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Used car review Holden Zafira 2001-2006

Graham ?Smithy? Smith reviews the used Holden Zafira ? 2001-2006, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when buying it.

Transporting a family always presents parents with a dilemma, the bigger the family the bigger the dilemma. Many parents have resorted to driving their families in big, heavy four-wheel drives, which seem to have become the station wagon of the 21st century.

But there are other, more efficient means of getting the family members to where they need to be. Vehicles like the Holden Zafira compact peoplemover, which was cleverly conceived to transport up to seven people, large and small, as well as the gear they need to take with them in a flexible package that covered most family transport needs.


While four-wheel drives, some people call them SUVs or Sports Utility Vehicles, have become the fashionable mode of family transport they come with lots of downsides. They’re big, heavy, and with all of that four-wheel drive gear underneath they guzzle fuel like there’s no tomorrow.

Having bought them many families fall out of love with them when they realize they steer like the Queen Mary and are about as big as the mother ship when they have to navigate their way through the morning school rush or the supermarket grand prix.

If that’s not enough to put the wind up them, the shock that comes with every stop at the servo is surely enough to put them off their juggernaut. Of course they always have the ability to drive their four-wheel drive offroad on that long dreamt of trip of a lifetime, the one they never seem to get around to.

In the meantime they’re driving the extra drive gear under the front of the car, and using up fuel for no reason. Four-wheel drives, SUVs, are an inefficient, expensive way of getting the family around if you don’t need to leave the blacktop.

Holden’s Zafira was conceived by Opel in Europe, but built in Thailand, before undergoing a badge transplant and an ‘Australianisation’ program to emerge as a Holden. It’s the European interpretation of family transport.

The Zafira was based on the Astra platform with its compact external dimensions, but the compact exterior didn’t compromise the interior efficiency, which boasted a flexible seating layout that would accommodate up to seven in three rows of seats.

Holden called it the ‘Flex 7’ seating system because it could be altered to be a two-seater, a five seater or a seven seater through a simple, but clever folding system. By folding one or more of the seats the Zafira’s interior could be rearranged to accommodate all sorts of items of luggage, sports gear, camping equipment or whatever was needed to transport home from the shops, hardware store or wherever. Being based on a passenger car platform the upright Zafira was relatively easy to get in and out of, there was no climbing up into the cabin as there is with a high-riding four-wheel drive.

There was one engine, a 2.2-litre double overhead camshaft four-cylinder, offered in the Zafira. Its peak power was 108 kW developed at 5800 revs, while it developed its maximum torque of 203 Nm at 4000 revs. It could be linked to either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic.

For a family’s peace of mind the Zafira came with an impressive complement of features, both safety and comfort. Among them were ABS antiskid brakes, traction control, dual front airbags, air, cruise, power steering, power windows and mirrors, adjustable steering wheel, central locking and six-speaker CD sound.

An update in 2003 brought even more interior flexibility with a 40/20/40 split-fold second row seat. Comfort was improved for the driver with a height adjustable seat. At the same time Holden released an additional model, the Equipe, a limited edition model with extra gear, including 15-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, roof racks, power rear windows, trip computer and a cargo blind for security.


While some families realized the value of the compact size and flexible interior of the Zafira it didn’t capture the attention of the wider driving public who seemed to have decided the SUV was for them. For that reason the Zafira wasn’t a huge seller for Holden and was dropped in 2006. It still represents value when a regular wagon can be found for $12,000 (2001) to $20,000 (2006). A limited edition 2003 Equipe will cost $16,000-$17,000.


Owners say they have little trouble with the Zafira, which suggests it was a well-built car that is holding up well as time goes by. The camshafts in the 2.2-litre engine are chain driven so there’s no maintenance required as there would be with a belt. Check cars thoroughly for wear and tear caused by tots; also check for collateral damage from its life in the tough unforgiving world of the school and supermarket.


The Europeans rated the Zafira three out of five in their NCAP test, which is a pass, but not a great result. The Zafira does have a comprehensive package of passive and active safety systems, including ABS antiskid brakes, traction control, and dual front airbags. It also has lap/sash seat belts for all occupants, as well as pyrotechnic seat belt pretensioners and belt force limiters. Child restraint anchor fittings were standard.


Around town you could expect the Zafira to return around 11 L/100 km, but that should drop to around 8 L/100 km once you hit the highway.


