- First application of Vauxhall’s all-new 1.6 diesel engine
- 134bhp combined with efficiency figures of 68.9mpg and 109g/km
- On sale now, costing from £23,175

This car is much more important than being just another engine choice for the Zafira Tourer range – it could just represent a massive turning point for Vauxhall.

You see, for years, the company has had no choice but to stick with a range of frankly ancient diesel engines that are way off the pace for driveability and refinement. And this car, the Zafira Tourer 1.6 CDTi, is just the first of many Vauxhall models to have the company’s all-new 1.6-litre diesel engine. If it’s any good, it could completely revitalise the lion’s share of Vauxhall’s product range.

The numbers certainly look encouraging. The unit gives a healthy 134bhp and 236lb ft of torque, yet the car has an official CO2 output of just 109g/km. That places it in very low bands for the various taxes motorists face, and it’s capable of an official average of 68.9mpg. Compared with other big MPVs, those figures are mightily impressive.

Then again, it was never the numbers that were the problem with the old engines. It was the fact that each of them delivered all its power in one clumsy lump in the middle of the rev range, that they were far too noisy and that they gave off far too much vibration. The question is, is the new unit any better?

In a word, yes, and on all counts.

Let’s start with the refinement part. When you turn the ignition key, you’re met with a distant, well-insulated rumble from under the bonnet, rather than a tractor-like clatter. That in itself is an improvement on the older engines. Sure, things get a little rowdier as the revs rise past 3000rpm (as they will on a fairly regular basis), and the noise the engine makes isn’t a particularly appealing one. However, the volume of the noise always stays at an acceptably low level, and when you’re cruising at motorway speeds, the engine is very well isolated.

Just as encouragingly, there’s significantly less vibration to be felt from the 1.6 engine, too. However, you do still feel some buzz being transmitted through the steering wheel, pedals and floor, more than you feel in rivals like the Ford Grand C-Max and VW Touran.

On the performance front, the engine does a reasonable job. It’s fairly responsive when you’re just bimbling along at low speeds, and because it has a wider power band than the more aged engines, it’s generally more easy going; things get going at around 1850rpm, and the pull doesn’t fade off until around 4500rpm. That does mean that the power delivery still has a rather stepped nature, but it doesn’t feel as all-or-nothing as the older diesels. That said, the tall gearing of fifth and sixth means you’ll probably still need to shift down a couple of cogs when joining a motorway or overtaking.

Engine aside, driving this car is just like driving any other Zafira Tourer. The ride is a bit firm at all speeds, so you and your passengers will get jostled around more than you’d like. The payoff for that is strong body control in corners, and there’s lots of grip, too. Unfortunately, the steering prevents you from having much fun because it’s a tad slow and disconcertingly light. This does help with low speed manoeuvres, though.

At the important business of providing enough space and practicality for a large family, the Zafira Tourer does an adequate job without really dazzling. There’s a big boot and plenty of space in the first two rows of seats, but the space around the two rearmost seats is tighter than you get in many rivals. The seating arrangement can’t match the cleverness or versatility of the best, either. The middle rear seat is narrower than those either side, and reinstating them after you’ve folded them down is a rather fiddly process.

Things aren’t ideal from behind the wheel, wither. The dashboard is smattered with too many buttons that look the same, and your visibility is restricted at both ends of the car.

That said, the cabin feels reasonably classy and solid, and the Zafira Tourer is generously equipped – provided you choose Techline trim, that is. This version gets air-con, alloys, four powered windows, cruise control, parking sensors, Bluetooth, DAB, sat-nav, six airbags and stability control. At £23,175, it’s not too bad on price, either, but be sure you don’t get tempted away from the Techline. The Zafira Tourer’s strange trim structure means that ES and Exclusive versions are more expensive but get less kit, while the trims above that start to look very pricey indeed.

There’s another issue with the pricing, too. The 1.6 joins the existing range of 2.0-litre diesels, which give 108bhp, 128bhp, 163bhp and 192bhp. Compare the prices of the 1.6 and the similarly-powered 2.0-litre, and the new engine costs around £1100 more. That seems steep, but provided you do enough mileage, it shouldn’t be too long before the 1.6’s superior economy evens things out. It’s a lot nicer to live with day-to-day, too.

Ultimately, this engine hasn’t transformed the Zafira, but it has improved it. And, when the engine is applied to smaller, lighter models, we can see the level of improvement rising. Exciting times for Vauxhall.

By Ivan Aistrop

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