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A stylish MPV with all the practicality you could ever need. But will it throw any second-hand curveballs?

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The Vauxhall Zafira Tourer's name is derived from the Arabic meaning ‘to succeed’.

It was a good name for Vauxhall’s three-generation range of seven-seat people carriers, because that’s exactly what they did. I owned two – a Mk1 and a Mk2 – and appreciated their amenable driving manners and Flex7 easy-fold seat system.

Vauxhall’s first and brief foray into the segment for larger MPVs came in 1997 with the ill-fated Sintra

The Mk2 Zafira was launched in 2005 and clung on until 2014, two years after its posher sibling and the focus of this guide, the Zafira Tourer, arrived.

That the old-stager lasted so long was largely down to its lowish price, but by 2014 it was easily outclassed. Still, if it’s a cheap and roomy MPV you’re wanting, a one-owner, 2014-reg Zafira 1.8 Design with 52,000 miles and a full history for £5750 looks like value.

To its successor, then: the Zafira Tourer. It was launched in 2012, its job to offer an alternative to the likes of the Volkswagen Sharan and Ford S-Max while keeping the flexible interior features that made the standard Zafira so popular.

It shared its platform with the then current Astra, so was longer and wider and therefore roomier than the older Zafira, as well as sharper-looking, with a striking ‘boomerang’ front light arrangement.

Inside, it remained impressively practical. In fact, it was even more useful than the Zafira thanks to the traditional centre row of seats being replaced by three individual and sliding chairs (on some models the middle one can be shunted out of the way, allowing the outer pair to move inwards a little) and the adoption of the sliding FlexConsole storage system.

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Practical, yes, but also sophisticated: plusher fabrics and soft-touch plastics, a large windscreen that floods the cabin with light and options including a suite of driver assist systems, a panoramic sunroof and FlexRide adaptive damping all made the Zafira Tourer feel special.

If today’s mix of used ones is anything to go by, diesel and petrol Tourers sold in roughly equal numbers. Regarding the petrol engines, most buyers chose the 138bhp 1.4i Turbo over the non-turbo 1.8. Turning to the diesels, the change to Euro 6 (the emissions standard became mandatory in 2015) fell slap in the middle of the Tourer’s production run.

It means the 2.0-litre diesels available from launch were Euro 5, but the excellent 134bhp 1.6 CDTi, introduced in 2014, was actually Euro 6, so not subject to current ULEZ charges.

From 2015, the 2.0 CDTi also became Euro 6, but just one variant, producing 168bhp, was offered. Fortunately, it’s a good ’un: impressively torquey from 1300-3500rpm and capable of 0-62mph in a fair 9.1sec.

The Tourer was facelifted in 2016. Out went the boomerang lights (they never came back…) and in came the nose from the seventh-gen Astra. The interior was also updated with the latest IntelliLink infotainment systems.

Throughout its life the Tourer was cursed with a baffling array of trims, but you only need bother with the most popular: SRi, SE and Design. At this age, condition is worth more than baubles, but Design has all you could reasonably want, including parking sensors, alloys and air-con, while SE sugars the pill with lounge seating, intelligent technology and automatic lights.

SRi has sports seats and bigger wheels. ‘Salam alaikum’, as they say in Arabic.

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer 2012-2018 common problems

Engine: Beware a failing oil pick-up seal on Euro 5, 2.0 diesels. Low oil pressure, due to air in the oil, on cold mornings is a clue. Staying with the diesels, check the AdBlue level sensor isn’t illuminated.

With the 1.6 CDTi engine or the 1.4i Turbo petrol, listen for noises from the timing chain and guides. Also with the 1.4i Turbo, listen for the engine squeaking. Remove the dipstick: if the squeaking stops, it needs a new crankshaft oil seal. 

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Gearbox: If it’s a manual, check the action is smooth because sticky cables are a known issue, especially in winter. The cables are poorly sealed, allowing water to get in. 

Suspension: A recent MOT should pick up leaks, worn bushes and broken springs. If it’s the rare FlexRide system, check that all the modes work.

Brakes: The rear brakes can corrode badly. If the rear of the car appears to shake or vibrate when you brake, a failed rear brake damper is the likely cause. Where fitted, check Hill Start works.

Interior: Check the heated seats work, if fitted – owners have reported failed wiring looms, although a repair kit is available. Make sure all the seats slide and fold as they should. Check the carpets for damp caused by blocked windscreen drains, and failed door and tailgate seals. Test the infotainment system thoroughly.

Body: Check the central locking works and that the tailgate closes securely (there have been reports of tailgates partially opening once on the move).

DESIGN & STYLING

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer rear

The Zafira Tourer was a larger slice of the recipe that made the Meriva and Zafira big hits for Vauxhall. It rides on a longer wheelbase and wider tracks than the Zafira that went before, which was originally sold alongside the Tourer until 2014, freeing up more cabin space for as many as seven occupants and easing the effort required to fold the rearmost seats.

