Zafira looks for votes in 7-seat constituency
SUVs, crossovers pose big threat
You would be surprised how often I am asked about what car to buy for a larger family. Usually the person says their children are outgrowing their current saloon/hatchback and they'd like the option of seven seats.
Among those I'd recommend is the Opel Zafira Tourer, though not that many would appear to pay much heed to me because year to date, just 327 have been registered new.
There are other people-carriers not even faring that well. On that basis, the days of the MPV (multi-purpose vehicles), as they are also known, appear to be numbered as crossovers and SUVs increase in popularity.
I wouldn't write them off yet by any means but there is no quarrelling with the figures. For a car of its ability, scope and flexibility, you'd expect the Zafira Tourer to be in greater demand. It's not exactly cheap but it packs in a fine stream of spec and equipment.
Unfortunately, the Zafira name took a hit last year amid reports of fire in 'B' (not Tourer) models that had manual, or no, air con. Opel recalled 8,200 here a second time to further protect the vehicles from the risk of fire in the heating and ventilation systems. It is only fair I point out that the B models involved were made between 2005 and 2014 and that those with climate control were not involved.
Hopefully that is all in the past for owners of the cars. Looking to the future, then, Opel has just given the new Tourer model a facelift inside and out and added equipment, especially new technology.
The one tested includes the OnStar 24/7 'guardian angel' concierge and IntelliLink infotainment systems (R4.0 version works with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay).
But the big practical attraction - and the Zafira led the way on this initially - is the three rows of seats that you can juggle in myriad fashion between passengers and luggage.
I'm frequently surprised by how often people say they want the 'option' of the third row. They might only use it a few times but having it gives them choice and flexibility. That third row (two seats) is fine for toddlers though it heavily curbs luggage space. Nonetheless, it is a tried and trusted formula.
It also goes without saying that my days of filling the three rows are well and truly gone. But I was still impressed with how easy I found it to flip and fold seats, just as a practical demonstration.
I wasn't altogether as satisfied with one or two other areas. The interactive touchscreen was a bit clunky and slow to react (I had the IntelliLink 950 with satnav).
And, while effective, I still found the electronic parking brake a bit annoying because I invariably had to press a second time to release. Will I ever get used to it?
But I loved the seats (front were heated leather, ergonomic sports). Opel has put a lot of work into that area and in my test car I had support and comfort. Excellent.
It's a bigger motor than it looks and the panoramic screen gave extra visibility and a sense of space. With a reversing camera and sensors, I found parking no problem.
I had the 2-litre 170PS diesel but there is a 1.6-litre (134bhp) too. The 2-litre I know from the Insignia, though noise suppression wasn't as good in this, especially when I pushed the revs higher in lower gears (6spd manual) around town. It was at its best at motorway cruising speeds, coming across as a big, solid drive with plenty of room.
It's not as smart a driver as the Ford S-MAX or, maybe, as immediately appealing as the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso (three ISOFIX middle-seat anchors as opposed to Zafira's two) or as improved as the new Volkswagen Touran (five ISOFIX too). But reacquainting myself with it highlighted how it is at its best when you need to change seating arrangements quickly and without fuss.
In a way it is something of a forgotten entity (not for 327 owners in 2016 admittedly) but in a market where demand is not exactly raging, it's a reminder that there are alternatives to the crossover and SUVs.
However, just how compelling a case it can make is entirely dependent on specific requirements.
In the face of crossover demand, Peugeot has refocused and redesigned former people carriers and now call them SUVs (2008, 3008, 5008).
Opel is not doing that with the Zafira Tourer which, instead will get a stable-mate SUV in the second half of 2017 called the Grandland X.
Where that will leave the likes of the Tourer in the longer term remains to be seen but for now at least it's a practical option for anyone needing a 7-seater MPV.
Facts & figures
Opel Zafira Tourer, 2.0 diesel, 170PS, 5.2l/100km, 137g/km, €280 tax. Price: Elite model on test: €40,065; without options: €37,050. Prices start from €31,595.
Standard: Opel OnStar, 7ins touchscreen, LED daytime running lights, front/rear parking sensors. Elite model tested adds IntelliLink 950/satnav, 18ins alloys, panoramic sunroof, heated leather front sports seats, tinted rear windows, electronic climate control, front fogs, voice command, cruise control.