermind choose Vauxhall switchgear 2008 – 2012 as their specialist subject.
Instruments are clear and the control stalks are precise and nice to use. Satellite navigation, unlike many others we have tried, does not show any fixed safety camera positions or the prevailing speed limit and for us, that’s disappointing, particularly as the data is on an SD card as opposed to a CD, so could be easily updated. There is a plug & play USB and an auxiliary in socket in a pull down panel in the centre console so that you can connect your MP3 player or Smartphone and our car had a DAB radio as opposed to the old steam radios still fitted in many cars.
The Zafira has an electronic handbrake (which I know is a love or hate thing) and if you pull away whilst the handbrake is on, it automatically releases, but unfortunately, unlike many other cars with the same kind of system, the Zafira does not automatically apply the handbrake when you turn the ignition off and that’s a really annoying omission and one which I just cant understand. Before we leave the instruments and stuff, our car had the most noisy wipers which made a loud clunk at every sweep and it was so loud that people we had hands free conversations with kept asking what the noise was and ok, that could be a fault (lets hope) but the car had less than 5,000 miles on the clock, so even a fault, would be disappointing.
Storage is another big requirement on MPV style vehicles and the new Zafira Tourer gets Vauxhalls clever aluminium centre rail storage system, which I’ve got to say, is very much an acquired taste, but what it means is the traditional armrest style glove box slides back and forwards to expose a couple of cup holders which also slide back and forwards, whilst slide everything back and there’s another great big storage area right at the bottom. There are a couple of storage areas in the dash on the passenger’s side and a storage box under each of the front seats. All in all there are 34 cubby holes, trays, compartments or places to hold cans or cups across the car and in view of the type of vehicle this is, that’s superb and better than anything else we’ve tested.
Our Zafira had the panoramic windscreen which Vauxhall refer to as “a window onto the world” but effectively it means that a part of the cars headlining slides backwards to reveal a much taller front screen, leaving glass above your head, rather than the cars roof and whilst Vauxhall say “the effect is like nothing you’ve ever experienced” it all comes as a bit of a shock when you first slide it back, as it gives you so much more light and you just cant help initially feeling really exposed and perhaps vulnerable, so its clearly something you’ve got to get used to and whilst it does feel strange, once you get accustomed to it, its actually very nice. Would you use it? Well Vauxhall aren’t the first to come up with this idea and I know a few people who drive the Citroen C4 Picasso with the same panoramic roof, and oddly, all of them have told me in the past that they tend to drive with the blinds closed, just like they would a normal car.
Front seat passengers aren’t the only ones that got a bit of extra glass in our car either, because both middle row and back row passengers also get a mega sized glass roof over their heads, which they can expose by sliding the electric roof lining back. I am tending to think here that if you buy the Zafira Tourer and find you don’t like it, you could always park it up in your back yard and grow tomatoes in it?
Despite being bigger than the old Zafira, boot space is still a little restricted with all seven seats in play and even with the 3rd row dropped into the floor, the Zafira Tourer only delivers 710 litres of space, but drop the second row and that jumps to a massive 1860 litres, although if pure seats down space is your bag, there are other MPV’s that will offer you more ‘van style’ load space.
Specification is strong across the range with all models getting USB Port, Electric Front Windows, Electric Mirrors, Cruise Control and a 7 speaker CD System. Depending on engine and transmission choice, the lead-in spec ES ranges from £21,010 to £22,950, whilst next up, the Exclusive starts in at £22,010, rising to £25,620. The sporty SRi version and the luxury SE version have the same ticket price going from £23,670 up to £26,790 and you would need to splash out between £25,170 to £28,470 to find yourself sitting in the range topping Elite.
On the road, the Zafira Tourer was quiet and refined, although giving it large on the loud pedal did produce a real throaty roar from the engine, whilst noisy, was a very nice noise. Vauxhall make cars that handle well and the Zafira Tourer is no exception but it’s no where near exciting enough to be referred to as a drivers car and despite our car having the most powerful 165ps diesel, the 0-62mph drag race took a reasonable but not stunning 9.8 seconds, whilst a trip to Germany, might let you reach 129mph on the Autobahn. The steering offered plenty of feel, whilst the brakes were spot on as you would expect, although the brake pedal was way higher than the throttle pedal, requiring you to lift your foot to go from one to another (and preventing any thoughts of heel & toe), and of course, I have already bemoaned the stupid handbrake operation which does only half a job.
Before we go to the summary of what we felt about the new Zafira Tourer, we promised we would mention the 2nd generation Zafira which first came out in 2005 and that you will still be able to buy this car, albeit in its latest updated form and should that fit the bill for you, its going to cost you less than its bigger “Tourer” brother with a start-in price of £18,565 for the 1.6 petrol Exclusiv up to £25,500 for the Design Nav with the 1.7 125ps diesel. Yes, its cheaper than the Zafira Tourer, but its got the old range of engines and when you come to dispose of it in say three years time, present indications suggest that pound for pound its going to be worth £1500 or so less than the Tourer version, so perhaps when you do your sums and look at the MPG figures etc, it may well be that the more expensive car costs you less in the long run. We are bemused as to why Vauxhall are hanging in with the old car because the price difference just does not seem significant enough to justify an old Zafira over a new Zafira Tourer, unless of course, Vauxhall are figuring that the old Zafira has paid for all its original development and set-up tooling costs, so per unit, gives them a bigger return, but then the logical thing to do, would be to hack the price of the Zafira, make it as competitive as hell and sell it in bucket loads, but if that is to be the case at some point, pity you if you bought one before it happened.
Whilst the Zafira Tourer is all new, we haven’t found any big surprises here, more a will by Vauxhall to throw as many different things at the car as possible, to widen its appeal and basically, to try and please everyone. The Vauxhall DNA runs through every aspect of the car and if you’ve seen or driven any late date Vauxhall, this will all be pretty familiar to you and that’s no bad thing, because modern Vauxhalls are excellent things and where in the old days you used to hear people refer to themselves as a Vauxhall Man, or perhaps a Ford Man, you can understand why, as every look and feeling is different between the brands and whilst these main two car brands might be ploughing similar side by side lines, they’ve both gone about it in completely different ways.
We always go on the “could we live with it for 3 years” test and yes, of course we could, but would we want to? There were little niggles such as the handbrake which doesn’t automatically apply when you turn the ignition off, and the fact the footbrake is so much higher than the throttle pedal, meaning you can seamlessly slide your foot from one to the other, you have to consciously lift your foot up and just to make it a trio of gripes, the complicated switches and speed camera omitting Sat Nav. We feel these niggles would always annoy us and I think because of that, we just might have a touch of buyers remorse each time we saw a vehicle which was logical competition for the Zafira Tourer which perhaps could have bought instead.
So for us, yes, for sure The new Zafira Tourer is a real step forward over the old model Zafira, but question is, is it a step forward over the hugely successful Ford S-Max or much cheaper but side load door bearing Grand C-Max, or the other logical competitors such as the VW Touran, or the Seat Alhambra and that answer has to be probably not. All car makers, like to load their cars with the “premium” tag and think they can compete with the big badges such as BMW, Audi etc, but fact is they cant and the Zafira Tourer is no different in that, but it doesn’t make it bad.
Looking at the test car, it was a 2.0CDTi 16v 165ps Start/Stop Elite manual, with Metallic Paintwork, Satellite Navigation System and bigger 19” wheels, it rings up at the check-out at over £29,000 and by any standards, that’s quite a lot of money and there is an awful lot of cars you can be looking at with that amount to play with.
If you liked old Zafira, well you are going to love the Zafira Tourer. If you drive a reasonably modern Vauxhall now and are looking to get into an MPV, this is the absolutely logical choice and indeed, if you simply fancy something a bit different, or fancy a change from the brand you’ve always had, the Zafira Tourer is going to make you happy. However, if you need an MPV and are basing your decision on that alone, there are vehicles that do the same job, indeed some that do a better job and offer a good deal more space into the bargain. Some even offer interesting features such as side loading doors and disappointingly for Vauxhall, many of these competitors cost less than the new Zafira Tourer, so you’ve got plenty of choice. If however, you are the Vauxhall man, we spoke about earlier, your boys have made you a pretty decent vehicle that you’re going to love, so look no further, the new Zafira Tourer is the car for you.
For a quotation on the new Zafira Tourer or on any other Vauxhall, please contact us.