For some time now I have been mulling over the idea of purchasing a 7 seater. Folks who know me might think this strange since my immediate family unit totals four and I have a penchant for cars that find themselves classified in the performance category. Perhaps it’s just age but these days a performance vehicle just doesn’t seem to make sense anymore. One can never really use what it has to offer and based on that fact alone the price of buying one does not seem like good value to me. Rather get something that suits my active lifestyle and accommodates the whole family plus their luggage. Trouble is a 7 seater seams to be neither fish nor fowl since it’s either a big family car or a small people mover depending on your point of view. To my mind if you are going to go on holiday with all the family and paraphernalia that accompanies them you will still need a large cargo area in addition to the seats lest you are willing to tow a trailer. Nothing says tourist more than a trailer attached to your pride and joy and besides, who wants the additional hassle?
This leads us to the category of Mini vans. They certainly major on practicality but other questions arise. Can I afford one? What’s it like to live with every day? How much does it cost to run? Will it get stolen? Will it fit in my garage? With this thoroughly undecided mindset I decided to spend some time with an example of the breed and see if I could answer some of those nagging doubts.
A day before my annual pre spring break down to the South Coast I was fortunate enough to snare an Opel Vivaro 1.9 CDTi Bus. Vivaro’s are fairly commonplace in Panel Van form, the Bus version less so. From the outset it should be borne in mind that the Bus is derived from a commercial vehicle, that said, so is most of the competition. Another possible area of concern for me was the power plant, essentially a small 1.9l Diesel turbo unit with rather modest power claims. Would it be up to the task I wondered?
So, the usual pre holiday rush then of trying to get all those pressing work issues squared away even though one’s heart just isn’t in it with the prospect of the beach in mind. I arrived home late in the evening with a million things to be done prior to our dawn departure. My wife, bless her organised socks, already had bags packed, snacks prepared and I was left simply to pack the Vivaro. There were to be seven of us tourists in total as my in-laws were along for the ride and, by popular demand, my children had conspired to smuggle their cousin into the entourage. The Vivaro is essentially a 9 seater with three rows, each seating three passengers including the driver. Only the centre jump seat in the cockpit is designed for smaller passengers with all other pews providing ample space for normal sized adults.
Now seven people have a lot of stuff to cart along for a beach holiday but loading took all of five minutes. The Vivaro is big enough to still have a very spacious load area behind the final row of seats. It’s a little narrow but exceptionally tall and wide. So as soon as you get it into your head those suitcases need to be loaded end on rather than flat you will find ample room for the luggage without the need to fold the final row of seats forward. Soft bags are easily squared away under the seat rows and so we were able to depart on our trek with no luggage obscuring my rearward view and seats aplenty for everyone. Speaking of the passenger seats, the rear rows seem a little upright at first but I received nothing but rave reviews as to just how comfortable they proved to be from both the adults and the littler folk as well. With a mammoth 90 litres in the tank we took to the open road. Such is the fuel economy of the Vivaro that I did not have to concern myself with fuel again until a week later. Accelerating away I found the motor willing enough in an unstressed kind of way. Keep the initial revs above 1500 and the motor will provide a solid shove of inertia to get you off the mark. Highway cruising proved to be the Vivaro’s forte with the easy throw six speed box perfectly mated to the drive train. At the legal limit the Bus pulls sweetly in sixth gear without need for a downshift on all but the very steepest of inclines. One sits high with a commanding view of the road and the ability to look down on taxis was very satisfying indeed. We were to find that those most renegade of our road users were to treat us with equal respect. Size equals presence, although in the case of the Vivaro, it is somewhat misleading. Whilst the impression is of some considerable bulk, much of this is due to the design of the glass house area. Most vehicles are considerably narrower at the roof than they are at the waistline as the glass tumbles inward to provide a more chiselled visage. Not so the Vivaro, which appears equally wide up top as it does at its base. Whilst this trick creates the impression of a bigger than most Bus, the truth is that the wheel track and base are no larger than other such vehicles. Consequently the vehicle feels surprisingly wieldy and easy to drive. Even parking spaces proved a cinch since the vehicle is almost exactly square and wheels are positioned at the extremities. Huge sliding doors on both sides of the vehicle mean that passenger access is very good even when parked in a tight space. Double doors at the rear open to 90 degrees to offer easy access but can be opened wider still by easily detaching the door stays.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for the bus was the fuel economy. While I was initially concerned about the seemingly modest motor one cannot argue with an average actual fuel consumption of 7.5l/100km. This is a ridiculously low consumption for such a big vehicle that was heavily laden and was cruising at the national limit.
Negatives? Not everything is perfect and there were one or two rather minor considerations. There is no auxiliary power source in the rear of the vehicle. This is problematic because kids travel with all manner of electronic gizmos these days and laying cables from the dash to the rear of the bus is a fiddly affair. There is a fair degree of wind noise for those in the middle row due to the big doors and cavernous interior, and I could have done with a cruise control on those long expanses of nothingness that are our national roads.
After enjoying the most relaxed road trip holiday I can remember I came away convinced. The Vivaro is spacious, comfortable, economical and just about the most practical vehicle I have ever driven. Back in the city I had to hang on to the vehicle for a couple more days so I drove it to work and back and found it equally adept at dealing with the daily commute. The Vivaro even fits in my Garage, just. Pricing kicks off at around R 325990.00, which represents good value for this category of vehicle. If you are in the market for a people carrier come family hold all you would be foolish not to include the Vivaro on your list.