The Zafira is one of the greatest successes in Vauxhall's (and of course Opel's) history. Launched when the market for more compact MPVs was about to soar, the Zafira offered seven-seat flexibility in a vehicle whose 'footprint' was hardly any larger than the Astra on which it is based.
While other manufacturers have tried to offer what the Zafira can in terms of passenger capacity (Honda with the Stream and Peugeot with the 307SW), none can match its flexibility.
You get seven seats as standard and the rearmost seats can be made to completely disappear, optimising luggage capacity. From the middle of next year customers will be able to choose two new vehicles which claim to offer unrivalled practicality and flexibility.
The Signum is a member of the new Vectra family, but boasts a wheelbase 13cm longer than the standard car (a virtue it will share with the new Vectra estate at the end of 2003), a longer roofline and estate-like tailgate.
It will be joined by the Meriva, which shares a platform with the Corsa. The two cars are part of the company's strategy to increase its proportion of models outside the conventional sectors of the market.
It includes the Zafira in this group and wants it to make up 40% of its line-up. Carl-Peter Forster, Opel managing director and chairman, said: 'We are in the middle of a product offensive the likes of which have never been seen before in this company.
'Within a five-year period to the end of 2005 we will have introduced 20 new models and variants.
'If we include OPC (GSi) and Eco versions and model revisions or new engine and transmission combinations, then we're talking about a total of 60 new products. 'Our innovative model range will change Opel and Vauxhall's image on a continuous basis.'
GM expects to sell about 85,000 Signums in Europe in the first full year of production, of which 8,000 will be sold in the UK. It predicts 200,000 Merivas will enter the European market in its first full year, with up to 24,000 coming to the UK.
VAUXHALL is claiming to create a new market segment with the Signum and the public will get its first view of the production car at next year's Geneva Motor Show. Priced between £18,000 and £24,000, Vauxhall expects to sell 8,000 Signums in the UK in 2004 and is targeting the user-chooser driver.
Vauxhall is under no illusion that the Signum is an executive car in the conventional sense, but is expecting someone who has an Audi A4 Avant on their choice list to give the Vauxhall at least a second glance.
A spokesman said: 'Vauxhall is beginning to stand for cleverness and versatility and these are factors which will help us break through the brand issue that some people might have had.
'We know we are not where we want to be with the Vauxhall brand at the moment.'
Sharing many of its components with the new Vectra, the Signum will also debut a new 2.2-litre direct injection petrol engine, as well as sharing a 175bhp 2.0-litre turbo and 3.0-litre V6 common rail diesel with the rest of the Vectra range.
Vauxhall bosses say there will also be a smaller diesel engine, but are reluctant to reveal which unit will be used until closer to its launch.
The Signum looks better than the photographs indicate, with a handsome front end and neat detailing at the rear. It stands lower and sleeker than most people imagine, while for front seat passengers the Signum will be familiar to anyone who has seen the inside of a new Vectra.
However, like the Meriva, Vauxhall's FlexSpace concept has been put to good use. The rear seats slide back up to 13cm, while the seat backs can be tilted by 30 degrees.
The middle section of the rear seats can be turned into a storage console and the backrest folded down to form an armrest. And with all three rear seats folded forwards, creating a completely flat load area, the luggage area increases to 1,400 litres.
Front seats are available with heating and ventilation, while the Travel Assistant in the rear compartment offers two concealed tables, a holder for a DVD player and separate rear seat controls for the audio system. A roof-mounted console also offers five small storage compartments.
Other technology showcased in the Signum includes 'adaptive forward lighting' – a bi-xenon headlamp system which automatically adjusts to the car's change of direction, effectively allowing the driver to see around corners.
Available from autumn 2003, the system also lights up junctions when the indicators are activated and automatically boosts dipped headlight beams during longer periods of straight-line driving.
Like the Vectra, the Signum features cornering brake control (CBC) and advanced traction control.
Engines: 154bhp 2.2 direct injection/175bhp 2.0 Turbo/177bhp 3.0 V6 CDTi
Key features: FlexSpace rear seating arrangement with reclining rear seats and 13cm rearward travel, new direct injection petrol engine, adaptive forward lighting, heated and ventilated front seats, multi-function Travel Assistant
Pricing (estimated): £18,000–£24,000
On sale: Summer 2003
The Meriva will make its UK debut at next month's British International Motor Show, and, using the patented FlexSpace concept, it will be possible to arrange the rear seats and load area to suit individual needs.
It will perform the role of a five-seater, but with some clever folding and shuffling the two outer seats can be used and moved backwards if more space is needed, creating the sort of legroom found in the most generous upper-medium cars.
For greater storage space, the two individual rear seats can be moved forward either separately or together, or folded flat. With all five seats in place the luggage volume amounts to 490 litres – similar to that of the Vectra, while when used as a two-seater the capacity increases to more than 1,300 litres.
Despite sharing its platform with the Corsa, the Meriva's wheelbase is almost as long as the Zafira's, while the vehicle is 28cm shorter than the Zafira overall.
There will be an extra storage compartment offered as an option in place of the ashtray, and a foldaway table can be specified for the front seat back.
Another of the Meriva's features is the Travel Assistant – a multi-functional armrest that can be attached to the back of the centre seat after it has been folded. It comprises a tray surface that can move forwards and back, two extending cup holders and a five-litre storage box. If the centre seat is needed, the whole box with seat back is folded to the rear.
A rear-seat audio system can be ordered which can allow rear seat passengers to enjoy separate music with headphones.
Customers will be able to select xenon headlamps, manual and automatic air conditioning, leather trim, alloy wheels and two electric sunroofs from the options list.
Petrol engines (an eight-valve and 16-valve 1.6 plus a 16-valve 1.8) will be available from launch with a diesel variant - using a new 1.7 litre Euro IV compliant common rail engine – following about six months later.
The Meriva is expected to be priced between £11,000 and £14,000.
Engines: 1.6/1.6 16v/1.8 16v/ 100bhp 1.7 CDTi
Key features: FlexSpace rear seat arrangement with four or five-seat flexibility, extra stowage compartments, 1,300 litre maximum storage capacity, Travel Assistant rear tray and storage, separate rear audio controls, function or luxury-oriented packages, up to 20,000-mile service intervals on petrol and 30,000 on diesel cars.
Pricing (estimated): £11,000–£14,000
On sale: Spring 2003 (diesel late 2003)