Motoring: Road Test - I'd rather take the Scenic route

We'll all be driving MPVs soon. But maybe not this one. By John Simister

Ask a child to draw a car. What would you get? At one time, a car with a bonnet, a roof, and a boot sticking out of the back. As drawn now, the boot has disappeared because most modern cars are hatchbacks. And within a decade, children could well be drawing cars that look like slope-nosed vans with windows.

The industry predicts that the majority of us will be driving mini-MPVs, the solution to a problem you didn't know you had. The breed's current generic is the Renault Megane Scenic, a spectacular sales success which mixes a full-size MPV's versatility with the compactness of a hatchback. The Scenic is everywhere. And where are its rivals?

For a bafflingly long time, they were nowhere to be seen - unless you count the smaller Mercedes A-class. Now, though, the Vauxhall Zafira has arrived to end Renault's two years of hay-making, and others are poised to follow.

While acknowledging the Scenic's success, Vauxhall moves the game on - thanks to an idea dubbed FLEX7. Here we have an MPV for every purpose. It's slightly bigger than a Scenic and, like the Renault, it borrows heavily from a mainstream hatchback (in this case the Astra), but it has seven seats to the Scenic's five. Proper seats, too.

It's a packaging masterpiece - so good that you might never discover the rearmost seats if you didn't already know they were there. They hide in the rear floor when not in use, with a floor-mat to disguise the evidence. You want to convert your Zafira from five-seater-with-huge-boot to seven- seater-with-need-for-a-roof-box? Proceed as follows:

Slide forward middle seat row. (It's a single, three-seater bench, more of which anon.) Remove rear floor-mat, pull handle on back of flattened, face-down rear seat. Top of its backrest is pulled out of hiding place under middle seats, entire seat unit does somersault resulting in cushion part rotating through slightly more than 180 and backrest part clicking into place against strategically-placed bracket. Repeat with other rearmost seat, open small box between seats to discover seat-belt clasps, slide middle seat row back again. You now have a seven-seat Zafira.

Even better, you haven't had to haul heavy seats from your garage to the car, nor have you gouged pieces of trim or sworn at recalcitrant catches. And that middle seat? It's all in one unit, so you can't fold it away in sections (apart from lowering or reclining the backrest halves separately), and neither can you take it right out. But you can hinge up the cushion to verticality, hinge the backrest more upright to make a seat sandwich, and slide the whole lot right forward. The result is extremely spacious.

Other promising attributes abound, too. The dashboard is curvier and smarter than the Astra's, and there are 10 cupholders so three of the occupants can have two drinks on the go, and it should feel good to drive given the current Astra's aptitude here. And it even has black plastic wheel-arch lips, like GTIs used to have.

We can deduce from this that the Zafira is aimed at young, family types who have grown out of their sporty hatchbacks but want something a bit more lifestyle-y. More's the pity, then, that for all its clever components, the Zafira as a whole is about as sexy as a taxi-cab. Yet the Scenic hits the spot, oozes adaptiveness of outlook and carefree spontaneity of activity. Why?

Maybe it's because the Scenic is rounded and curvy and looks like a topologically-distorted Renault Megane hatchback. The Zafira has the more conventional outline of bigger MPVs, and tilts at utility. I reckon that changing the shape of the rearmost side windows would achieve the switch from minibus to family capsule. Emphasise the wedgy waistline, sweep the windows' baseline upwards - job done. Possibly.

There are three trim levels, and three engines: 1.6 litres, 1.8 litres, and a 2.0-litre, direct-injection turbodiesel. I've driven the first two of these, beginning with the 1.8. It felt quite lively but its short-legged gearing, the better to pull a load of people, made for fussy cruising. The view out was as panoramic as an MPV's always is, except for when the screen pillars got in the way, and the steering had a sporting crispness to it.

Where the 1.8 went wrong was in its ability to stay serene over undulating roads. It heaved and wobbled about, even with a light load on board, thereby hinting at inadequate rear suspension damping. "It's an early example," said Vauxhall. "Try another one."

So I did: a 1.6. It proved slower, obviously, but still sufficiently speedy and muscular to do its job. But the ride quality felt just the same, suggesting that the suspension remains in an unfinished state. Until that is sorted out, this family car of the future, though full of clever ideas, remains in a state of suspension.

Specifications

Vauxhall Zafira 1.8

Prices: pounds 16,250 (Comfort), pounds 17,500 (Elegance).

Engine: 1,796cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 115bhp at 5,400rpm.

Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive.

Performance: 115mph, 0-60 in 11.7sec, 28-33mpg

Rivals:

Mercedes-Benz A190: pounds 17,990. Smaller, but infinitely more intriguing - especially now that it boasts a sporty new 1.9-litre engine.

Mitsubishi Space Star 1.8 GDI GLS: pounds 15,335. Like the other rivals, this is a five-seater only. Lively and roomy, but with a bland interior.

Renault Megane Scenic 2.0 RXE: pounds 16,920. The original mini-MPV, and still the best all-round buy on the market. A facelift will take place soon.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

    £55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

    English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

    Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

    SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week