Pretoria: It’s been a good few weeks on the van front in our motoring garage.
FIRST we had the Hyundai Staria Multi Cab, then the Kia Carnival and most recently Opel's new Zafira Life Edition. The Life Edition is Opel’s entry level van while the Life Elegance is the higher specced option.
As I’ve said before, vans are a breath of fresh air in a sea of SUVs and it would be fantastic to see South Africans embrace them as an alternative that offers more space and far better practicality.
Measuring 5.30 metres in length and almost two metres high, the Zafira is a proper bus and once you climb inside it’s a roomy interior that fits eight seats. The second and third row of seats are movable and detachable, increasing the load area significantly.
But that’s the point of a bus, you can either be squeezed in five or seven up or you can relax, legs outstretched in a van and still have ample space for luggage.
Like most vans of this size there’s only so much you can do with sheet metal but Opel has done a good job integrating the bonnet, lights, tinted windows and double sliding doors into an attractive package.
Once you slide in behind the wheel of the vehicle the first thing you notice is the lack of any steering wheel controls on base Edition model, something we haven’t seen in a very long time.
Instead everything is controlled by switches and dials, giving it an old school feel that you quickly get used to once you’ve determined which one does what.
The touchscreen infotainment system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible but the seven-inch screen does look somewhat lost within the large cabin space, especially when most manufacturers are looking to ever-increasing sizes. Still, it’s easy to operate and gives you all the information you need.
There’s quite a few hard plastic areas and some more strategically placed soft touch surfaces would have made a significant improvement to the overall look and feel of the cabin.
The rotary transmission selector neatly rounds off the dash but as my partner said tongue in cheek, there’s no place to hang your mask.
Power comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine that delivers 110kW and 370Nm coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission, powering the front wheels.
It’s no slouch and will willingly pick up speed with the cogs changing effortlessly.
Passing slower traffic is easy enough with two up, but I suspect you may have to do some planning fully loaded with people and baggage.
It will likely also push up your consumption from the 6.3l/100km that Opel claims.
The high driving position gives you a comfortable commanding position from which to observe around you, especially potholes which after the rains have become more frequent and much bigger.
Avoiding them isn’t always easy, especially on a twin lane road with traffic in the morning but the 17-inch rubber and well set-up suspension made it almost bearable.
Driving along a stretch of corrugated dirt road the properly tested the soundproofing and for a vehicle with such a large interior it was pleasantly quiet, with only the occasional rattle.
The ABS works a treat as I found out when an Avanza taxi didn’t bother to stop at a red light while I was on my way back from the school run.
My hooting and gesticulation deserved a torrent of abuse and lots of middle fingers because apparently we’re not allowed to point out transgressions.
Furthermore there’s front and side airbags, driver attention alert and forward brake assist.
The Opel Zafira Life is a welcome addition to the van segment and for those that don’t want to splurge on the more expensive Hyundai, Kia or Mercedes-Benz it does everything a van should and then some.
It comes with a five-year/100 000km service plan, a three-year/120 000km warranty and three-year roadside assistance.
Opel Zafira Life Edition: R749 900
Opel Zafira Life Elegance: R869 900