Zafira was one of the pioneers of a new smaller breed of MPVs (or minivans as our Transatlantic cousins would call them). Not much bigger than a car, the 1999 Vauxhall Zafira had room for up to seven passengers, with a particularly neat pair of rear seats that fold down to leave a completely flat load floor.
Vauxhall called this system Flex 7. At a time when other MPVs required you unhitch the seats and remove them (finding a place to store them, too) every time you wanted to maximise load space, the Zafira's system was so neat that other manufacturers scrambled to follow Vauxhall's lead.
In the motor industry it is vital to keep improving if you want to stay ahead of the competition and so, 13 years after the Zafira first appeared, along comes a new and improved model. Except, the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, due to arrive in UK showrooms next month doesn't replace the current Zafira. Vauxhall plans to continue selling the current Zafira, distinguishing this latest version with the Tourer suffix.
Prices for the new Zafira Tourer will start at £21,000. This compares to £19.400 for the 1.8i version of the current model (although there is a cheaper 1.6i version of the current Zafira at £18,560).
Although it follows the proven formula, the new Zafira Tourer does have a new look. Its appearance is more estate car than MPV. Most distinctive is the front end with headlights that form a boomerang shape marking the front corners. This echoes the look of other emerging Vauxhall models, notably the Vauxhall Ampera.
Vauxhall say the new Zafira Tourer "offers a spacious and inviting environment". The Flex 7 fold-flat rearmost seats continue and access looks easier than on some other seven seaters. On a smaller MPV like this, these rearmost seats are clearly going to be most suitable for children (or reasonable small, agile adults).
Those sitting in the middle row are well catered for, particularly on SE models, which come with the benefit of what Vauxhall call "lounge seating". The middle seat can be folded away, with its seat back forming a substantial armrest for the lucky duo in the remaining two seats. You can also slide these seats back and inwards to increase legroom by 280 mm and elbow room by 50 mm. It's a clever bit of packaging that adds to the seating versatility.
The Vauxhall people at this pre-launch drive were clearly proud also of that other MPV attribute – storage space. They boasted, even before we had the chance to sit behind the wheel, that the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer has more than 30 interior storage compartments. Great if you are organised. Dangerous if you are scatterbrained and cannot remember where you stowed everything!
If you like lots of daylight then there are options on the Zafira that may appeal. You can choose a Panoramic windscreen that sweeps up into the roof above the front seat passengers. Add a full-length glass sunroof and your Zafira Tourer will be a bit like those observation cars on scenic railways.
On the short drives in two models, the Zafira Tourer proved to be enjoyable to drive. The Vauxhall representatives explained to us that the steering had been fine-tuned for the UK market, removing some of the stronger self-centring that apparently our European partners on the other side of the North Sea crave.
On a route which was predominantly twisty, hilly B-roads the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer seemed very well sorted, with good performance and agile handling. It corners with good body control and that UK-tuned steering hits the spot.
There are three diesel and two petrol engines available at launch. The diesels are all 2.0 CDTI common rail units with power outputs of 110PS, 130PS and 165PS. The petrol engines are a 1.4-litre turbo and a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre. Both petrol units have 140PS output.
Soon after launch these engines will be joined by an ecoFLEX engine, equipped with a stop-start system. This car will have reduced CO2 emissions of 119g/km and a combined fuel consumption of 62 mpg.