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It was back in 2002 when I had to make a choice of replacing my Saab 9-3 Aero or my MINI Cooper (both 3 door cars) and embrace the world of parenthood and dull, practical cars. My world sank as I had to trawl the showrooms and sit in Scenics, Galaxys, Picassos, Streams etc - lugging an empty child seat and pushchair to make sure that they fitted.
We wanted a car with automatic transmission car and in the end plumped for a Zafira 1.8i Elegance in Star Silver. I didn't even bother with a test drive as the previous year I had a contract hire 1.8i auto Zafira for about 6 months and from my vague goldfish memory, recalled that the car was "OK" to drive.
I got a good deal on the car and as always my wallet led my heart. £18,800 list. (Metallic, Auto, ESP, Side Airbags and Curtain Airbags) The deal was £16,800 with 0% finance over 3 years with 40% deposit and free carpet mats, mudflaps and headlamp protectors.
On picking up the car I was underwhelmed by it's boxy shape and conservative looks. I was even more amazed at how wallowy the ride was compared to other cars I had driven. I remember thinking: "What the hell have I done!" when I drove home from the dealership.
But 2 years and 25,000 miles later I have to admit that it is one of the best cars for it's purpose. And you just get used to the handling and ride and accept that it does what it says on the box.
The Flex 7 seating is the major USP over the competition. We only occasionally use it but it has proved it's worth. Also the folding front passenger seat makes a useful baby change unit or to carry long loads when worshipping at the Temple of Ikea.
There are areas of the car that aren't that good:
Creating the full 7 seats involves removing the load cover, the load carpet mat, sliding the rear bench forward, folding up the 3rd row seats, opening the seat belt latch cover and sliding the headrests up - leaving virtually no luggage space and nowhere to store the carpet and load cover.
The auto transmission allied with the 1.8 engine gives good economy and reasonable performance in town but it is a bit asthmatic on motorway inclines causing the 'box to constantly change gear. In hindsight I should have gone for the 2.2 litre engine.
Putting 7 seats into an area not much longer than an Astra estate means that Vauxhall have made all the seat positions vertical. The 2nd row bench suffers from this affliction and is uncomfortable for adults. On a same day return trip from Kent to Manchester my brother was experiencing a lot of discomfort. The Zafira is also a relatively narrow car and 3 adults will become familiar.
I also had the spare wheel stolen (the Zafira shares the same wheels as the Astra, thus creating a large market for stolen wheels). It's much easier to steal than other Ciao reviewers have said - a big screwdriver to bend the U bracket is sufficient.
The only faults I've had are the front mudflaps rubbing the front wing back to primer, a buzzing sound from the load cover and the engine emissions warning light illuminating. "They all do that Sir" was the response. Servicing is cheap at £112 for the 10k service, I still have 3mm of tread on the front tyres at 25k and I'm still waiting for the service indicator to light up for the next service. Amazing when I used to shell out £450 for a Saab service and buy new tyres every 8,000 miles!
The interior and trim has worn well and marks easily wipe off. I've also had the car tinted - trading pimptastic looks for a cool interior.
Overall the Zafira makes and ideal family car - big enough for the kids and shopping and smaller than a full size MPV.