By Jonathan Crouch
Families demand more from People Carriers these days. Much more. So Vauxhall's Zafira Tourer does its best to offer it. Sharp styling, taut handling and clever seven-seat versatility from a shape not too big and not too small. In theory, it's everything a modern MPV should be. Let's check the original version of this model out as a used buy.
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 the original version of their 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... well 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 and enthusiasts get hi-tech adaptive damping. 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 for a few years to sell beneath this model for those wanting something more affordable, something more Touran, Scenic or C-MAX-like. This is a cut above. The original model sold until mid-2016, at which point is was significantly updated, both inside and out.
What You Get
People Carriers must be spacious. But that doesn't mean they have to look boxy. Here's a case in point. From the front, large, bold, boomerang lighting units dominate, sweeping from headlamp to foglamp in one fluid, forward-seeking arrowhead motion, purposeful energy repeated at the sides with a blade-shaped lower sculpture. And at the rear where prominent shoulders flow into slender tail lights that flank a chromed central strip. There are no sliding side doors (presumably deemed too utilitarian) but that's all in keeping with the sleek, sporty feel. Overall, it's a shape that stylist Mark Adams must have been very pleased with.
Even smarter work has been done inside where, after all, it really matters, outward aesthetics being pretty low down the list of People Carrying priorities. Interior designer Karim Giodimaina calls it a 'magic cabin', 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 back at this model's original launch in 2012, 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. There is a reason why people put up with the bus-like dimensions of a fully-fledged 'large' segment MPV like a Galaxy or a Sharan. Still, kids will be delighted to be assigned a pew back here and there are storage spaces for their iPods and cupholders for their juice bottles.
Just as well really because, as is usual with this class of car, you're going to need all the luggage space you can get in the boot with all seven seats in use. A couple of soft bags will be about your limit. At least though, there's somewhere to store the rear luggage cover, something that in a rival MK1 model Ford S-MAX you'll have to leave cluttering up the garage. Of course, when it comes to the luggage space on offer when your Zafira Tourer is travelling four or five-up, then things improve considerably. 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. It wouldn't be quite enough for all a family's bikes - but then it wouldn't have to be. Keen cyclists need only find a variant specified with the optional FlexFix bike carrier which can take up to four cycles - or two electric bikes - and can, when fully loaded, be swung out of the way so that you can still open the tailgate. When not in use, it disappears invisibly into the rear bumper. Neat.
Provision for smaller possessions has been equally well thought through - and there's plenty of it, Vauxhall claiming there to be up to thirty different storage spaces around the cabin. These include a couple of gloveboxes, a pull-out storage box on the dash, bottle holders in the front and rear doors and stowage trays under each of the seats. For the cleverest way to compartmentalise your motoring paraphernalia though, you've to turn your attention between the front seats where further up the range, you'll find a clever so-called 'FlexRail' system. As it takes up the space in which you'd normally find the handbrake, it's only offered on plusher models, the ones where that function is taken care of with a little electronic button. With this in place, the FlexRail design offers a couple of modular boxes that slide backwards and forwards on polished upper and lower aluminium rails. The compartment on the upper rail doubles as an armrest and opens for extra storage. Below it is another compartment with a couple of cupholders and below that resides another deep storage container to keep more valuable items out of sight. If these happen to be electronic, then you'll be able to use the 12v socket provided to get on charge or the AUX or USB ports to connect into the audio system.
At the wheel, at least for people with plusher or especially well specified Zafira Tourers, the cleverness continues. If you've found a top variant fitted with a Panoramic windscreen, then you'll find glasswork stretching all the way from the back of the bonnet to a point just behind your head, a light airy sensation that seems a little odd at first but very quickly leaves any conventional car you subsequently get into feeling distinctly claustrophobic. There's a sunshade you can draw across if you get tired of it. If the car in question has a huge panoramic sunroof as well, the cabin really will feel light and airy. And if you ever get tired of looking at the sky, an electric power blind can glide across to hide it.
