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£25,290 when new
There are two ways of looking at the Zafira VXR. Try to see it as a sporting car and you find that it isn’t. Oh, it’s fast, but otherwise it’s not that good, certainly nowhere near as much fun as the Astra VXR. See it as an MPV, though, and it’s an absolute hoot. MPV stands for multi-purpose vehicle: if you’re sprogged-up on some journeys and going solo on others, then this is your thing. All the fundamentals are in place. From your big Recaro seat you grip a fat steering wheel that’s connected to a direct rack, gaining you a sharp attack into bends and front-end grip that seems completely incompatible with your vehicle’s boxy outline. There is also a decent amount of suspension travel, so it copes well with broken backroads, and the motorway ride is perfectly tolerable. The high C of G comes home to roost in tight corners, though. To keep it all under control they’ve had to fit gigantic anti-roll bars, which means the inside wheel is always trying to spin away the turbo torque. The traction control then brakes that wheel so often that, on one twisty hilly section, I actually had brake fade. That might be an unusual situation, but every sharp corner highlights a lack of feel and finesse as this strange beast tries to overcome the laws of sportiness. It’s effective, but it isn’t fluent. And, of course, the driving position is too high to make you feel sporty - it’s so lofty and upright I was reminded of the last time I drove a combine harvester - and the dash-mounted gearlever has a complicated linkage and hence weaves a sticky path amongst its six gears. Still, the high eyepoint gives you a sightline advantage. Best stick to open roads and overtaking. It does that riotously well, thanks as much as to the 236lb ft of torque as to the horsepower.
OK, back to the MPV bit. The interior of a Zafira is so damn clever it goes beyond being merely practical and actually gets close to gadget territory - that particular place in a chap’s brainspace where you want one, not because you really need all its functions, but because you enjoy dreaming up situations where you just might. A word of caution, however. If you’re always seven-up, this isn’t the ideal Zafira. Go for a diesel. After all, if you drive the VXR as 237bhp and 225/40 R18 tyres invite you to drive, everyone aboard - but especially the poor saps pinned in row three and denied both a view forward and much ventilation - will be getting motion discomfort on a cataclysmic scale and your footwells will be awash with vomit.
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