Rodney Teague bought his Zafira Equipe manual in 2004 after determining what he wanted the car to do. At the time he had one child aged four and another one on the way, and wanted a small car with plenty of space for the kids and their gear, and enough room left for the family when they visited. It would be used mainly for local trips with an occasional trip around his home state of Tasmania. He found the Toyota Avensis motor was too small, the Honda Odyssey was too expensive and the child seat attachments were impractical, station wagons were too large, and other cars like the Daewoo Nubira had too little space. The Zafira was by far the most practical car for the Teagues at the time. It’s now four years old, having done 40,000 km. The car has been excellent for all jobs, he says. It goes well, has good torque for the local hills around Hobart and is fuel efficient on the longer trips, especially using the cruise control. Being high sided and with an upright seating position the Zafira is not too long so it is good for city parking etc. and with 650 kg trailer towing capacity it is easy work for the small towing job like landscape supplies etc.

With three children, and often a friend along for a ride, Cathy Cockshott wanted a Zafira from the moment she saw the ads on TV. Eventually she bought a one-year-old car, and says she loves it. It's so versatile, with its flat-folding rear seats, and semi-flat-folding second row, it can even be used to transport small items of furniture! It's very simple to change the seating arrangements to suit your passenger load and/or luggage space. She says the only problem has been with a catalytic converter that was replaced under warranty. She likes the looks and finds it much easier to maneouvre than the Magna she previously owned. It fits into tight parking spaces and visibility is good.

Barry Hofert and his family are very impressed with the performance, economy and ease of handling of their 2003 Zafira. He says they find that the seat height is great for entry and exit, and the shape of the body makes it easy to park. Fuel economy averages about 8.6 L/100 km. The only complaints they have are the thick A-pillars that cut into visibility and the hardness of the seats on a long trip.

• good visibility from upright driving position
• very flexible interior
• capable of carrying seven
• good performance
• average fuel consumption
• easy to manoeuvre

• Toyota Avensis – 2001-2006 – $16,000-$28,000
• Mazda Premacy – 2001-2003 – $12,000-$17,000
• Renault Scenic – 2001-2005 – $9000-$24,000

Gone, and unfortunately forgotten, the Zafira is a good family transport solution.


Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 14 comments

  • I was reading the comments about most people mentioning that the chains break suddenly. I have a 4 cyl toyota camry with a chain instead of timing belt. my car has now done 200K but no problems with chain or any other stuff. I was thinking to buy this one, but , perhaps after reading all these comments, maybe not. maybe thats the difference between toyota and anyone else.

    vik of Sydney Posted on 25 January 2014 1:12pm
  • Bought mine used. Over 180k and NO trouble with timing chain whatsoever. My mechanic said they at one point installed something to wet the chain properly. Great on the fuel, a lot of space! 7 seater is good from time to time.

    Bruce of Perth, WA Posted on 21 April 2013 2:33pm
  • Clever, Versatile, Cheap on fuel, High Driving Position, Reliable family run-around. Love the seating flexibility. There is nothing else like it in the price range.

    Mark of Castle Hill, NSW Posted on 23 November 2012 10:25am
  • Have just been advised by my mechanic that I should trade the car in asap. Timing chain is showing signs of failing. Car is 8 years old, town driven, only 80,000kms on clock. Until this year had very little trouble and found car excellent for a family of three children. No idea what to do now!

    Kathryn Shanahan of Bendigo, Victoria Posted on 19 August 2011 1:30pm
  • Bought TT Zafira in 2003, with 4430 km on clock from a Holden dealer. Purchased car for $30 k and thought it was money well spent for hassle free motoring. Great economy and good for Mum?s taxi. New car warranty still applied and just as well. Rear door arm failed due to metal fatigue. Outside warranty, ignition barrel failed at 60000km, cost $260.00, timing chain guide bar came loose, @ 90,000km, cost $1760.00, then fixed again 12 months later by same Holden dealer; their warranty only covered labour cost. Replace/ rotate front tyres every 18 months. Brake front linings, every 2 years. Ignition coil cost part only $600.00 + labour cost @ 122,000km. To sum up, car is a good design but has been a let down due to mechanical repairs. A mechanic once quoted, ?It is European car that is a throw-away car at 100,000km.

