The Holden Zafira, part of the Opel collection, entered the people moving market with much support from the auto press. Where most people carriers of the time held five, the Zafira’s clever use of technology and design created the seven-seat compact that had large appeal. The common choice with big families was to buy minibuses or SUVs. However, they found that the compact Zafira MPV had a great look, family car platform, comfort, and on the whole was considerably cheaper.
The Holden Zafira found its way into car showrooms in 2001 and its steeply raking bonnet and windscreen, slightly dipped roofline and cut off rear, although not a head turner when on the road, did get people talking. The five-door elongated hatchback also used the ingenious Flex 7 system, which combined various seat combinations and settings to produce endless space possibilities. When all the rear seats flattened there certainly was a vast amount of cargo space.
The chassis was based on the Astra, so the construction of the Zafira had a family car feel rather than a commercial vehicle. Although concerns were raised by some about the high, pronounced driving position, which made it feel as if one were driving a bus. The inclusion of a tilt steering wheel and adjustable seat height should have allowed everyone to find their ideal position.
The Flex 7 system provided a good platform for altering the internal set up of the Zafira but further adaptations in 2003 to the seating formula created even more possibilities. The second row was designed to have a 40/20/40 split combination, which extended the cargo flexibility.
The trend setting compact MPV was on sale until 2005 when the Zafira range received a redesign, but the second generation was never picked up in Australia.
The Holden Zafira had a 2.2L DOHC, multi-point fuel injection engine, matched to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox. At full throttle it sets down 108Kw of power and 203Nm of torque. The car’s steady acceleration took it from 0-100Km/h in an acceptable 11.2 seconds and had an average fuel consumption of 9.3L/100Km.
The Holden designed torque converter gave the car a feeling of additional power at the point of release when driving off. The Zafira also sits nice and low to the ground, so it is very stable and holds the road well, producing an enjoyable drive. There is a good solid feel on the road and it takes the corners smoothly and assuredly. Steering is well connected too, without being vicious or sudden, and offering enough feedback for the driver to sense the condition of the road.
Designed as a big car, it’s meant to carry weight, whether taking kids, kit and dogs around town, or with the seats folded flat on a trip back from the shops. Either way its suspension is up to the job and gives the car a firm but comfortable ride, even when fully loaded.
At release, the Holden Zafira came well-equipped with dual front airbags, ABS, cruise control, traction control, air-con, remote central-locking, powered steering, immobiliser, a 6-speaker single CD Blauplunkt audio system, electric windows, and heated door mirrors all included as standard.
The Zafira came in just one trim level with the only choices being whether there was a preference for an automatic or manual transmission. Although, for a little extra, paintwork could be finished off in a metallic look, but that was it regarding options.
At the time, the Zafira held the novel solution to the problem of transporting large numbers of people and still maintaining a car platform. The design came on the back of the Renault Scenic and there were many imitators over the years. Nowadays the seven seat option is a common sight in compact MPV and crossover SUV vehicles, but in 2000 the Zafira provided an innovative take on the problem. Rival models initially included the Kia Carens, Daewoo Tacuma, Mazda Premacy, Ford Territory, and the Renault Scenic.
Further competition for the Zafira came from the SUV, Ute and 4x4s. While the style and layout of the Zafira makes perfect sense for large family units, the soft-road ability of the Ute adds an extra layer of rivalry that the MPV is not capable of competing with. It has never been designed to tear up the countryside.
The Holden Zafira shook up the compact MPV market with its enhanced seating system, making a practical car that could seat seven and still provide an enjoyable driving experience. The Zafira may not be as finessed as some of its rivals, but its capacity and performance will probably suit most who are looking for a vehicle that can carry.