Vauxhall Zafira 1.9 CDTi

 

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Price £20,045
Maximum speed 126mph, 0-60mph in 10.4 seconds Combined fuel economy 36.2mpg
Further information 400 800

Car manufacturers don't seem to pay quite as much attention to this page as I would like. Having only recently complained about the magic "M" button in the new BMW M5 - pointing out that, as it transforms the car from a cantankerous carthorse into a thoroughbred, why not have it as the default setting - along comes another new car with a button which, when pressed, makes it a comprehensively better drive.

So, I have no other choice but to repeat myself, slowly and clearly. Vauxhall, I like what happens to your new Zafira when I press the Sport button. The throttle response is sharper, and the steering is quicker. So, please, just get rid of the button and leave it like that, OK?

Sorry to start with a rant but I hope that's cleared everything up and I can now let the matter rest. I understand that a large group of leading automotive executives gathers at 11pm every Saturday night outside Charing Cross Station to get the first editions of The Independent on Sunday hot off the press for this very reason, but I guess they just weren't able to implement the changes quickly enough. I feel confident that we can draw a line under all this magic-button nonsense once and for all.

On to better things. The new Zafira is a fine car - sleeker, posher and better made than the old one, and with significantly more room in the boot. The easy-to-use Flex-7 seating system remains largely unchanged which means that, should you wish, you can fold the five rear seats flat into the floor to turn the Zafira into a sizeable van or, as I suspect is more often the case, place two feuding children well out of reach of each other - one on the nearside of the middle row, the other on the offside of the third row.

Other swanky innovations this time round include an optional "Panoramic roof" with four glass panels, electric blinds and a row of - actually not very practical - storage bins running down its spine. This adds £850 to the sticker price but helps turn the inside of the Zafira into an unexpectedly opulent, airy place - like a kind of Maybach van.

Even in its darkest days (hopefully now firmly behind it thanks to the excellent new Astra and forthcoming sporty VXR models), Vauxhall could be relied upon to build lusty engines, and the Zafira I was given had one of the best: the 148bhp, 1.9-litre diesel. It nudges the price into premium German territory but, together with its relatively sophisticated suspension (courtesy of the Astra), it is "quite a performer", as Autocar might put it. For a tall car, it corners with composure, even at a brisk gallop - drinks stay placid in their cup holders; grab handles remain ungrabbed.

There is, though, a slight sense that the designers, in trying to upgrade what was essentially a sound car, have resorted to overegging their pudding: the handbrake is no longer a simple lever, it must now resemble the throttle of an airliner; according to the brochure, the headlights are "3D-style", whatever that means; there are six gears, which, if you ask me is one more than you ever need; and, in the boot, you'll find something called the FlexOrganiser, which, once you've suppressed your Trussian rage at the rogue capital and lack of spacing, is actually a very useful sliding luggage net to help harness your comestibles.

The looks, the engine, the practicality and quality, the surprisingly fun driving experience - what more do you want?

It's a classic: Vauxhall Cresta

I have mourned the death of the traditional, three-box family saloon - cars like the Cortina and Peugeot 404 - many times, but even I will admit there are some we are better off without.

In the 1950s, British car designers - dazzled by the fins and chrome of their American counterparts - began to adopt aspects of the US style. Although the nadir was reached with the absurd Austin Metropolitan, Vauxhall was also guilty of this rather pointless Yank-worshipping , most notably with the Cresta PA.

The Cresta was a dumpy saloon which its designers felt would be improved by adding chrome-top fins, a wraparound windscreen, whitewall tyres and rocket ship-style rear lights - all classic American styling cues of the day. It was rather like putting Mrs Mills in a cocktail dress, and did little to disguise the car's lack of passenger space and bulky exterior.

Worst of all was its paint job: two-tone pastel pinks, greens and blues, used with reckless abandon. Today the cars retain a loyal following among ageing Teddy Boys.

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