Fancy glasswork aside, the driving position is pretty easy to get to grips with thanks to a reach and rake-adjustable steering wheel and a height-adjustable driver's seat. Thanks in part to the addition of small windows in the A-pillars, all-round visibility is excellent. As you would expect, it certainly feels far more up-market than that of an ordinary MK2 Zafira, thanks to a plethora of knobs and buttons from Vauxhall's smartly specified Insignia, though these can take a little while to get to grips with. The seat's well proportioned and if you've a bad back, try and find an example that from new was fitted with optional ergonomic front chairs that came with the coveted seal of approval from the 'Action for Healthy Backs' organisation.
What to Look For
Most of the Zafira Tourer owners from the 2012 to 2016 period that we came across seemed to be pretty happy with their cars on the evidence of our survey. However, inevitably, there were issues. One owner experienced a brake binding noise from the rear wheel when reversing. Another had a failure of the electronic handbrake. In ne instance, there was a gearbox that wouldn't select reverse. And anther owner had a particulate filter that malfunctioned, destroying the catalytic converter.
We can across reports of squeaks from the clutch pedal and gearknob, plus rattles from the door trims and from behind the dashbard; look out for all these things on your testdrive. One owner claimed that on uneven roads, his rear boot door was banging about. Another reported a rattle from the dash at low revs. And anther had to replace the control module for the seat heating system. Otherwise, just check the usual things in MPVs; alloy wheels scratches and interior damage caused by unruly children.
(approx prices based on a 2014 Zafira Tourer 2.- CDTi ex VAT) An air filter costs in the £12 to £19 bracket, an oil filter costs around £10-£22 and a fuel filter costs in the £20 to £22 bracket. Brake pads sit in the £27 to £40 bracket for a set. Brake discs sits in the £65 bracket, though you could pay up to around £10 or even as much as £205 for a pricier brand. You'll pay around £130 for a brake calliper though you could pay up to around £260 for a pricier brand. You'll pay around £27 for a drive belt, around £135 for a thermostat, around £33 to £50 for a water pump and around £110 for a radiator, though you could pay up to around £216 for a pricier brand. Tyres sit in the £35 to £45 bracket. The wing mirror glass is priced at around £9 to £11. Shock absorbers cost in the £155 bracket. A cylinder head gasket costs in the £55 bracket, though you could pay up to around £110 for a pricier brand.
On the Road
Let's start by saying this. If you haven't driven any of the more recent 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 MK1 model Ford S-MAX, but there's remarkably little in it. Which means that once you've dropped off the kids, this is a car you might actually enjoy on the twisty route home.
All of which is a bit unexpected, not only because this is a Vauxhall MPV but also because this is a vehicle that seems so large when first you seat yourself behind the wheel. A particular highlight once on the move is the feelsome Rack Assist Electric Power Steering system, tuned specifically to suit British tastes. Surprisingly, Vauxhall's UK development team didn't also tune the suspension to our appalling road network, with the result that the ride can be a bit fidgety over the poorest surfaces. This is something original owners needed to spend extra to improve - by ticking the box for the clever 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. For comfort-orientated motoring, it allows you to switch to a 'Tour' setting, while if you're pressing on, you can select 'Sport'.
Under the bonnet, Vauxhall expected almost all Zafira Tourer buyers to select a diesel - and almost all of those went for the 130PS version of the 2.0 CDTi unit that's on offer. This is because the 110PS variant of this engine was slower, not much less expensive and no cheaper to run. And also because the original pricing for the top 165PS flagship model was pitched at a level that stretched the average family's budget beyond the point that most were 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 165PS 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, but there was also the option of a six-speed automatic on the 1.4-litre petrol Turbo and the most powerful diesel version.
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 first generation Ford S-MAX. The Griffin brand though, can claim to have perfected the concept with this Zafira Tourer thanks to a more ingenious interior layout, lower pricing and sharper running costs. It's arguably the best-looking MPV you can buy from this era 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 us: you'd like one.