The Tourer did without the rear-hinged back doors of the Meriva – all four panels open conventionally – but the panoramic windscreen made for an interesting feature. A large slide-down blind, complete with sun visors, provided glare protection, as did heat-absorbing glass.

Vauxhall’s trademark ‘blade’ crease lines add sculptural interest to the Zafira Tourer’s flanks, although it remains a little van-like in profile

Mechanically, the Tourer was conventional. It could be had with a petrol 1.4 that would appear worryingly modest were it not a downsized turbo of 138bhp.

The diesel offerings were the 134bhp 1.6 – Vauxhall’s newest and most refined diesel at the time, and the 168bhp 2.0-litre. This was the most powerful engine available, and Vauxhall reckoned that it was good for a 9.1sec 0-60mph time, a 127mph top speed and CO2 emissions of 137g/km.

It comes with stop-start as standard, in contrast to the lesser pair of diesels, with the result that all three score the same 53.4mpg combined fuel consumption and identical CO2 emissions. The Ecoflex version combined 128bhp with 119g/km of CO2. A six-speed automatic was available with the 163bhp diesel and the 1.4 turbo petrol.

Up front, the Tourer is suspended by the more refined subframe-isolated MacPherson strut layout borrowed from the Insignia, and the rear suspension is an adaptation of the Watt’s linkage-controlled torsion beam axle used by the Astra. 

Vauxhall also gave the Zafira Tourer a much-needed facelift which majors on giving the MPV a similar face as the seventh generation Vauxhall Astra on the outside, an updated interior and a host of connectivity and driving assistance aids.

INTERIOR

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer interior

Like the smaller Meriva, Vauxhall provides ingenious means of reconfiguring the seats with the Zafira Tourer. The middle row is lightly sculpted for three and each seat folds to provide a flat load floor, although there’s no tumbling motion to provide a protective bulkhead behind the front seats.

The outer bolsters of the middle chair’s backrest cleverly fold upwards once it’s dropped forward, to yield a pair of long, padded armrests for the occupants of the outboard seats.

Some may never find the 12V outlet, USB and SD port and aux-in socket under the climate control panel

They enjoy good legroom and foot space even when these sliding seats are positioned fairly far forward, and the longer drop from seat to carpet afforded by the Tourer’s floor architecture allows the cushion to support your legs more effectively.

The outer seats can be manoeuvred inboard (imagine the seat veering off into a railway siding as you move it aft), releasing extra elbow room.

The rearmost seats provide fair accommodation for two kids, who will find more legroom here than in many MPVs, although it’s hardly generous.

The panoramic screen improves the view forward for all occupants to quite a surprising degree, but short children in the rear may find the bodywork’s high sides and small windows claustrophobic.

The Zafira provides a trove of small-scale storage – no fewer than 30 cubbies, trays, bins and drinks holders, many lined. The boot isn’t badly dimensioned for an MPV of this kind when the third row is in place, but you’ll need to flatten these seats to provide luggage space for five, never mind seven. The parcel shelf handily stows below the floor.

The cabin is furnished pleasingly. A mix of soft-touch surfaces, chrome and aluminium highlights, double-stitched trim and orange illuminations create a reasonably high-quality ambience. Despite scoring poorly in our visibility test, the Zafira’s slim, twin A-pillar design hides less of the road in practice, and there’s a reversing camera option.

Buyers could choose from six trims – Design, Energy, SRi, SE, Tech Line and Elite.

The entry-level trim equipped the Zafira Tourer with a wealth of standard features, including 17in alloys, cruise control, parking sensors, and LED day-running-lights on the outside. Inside, expect to find air conditioning, Vauxhall’s IntelliLink infotainment system with a 7in touchscreen display, DAB radio, and USB and Bluetooth connectivity, along with the firm's then new emergency assistance Onstar system complete with Wifi hotspot.

Upgrading to Energy trim brought you sat nav, foglights and some chrome detailings, while SRi models got bigger alloys, sports seats and a three-spoke steering wheel.

The mid-range SE model got a wealth of intelligent technology, including climate control, automatic lights and wipers and lounge seating. Tech Line added sat nav to the SE’s burgeoning equipment list.

The range-topping Elite Zafira Tourer got luxuries such as the panoramic windscreen and sunroof, leather upholstery and heated front seats.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

2.0-litre Vauxhall Zafira Tourer diesel engine

The 2.0 CDTi diesel manages to simultaneously provide some of the strongest and weakest features of the Zafira Tourer. A fat wad of torque pulls this big Vauxhall ahead with the kind of stout enthusiasm that can make short work of journeys. There’s little noticeable delay before the turbo is boosting, to provide a solid seam of power from 1300rpm to 3500rpm.