    Peter Dyson of Adelaide Posted on 15 August 2011 9:48pm
  • I replaced the engine once for 6500 in my Holden Zafira, then less than 12 months later the water pump started leaking, this was 750 to fix, after this was repaired the car was "playing up" Apparently I had a cracked head min of 4 grand to fix. Most mechanics did not even want to touch the car due to the engine layout and known problems

    Amanda of Melbourne Posted on 06 August 2011 7:59am
  • I had the first 2001 Model of Zafira bought from Suttons Holden Arncliffe NSW. It is really a great family. For 10 years now I only changed my battery once. Never had a breakdown for all these years but suddenly my timing chain broke onlly last week without any warning. NRMA quoted >$5000 to have it fix but that is too expensive for car with a market value of $10K. I pulled the car out of the Service shop for its too impractical for me. I am really surprise why the chain breaks for only 78K usage. Hope Opel will look into this flaw in the design.

    Edgardo Manebog of Sydney NSW Australia Posted on 24 March 2011 12:37pm
  • Well now I think I have dealt with all the Zafira issues. Bought new in 2001. Two recalls in Europe (timing chain lubrication and rear brake calipers) were never issued here but I managed to pressurise Holden into dealing with the issues under warranty. More recently had the rear wiper motor fail (got a replacement for $160 from a breaker rather than $400+ from Holden) and had the water pump replaced (v expensive due to engine design). Heater matrix failed - seals dried out due to non use and leaked coolant into car (second time this has happened) . Heater has been blanked off - make sure you use your heater once a month to prevent this. Otherwise fine with superb versatility, handling etc. I upgraded the audio system with Infinity speakers - huge improvement. Brake dust is a problem for the original plastic wheel trims - changed to Astra alloys and problem has gone. Pity the Euro turbo version never made it here

    John Bell of Sydney Posted on 11 September 2010 12:05am
  • Love this vehicle and disappointed not made anymore. Have a 2001 manual , also purchased a 2003 auto and passed the manual along to my daughter. The 7 seats are great, with comfortable high seating and lots of zip. Did have the chain snap on the 2001 last year and was almost $5000 to repair but no problems since. Fantastic for a family without a big SUV look.

    Shiree of NSW Posted on 12 August 2010 7:35pm
  • I bought the 2001 model thinking it would be the perfect car for me. After 6 months of engine lights turning on and difficulty getting parts I hardly ever got to drive it. I sold it back to the dealer at a $5000 loss because I couldn't face selling it on to another poor innocent mother.

    KL Griffiths of Victoria Posted on 11 August 2010 3:51pm
  • My Zafira was bought for me as a present brand new and I have been extremely happy with it. At the time I had 3 youngish children and was often called on to carry others.The rear seats were to easy to put up and pack down and the car was then a great sized small wagon. It has been economical and a pleasure to drive with only wear and tear things needing replaced. Highly recommend for a small people mover!

    Lynne Drucza of Wolumla Posted on 11 March 2010 9:26pm
  • I agree with the above comment - our chain snapped and needs to be replaced - we only purchased it from a dealer a year ago and also had it RACV tested prior to purchase - in theory the car looks good and works for a larger family but it has been a costly mistake for us!

    S McNaught of Victoria Posted on 13 December 2009 7:35pm
  • I absolutely love my Zafira... bought new in 2003 and has served my family well. Have had no problems with this vehcicle at all. I have 5 children and all fit fine. We have bought a cargo pod for the roof for long trips but the flex seating is great helped me move house many times and surprised how much you can fit in the back area when all rear seats fully flat. Would recommend to anyone who is looking for a 7 seater. We previously had 4WD which were costing too much to service and maintain. This was the alternative and very happy with the choice we made. Very economical, zippy car for country and city driving.

    Mom of 5 of Queensland Posted on 24 November 2009 2:51pm
  • Would NOT recommend this car to anybody… I am a single parent who made the expensive mistake of buying a Zafira… “The camshafts in the 2.2-litre engine are chain driven so there‚Äôs no maintenance required as there would be with a belt.” What a crock! Check complaints about these cars as the chains commonly snap… Extremely expensive to repair,almost $4000, ignition modules cost around $600 to replace, water pump was almost $700 (fitted), and when I get the repair bill I’ll let you know what the catalytic converter is worth too. Both front tyres blew out-TWICE- (ensure the car yard pay the extra and fit the required light truck tyres!) I could have paid for this car again on the repair costs alone in the last 12 months. All this on an RACV tested car????  STAY AWAY.

    PL Bish of Victoria, Posted on 01 July 2009 11:07pm
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