The new Opel Zafira Life is very workable around town, but out on the open road is where it gets to stretch its legs and really come into its own.
I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with the entry-level Edition trim, and I set out to use it as intended.
So I gathered six friends, hopped in the Opel, and clocked off early at work on Friday with my maps app set to Pilanesberg nature reserve roughly 250km away.
Spending hours on long highways is where you get to know a car best, and with many people onboard and worse-for-wear South African roads, you get to know it even better.
The Zafira Life Edition gives the impression that it was built for work and adapted for play.
The seating positions are significantly higher, exterior dimensions more substantial, and interior space much more generous than many of its closest competitors.
On the other hand, it’s also not as luxurious as these other MPVs, leaning more towards no-frills practicality.
The entry-level Opel gets sufficient equipment to make it driver-friendly, such as automatic headlights, automatic wipers, cruise control, a reverse camera, parking sensors, and blind-spot monitoring – these last three being true necessities when you realise the size of this machine.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t have many of the fancy features we’ve come to expect from all the R750,000-and-up family-focused MPVs that entered the segment over the past few years.
The cabin consists almost entirely of plastic with the only splashes of colour coming from silver-grey inserts dotted around the perimeter.
The steering wheel is urethane and doesn’t have any buttons on it, which is the first time in recent memory that I drove a new vehicle with no steering-mounted controls, regardless of its price.
The Zafira does have flappy paddles and a dedicated button for switching the transmission into full manual mode, but I also would have liked to be able to adjust something like the music volume or accept phone calls without taking my hands off the steering wheel.
Additionally, the infotainment system looks utilitarian and while it does support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, these applications are only accessible when plugging your phone into the front USB port – the only one of its kind in the entire minivan.
There are six easily-accessible 12V sockets in the cabin, but only one USB port. As a result, when someone is using CarPlay, no one else in the vehicle can charge their device without a 12V adaptor, an annoyance that reared its head multiple times during my experience.
Finally, the last point I think this Opel might not be up to standards is the three-prong power outlet under the driver’s seat.
This is a UK-style outlet that would’ve been extremely convenient to have, had it supported South African two or three prongs without needing separate accessories. It is possible, I’ve seen it done before.
However, Opel knows who they built the Edition for, and for them, it might be exactly what they want.
If your goal is to carry a small rugby team with all their gear in the boot without worrying over the interior of your MPV being bumped, scratched, and dirtied up, well this Zafira is just about one of the best options on the market.
Its capaciousness meant seven occupants each had a comfortable place to sit over the entire weekend, and the enormous cargo hold – which can be enlarged by sliding the rear-most seats forward – painlessly swallowed our luggage and doubled as a storage compartment that kept all our valuables dry during one of the last thunderstorms of the season while we were huddled under gazebos.
The roof-mounted aircon that sends fresh air down the aisle also kept the cabin at a pleasant ambient temperature over the weekend and no one complained over a lack of airflow, while the abundance of considerable door pockets meant there were always places to put cameras, binoculars, and bottles – the essentials on a South African road trip.
I want to give a special shoutout to the gigantic handbrake lever, too. In the world of electronic parking brakes and automatic activation, this large mechanical lever brought back a feeling of nostalgia and enjoyment I never expected to get from a brake.
The Zafira Life offers 110kW and 370Nm from its 2.0-litre, turbo-diesel engine, so it’s not the most energetic sprinter off the line, but out of the many situations I put it in there were none where I felt it really needed more power.
Through cities, towns, suburbs, and muddy nature reserve trails the Opel wheeled along without protest. The handling is cooperative and sharp for a vehicle in this category, and it’s practically as maneouverable in parking lots and tight spaces as a minibus can get.
The eight-speed auto-box may not be the smoothest transmission on the market, but the paddle shifters did come in handy for shifting down a gear whenever snappier acceleration was needed.
The overall setup of the Zafira made it pleasurable to drive over short and long distances, and after a three-hour stint on the highway that seemed much shorter, I had no need to stop and take a rest as the road signs suggested.
Concerning fuel usage, it’s also worth noting that the reserve light only went on after a reasonable five days and 700km, with average consumption sitting around 9.0l/100km – give or take a few decimals.
The Opel Zafira Life Edition eight-seater is a hardy MPV that is made to haul people and cargo, and nothing more.
The outside is stylish from most angles and although the inside can’t particularly be called luxurious, it certainly has its charms with its durable materials, spaciousness, and agreeable seating.
The Edition is priced lower than the majority of its competitors – R749,900 – and while it might not offer as much as they do, it brings just enough to the table to make it worth your time.
For those who want more luxury but enjoy the Opel packaging, there’s also a seven-seater Elegance trim on offer with a raft of additional creature comforts and leather upholstery.