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The Opel Zafira looks good in this brown paint but it can't hide its large van origins. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE
The Opel Zafira looks good in this brown paint but it can't hide its large van origins. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE

If you need a large lifestyle minibus you now have more choice. For years, alternatives from Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai ruled the roost in this class.

Some of these people-movers can swallow more than 10 passengers, but it’s still true that if you want the ultimate in practicality the seven-seaters generally leave plenty of room for luggage or even pets at the back.

The Opel Zafira on test comes in seven or eight-seat configuration and it speaks to this advantage. Not be confused with the original Opel Zafira which gifted the world the first true performance MPV in the OPC model, the new Zafira is 5,306mm long and nearly 2m high. There are two different trim choices, a base Life Edition and a luxurious Elegance specification, and both are powered by a 2.0l turbo diesel engine.

It’s the seven-seat Edition model on test here, which comes equipped with electric sliding doors and electric front windows, leather-clad seats, multizone climate control, and an infotainment system complete with a touchscreen display, Bluetooth and USB connectivity. The living quarters are generous on single seats for the second and third rows.

You can swivel the middle row for a lounge set-up that is perfect for good conversations and there’s a small table with drinks holders. Importantly there’s enough room to swallow luggage for seven or eight passengers behind the back seats which also flatten to yield over 1,000l of extra cargo space, so you needn't buy a trailer. The large tailgate is not electric though.

Views outside are generous for all behind tinted windows with pull-up curtains but in an age of touch-sensitive, glitzy displays the Zafira cabin is basic. There are still good old-fashioned buttons for basic controls which is great because it’s easy to familiarise oneself with the car, and it reduces the need to take your eyes off the road.

There's plenty of cargo space to fit everyone's luggage at the rear. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE
There's plenty of cargo space to fit everyone's luggage at the rear. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE

A circular transmission dial which sits high up on the dash and is quicker than a typical lever. The four-pot engine develops 110kW and 370Nm and is mated to an eight-speed auto box driving the front wheels. It’s not the most powerful nor the liveliest among its rivals but these outputs felt robust enough to pull large families.

Though it has a heightened diesel engine clatter it’s smooth and economical in operation, returning 7.9l/100km. Further driving aids include a head-up display, automatic high-beam assist and semi-adaptive cruise control which doesn't self-brake to a complete stop.

The damping is notably excellent over road imperfections and potholes don't thud through the cabin as much. It’s settled at highway speeds too and doesn’t heave about. It didn’t rattle despite its ample seats but its mass is ever present, especially in tight spaces and in congested traffic.

Light steering and a rear-view camera help keep its bluff shape away from poles and walls and the standard fitment blind-spot warning and large wing mirrors ensure the Zafira stays between the lanes.

The best of driving dynamics can never be realised in this segment but the Zafira can be driven with reasonable verve. It retains the typical Opel driving texture to some degree, with the steering feel sharper than in most minibuses I’ve driven with good poise through bends. There is electronic stability control should you overcook things but ultimately you are always pulled towards a more relaxed driving style fitting to this segment.

It comes into its own when used as a people carrier. There’s a double-panoramic roof with manually operated shades and side window curtains to keep the hot sun out and an audio system which isn’t as strong as in some of the competitors.

Foibles include a cabin which can’t hide its commercial bones. You do notice the van-with-seats vibe which you don’t see in the Hyundai Staria and Mercedes-Benz V-Class. The dashboard is thin and there’s not nearly enough sound-deadening to keep its agricultural din at bay. 

Lots of people get the minibus lifestyle, hence the Volkswagen Caravelle and Mercedes-Benz V-Class in particular are trending. They will love the Zafira just as we did for its practicality, comfort and approachable price. The only question left will be whether to buy this seven-seat Elegance model or the eight-seat Edition specification.

Large families with children can be better served by the eight-seater and its hardier cloth-covered seats, and if you look beyond its fewer luxuries and the R120,000 saving over this Elegance, the Edition model may make more sense.

The five single rear seats are robust, comfy and there is generous head, leg and shoulder room. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE
The five single rear seats are robust, comfy and there is generous head, leg and shoulder room. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE

Tech Specs

ENGINE

Type: Four-cylinder turbo diesel

Capacity: 2.0l

Power: 110kW

Torque: 370Nm

TRANSMISSION

Type: Eight-speed auto

DRIVETRAIN

Type: Front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

Top speed: N/A

0-100km/h: N/A

Fuel Consumption: 6.3l/100km (claimed), 7.9l/100km (as tested)

Emissions: 165g/km

STANDARD FEATURES

Electric windows, LED daytime driving running lights, auto on/off lights, multifunction steering wheel controls, electric mirrors, keyless entry, power doors, Bluetooth, leather upholstery, sunroof, climate control, heated front seats, park distance control with camera, active cruise control, blind spot assist, ABS,  stability control, EBD, four airbags, rain sensor wipers, head-up display, tyre pressure monitor, keyless entry, lane keeping assist

COST OF OWNERSHIP

Warranty: Five years/100,000km

Service plan: Five years/100,000km

Price: R869,900

Lease: R18,577 a month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

Opel Zafira Life 2.0TD Elegance

WE LIKE: Space, ride quality, handling

WE DISLIKE: Noisy engine

VERDICT: An honest and practical family hauler

Motor News star rating

Design *****

Performance  ***

Economy ****

Ride ****

Handling ****

Safety ****

Value For Money *****

Overall ****

Competition

Mercedes-Benz V220d, 120kW/380Nm — R 1,157,673

Ford Tourneo 2.0SiT LWB Trend, 96kW/360Nm — R743,400

Hyundai Staria 2.2D Executive, 130kW/430Nm — R794,900

Kia Carnival 2.2 CRDi EX+, 148kW/440Nm — R879,995

Toyota Quantum 2.8 VX Premium, 115kW/420Nm — R1,068,200

Volkswagen 2.0BiTDI 146kW Kombi SWB Trendline Plus 4Motion, 146kW/450Nm — R964,400

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