The Vauxhall Zafira is widely regarded as one of the most innovative designs of the late Nineties. Launched in 1999, the car was based on a standard Astra platform, but came with one of the most flexible interior packages ever created, Flex7.
From the outside, this mid-sized MPV looks like a standard Renault Scenic rival, with a tall, boxy body, five seats and estate car-style load area. But its secret weapon is hidden under the boot floor - in the form of two folding seats, which pull upwards to create enough chairs for seven adults.
And if loads are more important than passengers, the rear bench folds up and slides forward to create a huge, flat boot space with no need to remove seats and find somewhere to store them - unlike some rivals.
Throw in the competent dynamic abilities of the Astra on which the Zafira is based, low running costs, good availability and Vauxhall's excellent Network Q used car programme, and it's a tempting family package.
It's no wonder that this is one of Britain's most highly sought after motors, winning our 2002 Used Car Honours, and remaining at the top of the compact MPV class in 2003. But even with something as popular as a Zafira, there's a bewildering array of engine and trim options to consider before you part with your money.
* Yellow dash light warns of emissions sensor failure after 25-30,000 miles. Replacing them is inexpensive.
* Avoid battered interiors, as a Zafira with a damaged seating mechanism becomes almost pointless.
* The 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol engines tend to hunt for revs in heavy traffic.
* Alarms are notoriously sensitive. If the security has been deactivated, this could invalidate your insurance.
* Air-con units can pack up, while other gremlins hit stereos and mirrors.
The Zafira is a massively popular used choice, with strong residuals and people queueing up to get their hands on one, says trade bible Glass's Guide. Prices are starting to ease for higher-mileage cars and those out of warranty, because supply is better than it used to be and family buyers are shy of cars without the right warranty. Network Q models are pricey, but worth it for the extra cover.
Life With A Zafira...
With a family of five, Jonathan Lloyd values the space and practicality his Zafira has to offer. "I used to own a Vectra before, and the Zafira beats it hands down in terms of space and comfort," said the 52-year-old local government officer from Telford, Shropshire.
"I really like the Zafira's flexibility and elevated driving position. It's a great family car, with room for extra passengers, if necessary. It's also pleasant to drive and can be easily turned into a small
van by adjusting the seating when I have to take things to the tip." Jonathan is also impressed by his Zafira's reliability, and because he opted for the 2.0-litre diesel in Elegance trim, his mid-sized MPV is incredibly well equipped. Unfortunately, there have been one or two minor problems.
"The car has had lots of mysterious rattles since the day I bought it," Jonathan explained. "Also, in my opinion the windscreen wipers aren't very well set up, as they create a large blind spot by the driver's side A-pillar where the blades don't cover. Other than that, there's little to complain about."
Vauxhall's lively 2.2-litre diesel cannot be fitted to RHD models, otherwise it would be our choice. The 2.0-litre oil-burner is gutless, so we'd go for the 1.8 petrol model in Comfort or Elegance trim. Air-con and strong colours both help resale, as will an auto gearbox.