Used 7-seater MPVs tested: Ford S-Max vs Seat Alhambra vs Vauxhall Zafira Tourer
Modern used MPVs are a far cry from the bus-like vehicles we once had to settle for. We put three of the best to the test...
A fine and very practical car, and unlike most MPVs, it puts an emphasis on driver appeal
Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI 170 SE
List price when new £27,875
Price today £13,500
Available from 2010-present
The Alhambra’s square lines give it the space and practicality that made it our MPV of the Year for three years in a row
Vauxhall Zafira Tourer 2.0 CDTI 165 SRi Start/Stop
List price when new £25,915
Price today £9000
Available from 2012-present
Prices for the Zafira Tourer have tumbled, making it the most affordable car here – but is it great value, or just plain cheap?
Price today is based on a 2012 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
Once upon a time, buying a used seven-seater meant having to settle for either an actual minibus, or a car which looked very much like one.https://www.whatcar.com/seat/These older MPVs might have offered space and practicality to spare, but with their upright driving positions, ponderous driving dynamics and humdrum image, they were very much a necessities for their owners, rather than objects of desire.
Nowadays, however, more modern MPVs with more car-like driving dynamics and stylish looks are filtering down onto the used market. Take the Ford S-Max, for example; its jutting jawline, swooping roof and coupe-like C-pillar have all been designed to make it look sporty, and under the skin the sharpness of its chassis means it makes good on the promise of its looks.
Then there’s the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, whose arrow-like headlights and stocky profile mean it’s particularly handsome for an MPV, which is probably part of the key to its success. But the Zafira and its predecessors have a reputation for providing exceptionally versatile transport for seven – and with prices looking seriously low by comparison with its rivals, it’s a tempting choice.
By contrast with the other two, the Seat Alhambra looks rather conservative, but it still manages to be classy – a car whose looks you wouldn’t write home about, but nor would you write in to complain about them, either. The tall, boxy profile means loads of space, and the smart dashboard and car-like driving position makes it a pleasant place to be.
What’s more, we know the Alhambra made a great buy when it was new as it won our MPV of the Year award three years in a row, from 2011 to 2013. But with its used price so far in excess of its rivals’, it’s going to have to be mighty good to beat them.
What are they like to drive?
At most everyday speeds, the Zafira is the quickest car here. Not only is it the fastest in the flat-out 0-60mph and 30-70mph sprints, it’s also generally ahead in the engine flexibility tests, too. The only exception is at low speeds in higher gears, when the low revs keep the turbo asleep. This isn’t a problem as long as you keep the revs up.
Around town, the Zafira is easy to manoeuvre; not only is it the shortest car here, the steering is also nice and light. However, on the open road, the Zafira doesn’t impress as much. The engine is noisy and there’s a degree of vagueness to the steering, which means the driver is less confident about placing the car accurately. The ride is, for the most part, comfortable enough, although it can get a little fidgety over rougher road surfaces.
The S-Max, by contrast, is tauter and more responsive, with more accuracy and consistency to its steering, but without any serious compromise in manoeuvrability at low speeds. The steering is a little heavier, but it’s not a major issue.
Overall, there’s a delightfully positive feel to the controls that is typical of Fords, and when you don’t have a brood on board this is a cracking car to drive. The only slight downsides are a firm feel to the ride and some obvious wind and road noise on the motorway, but they’re small prices to pay.
Compared with the other two, the Alhambra is a very different sort of car, and much of that is due to its size. It’s the biggest car here, and so it can’t match the outright pace of the other two, or their feeling of agility; you’re also aware of having to prod the brake pedal harder to stop all that weight.
On the other hand, the Alhambra has well-chosen gear ratios and strong low-down pull in the rev range, which mean it’s a match for the S-Max. It only falls behind in flat-out pace – and that’s not really an issue in the typical everyday life of an MPV.
It’s also easy to appreciate its refinement, the well-controlled movement of the body and the excellent visibility that comes courtesy of the large area of glass.