REVIEW DATE: 20 Jul 2007
Want a plusher People Carrier? It's hard to think of a better bet than Vauxhall's Zafira Elite, thinks Jonathan Crouch
Just because you have a family, it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on luxury when it comes to buying a people carrying MPV. So let's imagine you're not buying an MPV at all, instead, something like a luxury estate. What would you expect to find?
Well leather upholstery, obviously. And electronic climate-controlled air conditioning. You'd want cruise control. And an all-singing, all-dancing MP3-compatible stereo system. Alloy wheels? Check. A multi-function trip computer? Check. Automatic lighting control, rain-sensitive windscreen wipers and an electro-chromatic self-dipping interior mirror? Of course. Plus all the usual dynamic safety systems and enough airbags to create a bouncy castle.
All these things are offered on most modern MPVs of course, but they usually sit on the options list. Or if they are offered on a standard model, it's usually at an eye-watering price. Which is where Vauxhall's Zafira Elite models aim to score. At prices starting from £18,950, the idea is to offer buyers all the features they thought they couldn't afford in a package good enough to take the sting out of buying a People Carrier in the first place.
And make no mistake, this package is good enough to do just that. Not for nothing does it out-sell its nearest rival by a country mile. The reasons why have to do with good product, tight pricing, a strong dealer network and space - which is something you can never have enough of in an MPV-style vehicle. If your only experience of Zafira motoring was with the old MK1 model and you found that car's interior, shall we say, a little tight when fully peopled, you owe it to yourself to give the car another try. Six inches longer, 1.5 inches wider and a shade taller than the old, the MK2 Zafira retains the seven-seat configuration, with a middle bench seat offering three berths and two seats in the back that also fold flat into the floor.
"The Zafira Elite is a package that it's easy to see many customers trading up to."
What has changed is the amount of legroom on offer to the occupants. Whereas the old car would have been hideously cramped with all seven seats in use, the latest model offers a little more breathing space. It's still not ideally suited to a rugby sevens team and their kit, but for the larger family, it's close to perfect. As before, the seating system is so versatile that the Zafira can be configured in two, three, four, five, six or seven seat guises in a matter of seconds. Most buyers will run in five-seat format, and in this mode the Vauxhall can cope with 620-litres of luggage - fully 20 more than the old car. With this top trim level, the Zafira can also boast up to 30 storage compartments. Plus the 'Flex Organiser' luggage bay stowage system that has proved a success with Astra Estate buyers is also available on the Zafira.
It is to the Astra that the Zafira owes many of its exterior design cues. Whereas the old Zafira was clearly related to the Astra Mk IV, the current model looks for all the world like a MkV Astra Estate that's been attached to a garage airline. A particularly interesting feature is the optional panorama roof. With four large glass panels, this system offers passengers a light, airy atmosphere in the back, while tinted glass and a powered shade protect against dazzle. A centre console running the length of the ceiling has a number of overhead compartments.
As with all Zafira models, the Elite variants offer a decent range of engine alternatives. Choices include 1.8i 16v, 2.2 16v Direct and 2.0i 16v Turbo petrol engines, or a selection of 120PS or 150PS 1.9-litre CDTi diesels. Vauxhall's clutchless Easytronic gearbox is available on 1.8-litre models, with a conventional automatic offered on all other variants except the 2.0 Turbo.
Most customers will probably go for Vauxhall's well regarded 140bhp 1.8-litre 16v petrol ECOTEC powerplant. The pokey power output means that this 1.8-litre engine is one of the most powerful in this class, but it's far from being a highly-stressed race engine with peaky power delivery. Thanks to advanced valve and cam phasing technology, 90 per cent of the 175Nm maximum torque is available from 2200 to 6200 rpm. This wide range ensures lively performance and exceptional pulling power even at low engine speeds, making everyday driving more relaxed with less need to change gear.
The 2.2-litre 16v petrol model offers a smooth band of torque and feels relaxed and unstressed even when the Zafira is loaded. Capable of reaching 60mph in ten seconds, it's got the get up and go to embarrass many a warm hatchback on its way to a 124mph maximum. At the same time, you should expect to average around 34mpg allied to reasonable Group 9 insurance. In other words, about 2mpg more than before, three insurance groups lower and, incidentally, lower CO2 emissions (at 197g/km). All with more space and for a lower price. Can't be bad.
Then there's the CDTi diesels. Both engines feel lively and flexible with little of the lag and surge that afflicted the power delivery of early turbodiesel units. They aren't the quietest diesel engines I've experienced and if refinement is a priority, cars like the Corolla Verso D4-D and Honda FR-V 2.2 i-CTDi are markedly superior. Soundproofing in the wheelarches and underbody could also be a little better.
Until you drive the two Zafira diesel models back to back, it's tough to appreciate how much quicker the 150bhp installation is but for most customers the cheaper 120bhp unit will be the better buy. Both are fitted as standard with a six-speed manual and the 120bhp car will get to 60mph in 12 seconds while the 150bhp model will detain you for 10.2. Top speeds are pegged at 116 and 126mph respectively and combined economy figures are 46.3mpg for the 120 and 45.6 for the 150. Carbon dioxide emissions vary little, the 120bhp Zafira putting out 165 grammes per kilometre travelled and the more powerful model a scant 2 grammes more. Opt for the automatic on the 120bhp car and the figures become a good deal less impressive.
Overall, the Zafira Elite is a package that it's easy to see many customers trading up to. The basic design is so good that a few extras to gild the lily really just serve as the icing on the cake. Get the right price on one of these and it's difficult to see how you could go wrong.
The results below show the top ZAFIRA deals on buyacar
|Vauxhall Zafira 2.0 CDTi  SE 5dr Auto diesel tourer|
|Price £17,855||Save £9,465|
|Vauxhall Zafira 1.8i Exclusiv 5dr estate|
|Price £7,845||Save £7,172|
|Vauxhall Zafira 1.8i Elite 5dr estate|
|Vauxhall Zafira 1.9 CDTi Elite  5dr Auto diesel estate|
|Vauxhall Zafira 1.6i  Exclusiv 5dr estate|
|Price £7,855||Save £8,210|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT ZAFIRA DEALS|
|For ZAFIRA ELITE|
|OVERALL||7.4 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||9|
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