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Vauxhall Zafira Tourer SRi 2.0 CDTi review (2012 onwards)
What is it?
There comes a time in the life of many car owners when their expanding family threatens to burst the family car at its seams, showering the pavement with a confetti storm of CD cases, wet wipes and Haribo. At this point, Mum and Dad usually put their heads together and decide it's time to get an MPV.
This is a big moment because most people don't want to drive an MPV, they have to. Suddenly, your growing roll call of offspring has pushed notions of style and driving fun out of the car-buying equation, landing you with the choice of a line-up of glorified minibuses. Or has it?
Vauxhall says its Zafira Tourer is the answer to misconceptions of frumpishness that surround the MPV breed. It was conceived as a larger, plusher, more stylish and, it's hoped, more desirable take on the standard Zafira - versions of which have been in and around the top of the MPV sales charts since 1999.
Where does it fit?
The bog-standard Zafira continues as the utilitarian compact MPV option in the Vauxhall range and the Zafira Tourer sits above it, aiming to compete both at the posh end of the compact MPV market and against the larger MPV options like the Ford S-MAX and SEAT Alhambra . Its direct competitors are upscale versions of compact MPVs like the Ford Grand C-MAX, Renault's Grand Scenic and Citroen's Grand C4 Picasso.
It's offered with a comprehensive range of engines and trim levels that has led the standard Zafira range to be scaled back. The model we're looking at is one of the most salubrious in this line-up thanks to the 163hp CDTi diesel power plant in the nose and the sporty SRi trim. It's yours for £26,000.
Is it for you?
The original Zafira broke new ground in the compact MPV class by being the first such vehicle with seven seats. Nowadays, all the leading contenders have ways and means of carrying more than five occupants in varying degrees of comfort.
With the standard Zafira's USP usurped, the Zafira Tourer arrives to drag the brand upmarket. It's 191mm longer, 103mm wider and 40mm taller than its smaller relative. It also features Vauxhall's latest seven-seat system with three middle row chairs that can slide independently of each other. The front-end styling, complete with those boomerang light clusters is lifted from the futuristic Ampera range-extender hybrid and the designers entrusted with the cabin have tried their best to convey an air of opulence, within the allowed budgetary framework of course.
What does it do well?
The 2.0-litre CDTi diesel engine is the backbone of the Zafira Tourer range and of the whole mid- to upper end of the Vauxhall model line-up for that matter. In the Tourer it comes in 109hp, 128hp and 163hp versions and the top power output feels usefully strong in a compact MPV setting.
The purposeful squirt of acceleration that makes a good diesel such a breeze for town driving is in evidence. To be precise, there's 258lb ft of muscle from 1,750rpm and that's plenty. Although the satisfying surge you get from flattening the throttle tails off and the car does need 9.1s to get to 60mph, it's easily got the biceps for the people carrying role.
For a vehicle of its size, the Zafira Tourer handles tidily. The steering is on the light side and ideal for tight turns or parking. The seven-seater body resists the urge to lurch around in the corners and the ride is generally in line with the car's upmarket billing. It's smooth at speed and tackles undulations well; the chink in the armour is too much jiggle on bad surfaces which can probably be traced back to the 18-inch alloys and sports suspension fitted to this SRi model.
What doesn't it do well?
With the engine's best work done below 3,000rpm, it's best to slot the next gear early. Letting the revs rise beyond that point uncovers a harshness that might wake the kids in the back. The otherwise impressively polished suspension can also be noisy over pot holes, manhole covers and ridges in the carriageway.
What's it like to live with?
The crux of any MPV is how easily it gets through the trials of family life and the Zafira seems to be a winner in this respect. Vauxhall's seating technology has long been among the best around and this latest incarnation moves the game on.
All three of the middle row chairs slide back and forth so you can adapt the available legroom according to who's sitting where. The two outermost chairs move to allow access to the third row, which will be spacious enough for kids but a squeeze for anyone larger - even with the second row seats in their forward-most position.
Despite being billed as a rival for full-size MPVs the Zafira Tourer only has the dimensions of an extended compact one. That shows in the small-ish third row seats and a boot of just 152-litres with all the seats in use. However, most buyers in this class will only carry six or seven passengers occasionally and the Tourer works very well when configured as a spacious five-seater with a huge boot. If you fold all of the rear seats down, the maximum carrying capacity is a vast 1,860 litres.
Around the cabin as a whole the build quality is very impressive. The dark plastics used on the dash and door linings are top notch and the complex seating mechanisms work with a reassuring solidity. Vauxhall's control layout can be confusing but the switchgear mirrors the quality feel elsewhere.
How green is it?
It's the most powerful engine in the Zafira Tourer but it comes with Vauxhall's Start/Stop technology as standard and that gives it the very same economy and emissions figures as the less powerful 128hp model. That means combined economy of 54.3 mpg and emissions of 137g/km. Not bad for a seven-seater.
Would we buy it?
In this configuration, the Zafira Tourer does a commendable job of taking the frumpy out of MPV ownership. It looks positively sporty, for a seven-seat family car, with the SRi specification adding a series of racy extras, and the handling lives up to the looks, to a point.
Smaller wheels and standard suspension would doubtless help with the ride comfort but it depends where your priorities lie. The kids get a sober but classy cabin with one of the cleverest seating systems around to scatter crumbs over and draw on with felt-tip pens. Surely Mum and Dad can be allowed a bit of fun behind the wheel and a car that will turn some heads on the school run.
Read more Vauxhall car reviews
First drive: Vauxhall Zafra Tourer
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