I remember driving that car and being mightily impressed with it. But what it really needed, I thought at the time, was a nice turbodiesel engine under the bonnet, rather than the non-turbo version being offered.
That way, the Zafira's unique practicality (it is the only mini-MPV on the market which offers seven seats) would be enhanced by a creditable miles per gallon figure. Three years down the line - and with the Fleet News Best Mini-MPV Award 2002 safely tucked under its seatbelt - the Zafira (now in turbodiesel format) makes a welcome return to our long term test fleet and although it has only been with us for a week, there is already a list of testers eager to put the car through its paces.
I must admit I have never really understood the mini-MPV sector. Okay, the likes of the Citroen Xsara Picasso and Renault Scenic offer a good level of practicality and space but they still only seat five people. So if you want to carry seven, you are right up Le Riviere Merde without a paddle, aren't you?
No, in my book there is only one true mini-MPV and that's the Zafira. So for that reason alone I would say it was a worthy winner of our award.
But it goes further than that. The Zafira is no mean performer on the road either. The DTi diesel unit feels lively and will propel the car to a maximum speed of 109mph. The 0-60mph time may be a lazy 14 seconds, but anyone who knows anything about diesel cars will understand that what's important here is mid-range pulling power - and there's bags of it just where it is needed.
Speed freaks who need seven seats can opt for the scorching GSi turbo version which will do the 0-60mph dash in 7.6 seconds and hit terminal veolocity at 137mph, but personally I can't see the point of such a rocketship. To me, the Zafira is all about getting people (or cargo) from A to B in the most practical way.
There is a downside to the car, of course. While you can buy a Xsara Picasso for as little as £12,795 and a Renault Scenic for £12,400, Vauxhall's prices start at £13,995 and this model hits the road at £17,240.
But I'd still say the Zafira is a good fleet bet. It is simply in a different class from its rivals.
The car has already proved a hit with deputy production editor Julian Kirk, who used it last week to pick up his parents and two of their friends from Stansted Airport after returning from a holiday in Tuscany.
There was plenty of room for driver and occupants and their mountains of luggage disappeared into the rear with no problems. All reported a comfortable ride home with ample legroom and the tourists rated the Zafira much higher than the Fiat Multipla which they hired while abroad. Trevor Gelken Make: Vauxhall Model: Zafira 2.0 DTi Price (OTR): £17,240 (as tested £19,145) Insurance group: 7 Mileage: 1,205 Combined fuel economy (mpg): 42.8 Test fuel economy (mpg): n/a CO2 emissions (g/km): 177 CAP Monitor residual value (3yrs/60,000 miles): £6,475/38% Contract hire rate (3yrs/60,000 miles with maintenance): £401.22 Expenditure to date: nil