Families demand more from People Carriers these days. Much more. So Vauxhall's improved Zafira Tourer offers it. Sharp styling, taut handling and very 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 Toyota's Verso - 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. So a decade ago, we started to get seven-seat MPVs that, though still based on compact family hatch platforms, were a little bigger inside. Ford's S-MAX started this trend, followed by Renault's Grand Scenic and then, in 2012, the car we're looking at here, Vauxhall's Zafira Tourer.
It's been facelifted in the guise we're checking out in this instance, but more significantly, features the latest connectivity you'll find in some of Vauxhall's most modern designs. That means the OnStar connectivity system, plus the neat Intellilink infotainment set-up. Plus, as before, families get state-of-the-art seating origami, so it's as practical as ever.
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.
Engine choice is straightforward because these days, there are only three units on offer. The most affordable option is a 140PS 1.4-litre petrol turbo unit, but Vauxhall expects most buyers to choose one of the diesel options, a 136PS 1.6 CDTi engine or a 170PS 2.0-litre CDTi powerplant. The 2.0-litre unit makes rest to 62mph in 9.1s and 129mph but more importantly offers 400Nm of torque for easy overtaking. A reasonably slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission is fitted as standard across the range, with the option of a six-speed automatic if you want it.
If you think this car looks smart from the outside, you'll be especially impressed with the upgraded interior, in which you'll find essentially a reinvention of every neat MPV idea you can think of packaged together into a 'Flex7' format that really works. The 'Flex7' thing has always been a Zafira trademark but before this Tourer model was launched, 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. This upgraded system moved things on, a set-up that doesn't have a 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.
Pricing theoretically starts at under £19,000, but you're looking at needing to find nearly £22,000 for the least expensive version of the diesel model that most will want. There are eight trim levels - 'Design', 'Energy', 'SRi', 'SRi Nav','SE', 'Tech Line', 'Elite' and 'Elite Nav'. All get Vauxhall's IntelliLink system and seven-inch central dash inftainment display, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity available. OnStar is standard across the range and the base model comes with digital radio and cruise control, LED daytime running lights, 17" alloy wheels and front and rear parking sensors.
The latest model comes with all the well-known virtues of its predecessors, such as the Flex7 seating system and the option of features like ergonomically-certified AGR front seats, the Flex-Fix bicycle carrier and FlexRide adaptive damping. 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 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 170PS 2.0-litre unit manages 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and 137g/km of CO2. That'll give you a usefully long range from the 58-litre fuel tank. The 1.6 CDTi manages 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and 109g/km of CO2.
Helping in this regard is Cleantech Combustion Technology and a stop/start system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, say when you're stuck in urban traffic or waiting at the lights. Oh and the REPS Rack Assist Electric Power Steering system also helps, an electronic set-up that only kicks in when absolutely needed. Opt for a car with one of Vauxhall's sat nav systems and you'll get functionality that not only shows the fastest and shortest routes but also the one on which a driver can expect to use the least amount of fuel, taking into account vehicle specification, road characteristics and driving style.
In this improved 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 us: you'd like one.
Choose from 7 different Vauxhall Zafira Tourer grades.
Images for illustration purposes only