"The family friendly Vauxhall Zafira is a common sight on UK roads, and with good reason: It's practical, roomy, comfortable and good value."
With a Vauxhall Zafira, it's what's inside that counts. Outside it looks as out of date as its 2005 launch date would suggest, but the interior offers top-drawer practicality, solid build quality and a clever seven-seat seating arrangement that makes for a great family car. All models come with seven seats, with the last two rows all folding flat to offer a van-sized loading space. Its big dimensions offer lots of room inside and a comfortable ride – although it's thought that the even bigger Zafira Tourer launched in 2012 is going to supersede the standard model. If you go for the optional panoramic glass roof, the interior is flooded with light and you even get more overhead storage to further improve practicality. The Zafira is competitively priced, with lots of good deals available, and it comes in three specifications – Exclusiv, Excite and Design. The discontinued VXR model is a great choice for drivers who don’t want to give up on driving thrills but who do need a more practical car – it's very quick and quite a lot sportier than its rivals.
The Zafira is equally accomplished both cruising around town and driving at speed on the motorway, thanks to its agile handling and Vauxhall Astra underpinnings. It's not quite as good as its Zafira Tourer sibling, but that is a newer car, and the driving position isn’t a match for the better Ford C-MAX. The top-of-the-range 1.7-litre CDTi diesel engines – available with either 108bhp or 123bhp – have lots of power that make overtaking surprisingly easy for a large car, even when you’ve got the car fully loaded. Meanwhile, the 1.6-litre petrol feels quite underpowered in comparison, and although the 1.8-litre version is faster, going from 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds, it doesn’t offer as pleasing an overall driving experience as the diesel and economy does suffer.
As the UK's bumpy roads only get bumpier, you’ll appreciate the Zafira's soft suspension more and more, as it copes very well with potholes and lumps. The interior is well insulated from road and wind noise, making longer journeys relatively painless – although we can’t legislate for five noisy children in the back. The driver and front passenger seats are quite comfy and very supportive, but lower-spec models lack adjustment, and some of the materials used are very low-rent. The middle row of seats do slide forwards and backwards to either give better access to the third row of seats or to allow for more boot/legroom depending on your needs at any given time. All but the back row has plenty of headroom, and if you add the optional panoramic roof, then the Zafira's interior begins to feel pretty nice.
Vauxhall showed signs of real improvement in the 2012 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but sadly it dropped down a whopping 13 places in 2013, to come 26th in the manufacturers’ rankings. And while the newer Zafira Tourer placed an impressive 12th in the top 100 cars, the standard Zafira could only muster a 145th place finish, so it's not got a good reputation with buyers. Bearing that in mind, the Zafira is based on the Vauxhall Astra, which does have a marginally better reputation for reliability, and the interior is hard wearing and well built, so ideal for family use. In terms of safety, the Zafira scored five stars for adult protection in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, a reasonable four stars for child protection but a low two stars for pedestrian protection. All models come with anti-lock brakes fitted with cornering control to reduce any skidding, front and side airbags (with curtain airbags available on higher-spec cars), electronic brake force distribution and collapsible pedals. But electronic stability control is only an option on most models, which may give some family drivers room for thought.
While practicality remains the Zafira's forte, Vauxhall carried over the same Flex7 flexibly seating system over from the previous car to the current model. This means it's now a little awkward to operate compared to newer rivals such as the Renault Grand Scenic, Mazda5 and its big brother, the Zafira Tourer. The sliding middle seats do allow you to adjust where you want extra space, but it makes access to the back a bit tight. However, all seats fold independently of each other and fold completely flat to create a van-like load bay of 1,820 litres. With all the seats up, though, that drops to a tiny 140 litres of storage space in the boot – smaller than a basic MINI Cooper. Top-spec models come with roof-mounted storage bins, a chilled glovebox, cargo net pouches, keyless entry and seat-back trays.
Value for money
You can usually get significant discounts from Vauxhall for its Zafira models, with entry-level 1.6-litre petrol Expression cars very competitively priced. If you can’t get them to haggle, it should be easy to find another dealer who will. You do get a lot of equipment included as standard in the Zafira, regardless of which spec you choose, but rivals like the Mazda5 are far more generously equipped. Vauxhalls do depreciate quite heavily in the used car market, so getting a good deal upfront is even more important to ensure you don't lose too much money on the Zafira's resale value.
Both the CDTi diesel models are as cheap to run as you’d expect, returning fuel economy of 55mpg and emitting 134g/km of CO2. That's significantly better than the 42mpg and 157g/km of the entry-level 1.6-litre petrol model, which is best avoided if you cover big miles on a regular basis. Replacement parts and servicing shouldn’t cost the earth thanks to the Zafira's popularity making parts widely available and keeping costs low. There are also lots of dealers, too, so it's always worth shopping around to find out how cheaply you can get your servicing and maintenance for.