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.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine