NEVER in the history of modern motoring have so many cars carried so many people.
People moving is big business for car companies, with the compact MPV sector alone accounting for about 188,000 units last year.
Volkswagen has been playing catch-up in this sector, having launched later than many of its rivals, achieving just over 11,500 units last year. But its updated model is intended to capture a larger slice of the market.
It sports a new front-end, redesigned light units and the silver-framed grille from the Jetta, while at the back are revised tail-light units.
But with the exception of the Citroën C4 Picasso, this battle for business isn’t about looks. It’s about carrying capacity, user-friendliness, economy and value for money. It’s a battle to be leader of the bland.
Seating capacity has been a key battleground in the past few years and the Zafira’s seven-seat offering has proved a winning offer. So Volkswagen offers seven seats as standard now and drivers have the option of asking for ‘only’ five seats to free up more room in the boot.
Volkswagen argues that three-quarters of Touran owners have children and the vast majority opt for the seven-seat version.
Still, if you don’t need them, they are easy to fold away and they provide a flat boot floor, which starts at 121 litres with all the seats in place and rises to a maximum of 1,913 litres.
The cabin is little changed from the previous model, retaining the solid qualities you expect from Volkswagen. It is functional rather than exciting.
Interior storage is everywhere and varies according to specification to a maximum of 35 cubbyholes, including several in the roof lining.
Changing the seating in the rear is simple, as the three separate units in the middle row can slide fore and aft, sideways, be folded down or each 17kg seat can be removed completely, all through easy-to-reach controls. Folding out the third row of seats is also quick and easy, although adults will struggle for space.
In the front, the dashboard is typical Volkswagen, solid and well thought-out. A typical example of this attention to detail is the wipers, which automatically reduce speed when you halt in traffic.
The gearlever remains in the traditional position, rather than being raised on to the dashboard like that of a number of rivals, and provides slick and easy changes.
On the road, roll in corners is contained rather than eliminated and, thanks to the wonders of modern electronics, most fast manoeuvres are a fuss-free business.
But long-distance comfort for the family is more likely to be a higher priority and the Touran scores well here, with a hushed ride at motorway speeds and seats that remain comfortable for long periods.
P11D value: £20,282
CO2 emissions (g/km): 165
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 20%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 9
Combined mpg: 46.3
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £7,675/37%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £425
We don’t like:
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
ALL four models are in top-spec, sporty trim and all offer the full seven-seat capacity. The Touran and S-MAX offer 140bhp from their 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines, while the Renault and Vauxhall top them at 150bhp – making the Zafira look good value in this comparison.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
THANKS to its efficient 2.0 dCi engine, the Renault offers the lowest tax bills. A 22% taxpayer would face a benefit-in-kind bill of £74 a month in the Grand Scenic, compared to £83 in the Vauxhall, £85 in the Volkswagen and £89 a month in the Ford S-MAX.
ACCORDING to CAP’s database, the S-MAX will be lighter on tyres and brakes than the rest which, allied to the low dealer labour rates, gives it the win here. The Touran gains second by having 16-inch wheels – the rest have 17s. The Vauxhall is the lowest on garage rates.
S-MAX: 3.13 (pence per mile) £1,878 (60,000 miles total)
Touran: 3.73 £2,238
Zafira: 3.78 £2,268
G/Scenic: 4.18 £2,508
THE Renault will return an average of 48.7mpg, resulting in a diesel spend of £5,100 over three years/ 60,000 miles. The Touran returns 46.3mpg for a bill of £5,400 and the Zafira 45.6mpg. The Ford is a larger car than the rest and this hits economy – it’s down to 44.1mpg.
G/Scenic: 8.58 (pence per mile) £5,148 (60,000 miles total)
Touran: 9.03 £5,418
Zafira: 9.17 £5,502
S-MAX: 9.48 £5,688
THE Touran has the strongest residual value here, with CAP estimating that it will retain 37% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles. This compares with 35% for the S-MAX and 32% for the Vauxhall.
The Renault is way off the pace here at a lowly 27% retained.
Touran: 21.76 (pence per mile) £13,056 (60,000 miles total)
Zafira: 22.41 £13,446
S-MAX: 23.20 £13,920
Scenic: 24.61 £14,766
THE Touran is nearly a penny per mile cheaper to run than the Vauxhall and this is down to its much higher residual value forecast. The S-MAX scores well in this sector as it is a much larger car – longer than a Galaxy. The Renault’s SMR and depreciation costs hit it badly.
Touran: 34.52 (pence per mile) £20,712 (60,000 miles total)
Zafira: 35.36 £21,216
S-MAX: 35.81 £21,486
G/Scenic: 37.37 £22,422
EVEN though the Renault is easily the cheapest in terms of benefit-in-kind tax, it loses out here because its wholelife cost proposition is so far off the mark – it will cost a fleet £1,700 more to run over three years/60,000 miles than the Volkswagen in first place.
Both the Zafira and S-MAX are excellent vehicles and choosing between the top three is difficult. However, victory goes to the Touran as it is cheaper to run than the Vauxhall or Ford and, thanks to its recent facelift, now looks a far more attractive proposition.