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Road test: Vauxhall Zafira 1.9 CDTi 120 Design

HAVE you noticed how few donkeys there are about these days? Growing up in the country I remember seeing them everywhere, but I suppose their peculiar mix of melancholy and rugged usefulness has no place in modern society.

The old Zafira reminded me of our carrot-eating chums – it looked a bit downhearted as it plodded about. And today’s consumers want more than that old-fashioned obduracy.

Fortunately, Vauxhall realised that if the next-generation Zafira was to become more dasher than lugger, it would need an injection of zest. So that’s what it’s done.

Not that the old car was poor. Far from it. But when the first Zafira was conceived, people-carrying was a task rather than a lifestyle choice, and a vehicle was designed accordingly.

This new Zafira has far more pizzazz, especially in the Design trim tested here – blacked our rear windows, sharp alloys, funky door trims, part-leather seats and chrome details.

Our car came with the £850 optional Panoramic roof, which makes the car look as if it has had a Mohican haircut.

It’s probably because I have yet to be burdened with a screaming, sticky-fingered horde that I find it difficult to appreciate some of the more subtle advantages of the Zafira’s multi-closeted roof system for the stowage of nick-nacks.

There is certainly a lot of space in the various trays, but there’s no way to lash anything down, which would seem to be inviting trouble. The money would be better spent on front and rear parking sensors and ESP plus to make this already very safe, five-star Euro NCAP car, even safer.

After all, who needs more practicality when you have the Flex7 system as standard (although to bring the rear seats into play, you need to familiarise yourself with a specific order for the various switches, heaves and pulls). Once you have learnt that, it is very simple and effective.

The Zafira converts from seven-seater to van in no time, and though space in the third row is not vast, it is adequate for children.

The installation of the 1.9 CDTi diesel engine has not resulted in as quiet a cabin as it does in the Astra hatchback, and when cold and under acceleration, things get noisy.

But it is not unbearable and even in 120bhp form there is decent performance which, with more than 200lb-ft of torque, should not be diminished much even with a full complement on board.

One surprising aspect of the Zafira is how poised it feels. There is a nicely sorted balance and very little body roll, while the ride is relatively stiff for such a car.

The gearbox has a good chunky feel and the steering is direct and will tuck in the nose with surprising enthusiasm.

The Ford Focus C-MAX, which majors on driving pleasure rather than practicality, now has a competitor that drives just as well but has more seats, more kit, is more adaptable and looks better. The Zafira is more than a one-trick donkey.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,122
CO2 emissions (g/km): 165
BIK % of P11D in 2005: 20%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 9
Combined mpg: 46.3
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,925/31%
Depreciation 21.70 pence per mile x 60,000: £13,020
Maintenance 2.25 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,350
Fuel 9.27 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,562
Wholelife cost 33.22 pence per mile x 60,000: £19,932
Typical contract hire rate: £374.69

  • All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Rental quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance

    At a glance We like:

  • Much better to drive
  • Stylish yet sturdy
  • Practicality

    We don’t like

  • Engine a little noisy
  • Panoramic roof unnecessary
  • Relatively high BIK bill

    Three rivals to consider

  • Ford Focus C-MAX Ghia 2.0 TDCi Eu IV
  • Renault Grand Scenic 1.9 dCi Dynamique 130 Eu IV
  • Toyota Corolla Verso T Spirit 2.0 D-4D Eu IV

    P11D PRICE

    ALL these mini-MPVs are towards the top end of their ranges and, in the case of the Verso and C-MAX, are the highest specifications you can get. That the Ghia is the top C-MAX, but is still not as well-specced as the Zafira and Verso seems odd. There are at least half a dozen more expensive versions of the Zafira. Does Ford feel there is no market for top-end MPVs? The Verso even comes with standard DVD player and games console for the kids. Great.

    Renault £18,847
    Ford £19,017
    Vauxhall £19,122
    Toyota £19,622

    SMR COSTS

    THERE is not much difference in service, maintenance and repair costs for all four manufacturers. All run on the same-sized 16-inch wheels, so none incur higher tyre costs. The Zafira will do 20,000 miles between services, while the C-MAX is the next best, at 12,500 miles. Just make sure your Zafira drivers keep an eye on the oil and coolant levels.

    Toyota 2.16ppm
    Vauxhall 2.25ppm
    Renault 2.37ppm
    Ford 2.66ppm

    FUEL COSTS

    ALL of these mini-MPVs have strong engines returning good fuel economy figures. The least economical is the Verso with a combined figure of 45.6mpg, while the best is the C-MAX, at 48.7mpg. Over 60,000 miles, that means a fuel bill of £5,664 for the Toyota and £5,292 for the Ford, and a difference of nearly £400. That said, our long-term 2.0 TDCi Focus C-MAX couldn’t even reach a 40mpg average…

    Ford 8.82ppm
    Renault 9.12ppm
    Vauxhall 9.27ppm
    Toyota 9.44ppm

    DEPRECIATION COSTS

    THE Focus C-MAX fares worst on depreciation, with CAP predicting it to hold 27% of its value after three years/60,000 miles. This results in the Ford losing £13,812, nearly £500 more than the third-placed Grand Scenic. The Ford’s lack of seating options is likely to put off used buyers. The Corolla and Zafira both do better, with the Toyota especially strong. Used buyers love the Japanese firm’s reputation for reliability. It would lose £1,100 less than the Ford, while the Vauxhall performs noticeably better than the two marques with which it usually shares level pegging.

    Toyota 21.20ppm
    Vauxhall 21.70ppm
    Renault 22.24ppm
    Ford 23.02ppm

    WHOLELIFE COSTS

    THE Zafira and Corolla Verso are pretty far ahead of the others, relatively speaking, in a segment where competitive running costs are vital. The stronger residuals of the Corolla Verso put it in first place, not necessarily because it is a better car, but because the Zafira is predicted to continue selling in the vast numbers of the old car, which pushes down used prices. Running costs around the 33ppm mark make both these cars good choices. Despite low fuel costs, weak residuals put the C-MAX in a fairly distant fourth place when it comes to wholelife costs.

    Toyota 32.80ppm
    Vauxhall 33.22ppm
    Renault 33.73ppm
    Ford 34.50ppm

    EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES

    THE Ford and Renault claw back some ground on the Vauxhall and Toyota thanks to lower benefit-in-kind tax bills. For the rest of this year, all four of these mini-MPVs will avoid the 3% diesel surcharge as they are Euro IV compliant. That means a 22% tax-payer will pay £711 for the C-MAX, £746 for the Grand Scenic, £841 for the Zafira and £863 for the Verso.

    Ford 154g/km/18%
    Renault 159g/km/19%
    Vauxhall 165g/km/20%
    Toyota 165g/km/20%

    VERDICT

    YOU cannot help feeling that Ford has missed out with the C-MAX. It is too expensive and not practical enough. The Grand Scenic fares decently in most areas, but does not excel in any. The Zafira and the Corolla Verso are closely matched. The Vauxhall is a better drive and more stylish but the Verso has better spec and wholelife costs, certainly until Vauxhall starts supporting the Zafira more. Toyota sneaks it.

    WINNER: Toyota Corolla Verso 2.0 D-4D T-Spirit

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