However, the fact that it tapers off some way before 4000rpm is a clue to the old-school nature of this engine. More modern competitors offer wider powerbands and deliver with less rattling fuss. Not that you’ll need to study the rev counter and rates of progress to deduce that this engine needs some manners.

2.0-litre diesel isn't the best, but it will sell plenty

You hear a lightly industrial chatter from the moment you fire it up, and the noise doesn’t entirely subside even when the engine has warmed up. Of course, it’s far from unbearable; the soundtrack is elevated to greater prominence by the Zafira’s general quietness. But the lack of polish makes it harder to forget that you’re occupying a voluminous vehicle with a suspiciously van-like silhouette.

Wet weather prevented the 2.0 CDTi from thrusting the Zafira to 60mph in the claimed 9.1sec when we tested it at MIRA proving ground – we managed 10.4sec – but the snappier 6.8sec required to propel it from 40mph to 60mph in fourth, for example, gives a better idea of how brisk this Zafira can be.

Better still, it manages decent economy. When we tested it, it got 38.1mpg aided by a reasonably unobtrusive stop-start system. Like most cars with stop-start, the system defaults to ‘on’, but it can be turned off in slow-moving traffic via an ‘Eco’ button on the centre console.

The 1.4-litre turbo is a more refined offering, and would be our choice if economy isn’t your top priority.

RIDE & HANDLING

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer cornering

Swift-acting steering, impressively roll-free cornering, strong grip and predictable on-the-limit behaviour comprise a surprisingly complete dynamic arsenal for the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer which is, in the end, an MPV.

Couple this to the CDTi’s torquey performance and you have family wheels that will make unexpectedly efficient and enjoyable cross-country progress.

The front suspension employs the MacPherson strut arrangement of the Insignia

However, your passengers may be less impressed with the ride, mostly because it’s often more turbulent than it should be in a vehicle primarily designed for carting families in comfort.

It deals well with bigger troughs and crests but struggles to absorb the chop of small bumps. The result, on typical British B-roads, is a ride that’s rarely settled for long. It’s better when loaded up, but the Ford S-Max proceeds with greater sophistication and more calm.

This is an MPV that’s more about handling than ride, curiously. The steering is quite good in its weighting at speed and it provides some detail when the front wheels lose adhesion but, like the ride, there’s a slight coarseness of action that leaves you feeling that this is a vehicle rather less sophisticated than some of the subtle stylistic flourishes in its cabin might suggest.

However, road noise is reasonably muted, even if you can hear a light resonant hum of the noise box that is the boot when you sit in the middle row of seats with the rearmost row folded.

If Vauxhall dared to trade some roll stiffness for a more supple ride, the Tourer would play the dual roles of driver entertainment and comfortable carry-all with some conviction, regardless of wheel size and trim.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer

The Vauxhall Zafira Tourer was not a cheap car in top-of-the-range form, the combination of most potent diesel and plushest Elite trim lifting the Tourer to more than £28,000 when it was new - that was ambitious.

Though not originally the case, all cars now got Bluetooth as standard, along with cruise control, parking sensors, 17in alloys, DAB radio and air conditioning. Bizarrely four models, though not the top Elite trim, got sat nav as standard.

The Zafira Tourer will depreciate slightly faster than the Sharan

The Tourer does rather better with fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, which better those of the equivalent Ford S-Max.

Fleet users will be pleased with the very competitive BIK rates that this brings with them, but private buyers should be aware that Vauxhall’s residual value history doesn’t suggest a stellar trade-in performance in three years’ time. 

In terms of options, cars such as the Zafira tend to be hard used over high miles so convenience is crucial. 

VERDICT

3.5 star Vauxhall Zafira Tourer

The Vauxhall Zafira Tourer is an impressive vehicle on many fronts. Its ingeniously versatile interior is to be expected, given that it’s an MPV, but its accomplished handling is more unusual.

Vauxhall reckoned the Zafira Tourer should be as much fun one-up as it is with a chattering load, and it largely succeeded in that brief.

It’s handsome and has keen handling but needs better comfort levels

There’s also no questioning the versatility and convenience, or the 163bhp CDTi’s strong performance and economy, even if it could use more polish. Vauxhall’s attempt to provide a classy interior mostly works, too.

Overall, it continues to be a compelling buy, even now when none of them are spring chickens.

What the owner says

Brian Stewart: “I only bought my Tourer in April, but so far, so good. It’s a 2016-reg 1.6 CDTi Design, the last of the pre-facelift cars with the boomerang lights. It’s comfortable, spacious and very practical. I got it from a dealer who fixed a couple of things in the cabin, including replacing some driver’s seat trim – a common problem.

"Five-up with a full boot it returns 60mpg on a run; pootling around town, lightly loaded, around 45mpg. It has full Vauxhall history with all work carried out by the same dealer. Two chaps at work have Astras with the same engine and have had no issues, so I’m feeling confident.”

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer 2012-2018 First drives