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.


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

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