Date: November 2005
By: Sam Hardy
Meet the second of the VXR newcomers. If you need to move your family fast, and the hot Vectra hasn't got enough seats for you, Vauxhall has the answer: the Zafira VXR.
Combining a 237bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine with uprated suspension, bold styling and the firm's clever Flex7 cabin layout, it's a formidable package. But how does the MPV's chassis deal with the power? And do the changes turn the Zafira into a stiff, uncomfortable car, unsuitable for family transport?
With the same storming turbo as the Astra VXR, this Zafira has 37bhp more than the previous GSi, and a massive 320Nm of torque. The only people carrier to come close to this figure is Mercedes' turbo B-Class - yet it's still 47bhp shy.
Claimed performance is predictably strong and, with the engine mated to a six-speed gearbox, the 0-60mph sprint is said to take 7.2 seconds, while the top speed is 144mph. The car feels as quick as those figures suggest, proving responsive at low revs and surging forward as turbo boost builds. Vauxhall says this is the world's fastest MPV - and you could certainly surprise owners of VW's Golf GTI and most other hot hatches.
The rest of the driving experience is nearly as impressive. Sharing virtually the same chassis as the Astra VXR, the Zafira has electronically controlled dampers and clever software to minimise understeer and improve stability - not to mention big 321mm front brakes.
Despite the bumpy roads of our test route, the early signs are good. The ride is stiffer, but shouldn't upset passengers, and the Zafira changes direction keenly, with accurate steering and minimal roll.
As with both the Astra and Vectra VXR, it lacks feel, there's lots of torque steer under hard acceleration and the dashboard-mounted Sport button stiffens the ride too much. Yet the Zafira still corners very quickly with composure, offering hot hatch levels of grip in a very practical package.
As our pictures show, plenty of skirts and spoilers have been added, and the Zafira VXR looks purposeful. Most of the cabin updates are a success, too, especially the part-leather Recaro seats and ergonomically sound three-spoke steering wheel. But the carbon fibre trim on the dash and doors looks a bit cheap.
What's not in doubt is the Zafira's practicality. The Flex7 system allows lots of seating combinations, from two chairs to seven, and because the seats don't have to be removed, everything is easy to operate. With a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, plus standard front, side and head airbags, the Vauxhall ticks all the right safety boxes, too.
In addition to electric windows, air-conditioning and a trip computer, the VXR's standard spec tally includes an MP3-compatible CD stereo, alloy pedals and tinted rear side windows. But all this equipment comes at a price; £21,995 may be only £220 more than the previous GSi, but it's a lot to pay for a car that's in insurance group 17 and returns 30mpg fuel economy.
However, with no other people carriers capable of getting anywhere near its immense performance and arguably the best seating system on the market, the Zafira VXR is in a class of its own.
First Opinion
People carriers that are fun to drive are rare. And models which can reach 144mph even more so. Yet the Zafira VXR does both. It may be expensive, at nearly £22,000, but with huge performance, great handling and bold looks, there's nothing else quite like it on the road. It's also brilliantly practical, safe and superbly equipped.