As many of you will probably know, I’m a bit of a Mini fanatic. My darling Lulu, the little red Mini City I learnt to drive in, was an inspiration. Neddy, the little blue Mini Sidewalk, was a joy. Sad was the day when I said good bye to the days of carefree invigorating driving and welcomed in a life of staid normality in the form of a Ford Escort. Yes, it was more practical, but it lacked all the ‘fun’ qualities I had grown used to. Now, only a year or two later, the time has come for the next step in the process – I’m buying a people carrier.
Before I cower behind my desk chair against the onslaught of abuse, allow me to explain the logic behind this overly ‘grown-up’ proposition. We have a baby. I have lots of instruments. We go places with both. Our trusty Ford Escort, which has a truly monumental boot capacity compared to the Mini, is now on the verge of being too small to cope with our many belongings. It’s also beginning to show its age, with rusty patches on some of the exterior panels. The logic says that if we buy a slightly more expensive car (though still second hand) it should last us slightly longer, and buying a 7-seater will give us more space to carry people and stuff around.
Our vehicle of choice? The most popular small 7-seater around. The MPV that launched touting the most revolutionary seating system the world had ever seen. The people carrier that has become ubiquitous for small families. The Vauxhall Zafira.
Today we went to see one. Priced at just under £3K, on a 51 plate, 88K miles, 1.6l engine. I had a fair idea of what I was expecting, and I had done enough research to know the statistics and reviews, but having never actually been inside a Zafira I was still intrigued to see what it was actually like. Unfortunately, this particular example didn’t impress.
The driver’s side wing mirror was corroded. The engine was leaking oil. The engine was leaking water. The gearbox was very sticky and the gear linkage wasn’t quite lined up properly. There was broken trim on the passenger seat. The handbrake needed tightening. The car pulled to the left slightly. The handle on one of the back seats was split. The boot lining was stained. The first aid box was missing. The red warning triangle was missing. The spare wheel holder was rusted. The exhaust was rusting. The rear subframe was beginning to rust. The front subframe was beginning to rust. The windscreen had 5 large chips in it. Not quite what I had been expecting from three grand’s worth of car.
It wasn’t all bad though, there were lots of things I liked about the Zafira in general, if not this particular one. The large windows give great visibility, and the high driving position felt comfortable – not sporty, by any means, but not quite as bad a driving a van. The engine pulled well, despite being the 1.6 litre version that everyone says isn’t powerful enough (I reckon it would actually be fine, with my driving style; remember that I’m used to driving a Mini and changing down a gear or two at the slightest sign of a hill). Because the Zafira is based on the Astra, it’s actually not excessively wide, and when inside it doesn’t actually feel like a big car; it doesn’t echo or rattle around like a big car. The steering is very responsive, and the handling generally is superb, with hardly any body roll at all, despite its tall profile. The seats are quite flexible in terms of their potential positions, which is useful, and even with all seven seats up the remaining boot is large enough for a small shopping trip or a small pushchair. Generally speaking, I was very impressed by the Zafira, and encouraged that my research had been worthwhile. It’s a superb car. It’s a car I can see myself driving. Just not that one.
What really surprised me though was the dealer. I’ve never actually been to a car dealership before, so again I had read up about what sort of things to look out for. As it turns out, this guy was a rank amateur. He was a youngish chap, but he came across somewhat unprofessional. The car had no petrol in it for a start, which was a bit embarrassing because he had to send his friend to buy some before he could move the car off the forecourt. Then, when we had come back from our test drive and we told him it wasn’t for us, he seemed to take offence. He appeared genuinely indignant when I told him what was wrong with the car, as if it was him personally I was insulting. He made out that we were fools to expect better quality from that price car, without actually inquiring as to our budget, and didn’t even attempt to start a deal. He wanted us to pay the asking price, and was shocked and appalled that we turned it down. He didn’t seem at all interested in showing us any other cars, made no suggestion of being able to put right those little niggles for us, didn’t sound hopeful of getting anything else in that would suit us, and generally gave the impression that he suddenly didn’t like us and didn’t want our custom. So we left.
We didn’t buy a car today. It just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like ‘our’ car. If nothing else, it wasn’t anywhere near as good quality as our Escort, which hardly makes it a credible upgrade! However, we were both very much impressed by the Zafira in principle, so we’ll be looking for one elsewhere. The 1.8 petrol engine would be nice (most people swear by it), but from today’s outing I don’t think the 1.6 would be unusable. If anyone happens to have a Zafira knocking around that they’re trying to sell, do let me know…