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New models - Holden - Zafira - people-mover

Zafira seats seven without compromise

Flexible first: The Zafira is Holden's first people-mover.

Holden's 'flex van', the Zafira, joins the burgeoning mini people-mover market

Holden logo7 Jun 2001

HOLDEN has jumped into the growing mini people-mover segment, but it refuses to refer to its new Zafira as such, preferring to call its contender a "flex van".

The Astra-based newcomer is offered in one specification level only - priced at $31,990 for the five-speed manual and $33,990 for the four-speed auto.

It is undercut on price by all its direct rivals - Daewoo Tacuma ($23,990), Kia Carens ($23,990), Mazda Premacy ($27,690) and Renault Scenic (from $27,878) - but the Zafira scores over all these contenders by virtue of offering seating for seven.

What's more, the Zafira's L850 2.2-litre engine has more power and torque than all its competitors -108kw at 5800rpm and 203Nm at 4000rpm.

Holden says it could have introduced the Zafira here earlier with a 1.8-litre engine, but opted to wait until the 2.2-litre unit became available.

Holden chairman and CEO Peter Hanenberger said the decision to wait for the larger engine was based on Australian drivers' preference for torque-laden powerplants that provide brisk off-the-mark acceleration and strong overtaking performance.

Apart from being Holden's first people-mover - sorry, flex van - the Zafira is a notable debutant in that it is the first Thailand-built passenger vehicle to be offered here by the company. But there is a strong Australian connection as Holden's Asia Pacific engineering team had substantial input in developing the Thai-built vehicles.

Holden executive director engineering and design Tony Hyde said the Thai-built Zafiras matched - or even exceeded - their German-built counterparts in terms of overall fit and finish.

The launch of the Zafira - it goes on sale on June 18 - adds another piece to Holden's product jigsaw, which now lacks only a coupe and compact four-wheel drive.

Holden marketing manager for small and medium cars Michael King said the Zafira was a key entrant for Holden, even though its sales volumes would not be huge.

Holden is tipping 500 Zafira sales for the remainder of this year and 1200 sales in 2002. Many of these buyers are expected to come from medium wagons and compact four-wheel drives.

"We believe Zafira will have particular appeal for young families with diverse interests and for those whose lifestyles include a variety of leisure activities," Mr King said.

Equipment levels in the Zafira are generous - it comes as standard with dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, cruise control, remote central locking, heated electric mirrors, power front windows, air-conditioning and a CD player.

Alloy wheels and automatic transmission are the only options available.

The Zafira is based on the platform of the Astra wagon - which we do not get - but is slightly larger. It measures 4317mm long, 1742mm wide and 1684mm high. Its front and rear tracks have also been widened to 1470mm and 1487mm respectively to provide greater stability.

Its 2-3-2 seating layout is flexible in that the two rear rows of seats can be dispensed with if added load space is required. But unlike most other people-movers, this does not entail removing the seats from the vehicle and then having to haul them away to your garage or living room.

The rear-most row cleverly folds flat into the floor while the middle row folds over and slides forward to fit flush with the rear of the front seats. Carrying out this procedure, which takes no more than two minutes, boosts cargo capacity to a cavernous 1700 litres.

Cargo capacity measures 600 litres with five seats in place and 150 litres with the full complement of seven seats.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

FIRST impressions of the Zafira are that it looks more like a station wagon than the "tall-boy" contenders that populate the remainder of the mini-MPV segment.

Clever packaging means the Zafira manages to accommodate seven occupants within relatively compact dimensions. The net result is that the Zafira is manoeuvrable and fuel efficient. Holden claims figures of 10 litres per 100km for the city cycle and 6.8L/100km for the highway cycle.

Given the soaring fuel prices, this may make it a more attractive option than a full-size people-mover or large off-roader.

Zafira's styling is attractive: one journalist present at the car's launch in Tasmania said it did not look "dorky" - and he was right, you won't feel like a fashion outcast behind the wheel of this car.

Accommodation in the front and middle row seats is beyond reproach - but the middle row centre seat currently has only a lap belt. Holden says a lap-sash belt will be added further down the track.

Scrambling into the rear-most two seats requires some agility, making them best suited to children - which is probably what most owners will designate them for anyway.

On the road, the Zafira displays a ride/handling balance that almost certainly surpasses its rivals.

Tackling challenging Tasmanian roads in wet, foggy conditions, the Zafira felt well tied down and absorbed most undulations in its stride.

You do feel as though you are sitting high compared with an Astra - because this is indeed the case - and it does understeer rather more readily, but this is only to be expected given the car's extra height and added bulk.

The manual gearchange is a bit on the notchy side and the take-up action of the clutch is less progressive than ideal, which means some familiarisation is required before you can execute smooth shifts.

Overall, though, the Zafira feels solid and well sorted. The fact it can offer seating for seven without compromising fuel efficiency or manoeuvrability make it a sensible choice. Its relatively stylish lines and tidy handling are a bonus.

GoAuto can help you buy a new Zafira

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