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Vauxhall Meriva 1.4 Turbo SE review (2010 onwards)
Model: Vauxhall Zafira SE @ £19,380 as tested
Engine: 1.4 Turbo, 140hp @ 4,900-6,000rpm, 147lb ft @ 1,850-4,900rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
What is it?
The Vauxhall Meriva is compact people-carrier innovation. Not only do you get a five-person version of Vauxhall's flat-folding FlexSpace seating system, there are FlexDoors and FlexRails as well. Ooh.
Actually, at least one of these things is a neat idea, and the whole package comes wrapped in such an attractive set of panels you could end up wanting one even if you started out shopping for an ordinary car.
For added interest the Meriva on review here at MSN Cars is driven by a 140hp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine - more motivation with fewer emissions being the plan.
Where does it fit?
Is it for you?
This could well be the ideal machine if you're embracing the family way but don't want to give up style in the process - the Meriva is distinctive to the point of approaching suave to look at.
But there is also innovation here. The FlexDoors are unique in this sector: the front pair opening as per usual, and the rear pair back to front - like the Mazda RX-8, or a modern Rolls-Royce.
Yes, this people carrier really does have doors like a Roller. They even serve a genuine purpose - not only improving accessibility but creating what Vauxhall calls a 'parent-friendly zone' at the kerbside.
What does it do well?
What does Vauxhall mean by this? With a set of doors that open wide - nearly to 90 degrees - in opposite directions, there is nothing between parent and child when getting in or out of the car.
This - theoretically - means it should make it easier to keep the kids under control. Not that Vauxhall is saying that might be necessary in your case. Obviously. But it's a neat idea, underlining the thought that has gone into the new Meriva.
On the inside passengers are treated to a light and airy interior, with plenty of space up front; the rear seating area has a bit of an issue, however, which we'll come back to in a moment.
Generally speaking the fit and finish instils plenty of confidence that the Meriva is going to withstand the rigors of family life. There are lots of useful cubbyholes, and the sliding, tumbling FlexSeats are easy to use.
You're also in for a pleasant surprise behind the wheel. MSN Cars recently drove an Astra Sports Tourer with the exact same 1.4-litre Turbo engine, and if anything the Meriva felt even livelier.
The steering provokes less irritation on the motorway as well, and the time, money and effort Vauxhall has spent fine-tuning the chassis for the UK hasn't been in vain. Driving the Meriva is never a chore.
What doesn't it do well?
You might have spotted the glaring absence of any reference to the FlexRail thus far. Sadly this is one of those things that seems like a great idea on paper, but presents a number of concerns in practice.
It consists of a pair of, well, rails, that run down the middle of the Meriva in place of a traditional centre console. You can then customize what's attached to them, and move these items around - hence the flexibility.
It's a great concept. However, it robs the middle rear seat passenger of legroom, and we can't help thinking the rails become just one more thing for a small child to get their fingers caught in. Hmmm.
Other issues? Well, the brakes take a bit of getting used to since they are very grabby - and strangely much more so than the equivalent Astra Sports Tourer.
We're also not a fan of the handbrake. The switch to electronic activation makes sense as a space saving measure, but for some reason Vauxhall's system doesn't seem to work very well.
We lost count of the number of times we thought we'd switched it on, only to then have the car start rolling away when we got out. Fortunately our neighbours are very forgiving...
What's it like to live with?
To assuage fears about the so-called 'suicide' rear doors falling open, and also to prevent the little ones from making a bid for freedom, the Meriva automatically locks itself as soon as you start moving.
A proximity sensor and the handbrake control decides when they can be opened again - but this can be over-ridden by a button on the dash and a set of child-locks, so the nippers won't be escaping at the traffic lights.
Moving on to the FlexDoors, these certainly have their benefits, but in tight car parks they're arguably less convenient than regular doors; sliding doors are the ultimate solution here, but tricky on an MPV of this size.
As ever the GM satellite navigation system is not the most intuitive example of its breed, but the optional 18-inch alloy wheels on our test car did surprisingly little damage to ride quality.
Overall, the Meriva is a classy, comprehensively well-constructed piece of family friendly kit that's really very easy to live with. It is stylish without ignoring practicality, and this particular engine makes it more than fast enough.
The 400-litre minimum bootspace can be increased all the way up to a van-like 1,500-litre maximum, with the seats folded forward and the load area stacked up to the roof. So it's potentially quite the all-rounder.
How green is it?
A gutsy little thing, this 1.4-litre Turbo engine - and while it can be rather laggy if you aren't prepared to work the slightly clunky six-speed gearbox, the quoted 10.3-second 0-62mph time feels bang on.
It will also apparently hit 122mph. But the real point of the turbo is to boost economy as well as providing bigger capacity performance: Vauxhall quotes 42.2mpg and 156g/km CO2 emissions.
Realistically you'll struggle to match that kind of mpg in the real world - especially if you drive at all enthusiastically - but it should still be cheaper to run than a regular, non-turbo 1.6.
Would we buy it?
The new Vauxhall Meriva most certainly deserves a place on any family's shortlist. The FlexDoors are neat, while the looks and build quality inside and out strike an excellent balance between style and practicality.
But then given the £19,380 on the road price for this petrol range-topping SE version, it really ought to be pretty impressive. However, may we suggest a diesel engine would provide almost as much oomph and better economy?
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