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Vauxhall Meriva review (2010 onwards)
What - Vauxhall Meriva
Where - Millbrook, Bedfordshire
Date - March 2010
Price - £15,495 - £21,255
Available - on sale now, in showrooms June 2010
Key rivals -Ford C-Max, Renault Scenic, Citroen C4 Picasso, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Vauxhall Zafira
More spacious, boasting more upmarket styling and hugely practical thanks to those rear-hinged doors, the new Meriva is a cleverly packaged and magnificently family-friendly compact-MPV.
We like - clever 'suicide door' arrangement, loads of interior storage options, smart styling, surprisingly competent handling
We don't like - A-pillar visibility issues improved but not resolved, fussy centre console control layout, 'rail system' leaves central rear passenger short of foot space
GALLERY: Vauxhall Meriva
Read more Vauxhall car reviews
Visually the new Meriva has taken a big step up from the outgoing model, giving the immediate impression of higher quality that Vauxhall is striving for in an effort to shed its less than exciting image.
The design team has employed many of the tactics used on the Insignia and most recent Astra to give the new Meriva a premium presence including the arty door mouldings and sweeping diagonal belt-line, which give the impression of a longer, rear-drive wheelbase.
The trapezoidal front grille should be a familiar sight by now, although the kinked window line is a new addition - demonstrating the amount of effort that's gone into the exterior design.
Current Meriva drivers will instantly notice that the new model is a larger proposition. The track and wheelbase are longer and wider giving the new model a more squat appearance on the road. The slightly flared arches help, too.
Of course, it's the 'FlexDoor' element that really attracts attention. The position of the door handles means the arrangement is visible even with the doors closed. Thankfully, the stylised profile means the Meriva can carry-off the central door handle look without London black cab connotations.
With the doors wide open the Meriva looks like nothing in its class.
Five engine options will be available in the Meriva when the model hits showrooms in the UK in June 2010, with a further two options (128hp 1.7-litre and 94hp EcoFlex 1.3-litre diesels) arriving at a later date.
The immediately available 74hp 1.3-litre diesel will take nearly 17 seconds to break 62mph but it is frugal and ducks under the 130g/km barrier. Meanwhile the 98hp 1.7-litre diesel is likely to attract interest as it's the only version available with an automatic transmission - an intelligent six-speed unit that offers engine braking and a sequential shifting option.
The new petrol units are the big news, however, with the focus on downsizing meaning the larger 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol units have been given the chop in favour of turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol power plants.
A normally aspirated 1.4-litre petrol engine with 98hp is the entry point - but it's the 118hp and 138hp turbocharged units that offer the greater performance with lower emissions and improved fuel consumption than the outgoing larger capacity petrol engines.
Both are reasonably sprightly and the 118hp unit has little trouble hauling around the not inconsiderable bulk of the Meriva. It's a little more grumbly than the higher powered unit but the turbo spools up quickly from reasonably low down the rev range meaning enough power available on demand for overtaking or swift exits from side roads.
Using a five-speed manual gearbox, the 118hp version is less well equipped for motorway use than the higher powered 1.4-litre turbo, but it comes into its element in and around town.
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For outright performance and pulling power the 138hp unit is naturally the pick of the bunch. It's a very flexible unit and seems more than happy to rev freely up to the redline if required. Of course, this being a family car, it probably won't be required too often, so it's comforting to know that there's plenty of performance available across the rev range.
The six-speed manual transmission aids refinement on the motorway and, like the five-speed box, has a slick and rewarding shift.
None of this is particularly MPV-ish, and the surprises continue in the chassis and handling department. Granted, the Meriva is no sports car, but there's little body roll around country lanes and the chassis is very sure-footed. The test route included many of the poorly surfaced, interestingly cambered and generally well worn surfaces used by the Millbrook development team and the Meriva dealt with them all with ease.
The ride quality errs on the firm side, but the pay off in terms of handling and road-holding is impressive, particularly from such an unlikely source.
It was also interesting to sample the steering of the European-tuned cars compared with their UK counterparts. Considerably more responsive and with a reassuring addition of weight around the straight-ahead position, the UK versions are a more rewarding drive.
Starting with on a bad note, the A-pillar visibility issues of the outgoing model have not been fully resolved despite considerable improvements. Fortunately, it gets better from there.
As with the exterior, Vauxhall has upped its game inside the Meriva with a sculpted high-quality assembly that has benefited from trickle down from the Insignia and Astra.
A large chunk has been cut away from the soft-touch dash assembly, leaving more room for the driver and front passenger, and the designer dials and switchgear all add to the more luxurious ambience.
There's a classy feel to the buttons and knobs present in the centre console, although finding the right one may be distracting thanks to the overwhelming swathe of controls positioned low down.
The availability of various colours for the dash and seats adds an element of customisation to the line-up, although it's hardly a Citroen DS3 or Fiat 500. The option to add a splash of red to proceedings livens thing up a little.
The equipment levels are pretty generous, too; the range-topping SE model gets a full length glass roof and electric rear windows as standard, for example, while all models get an electric handbrake.
That frees up room for Vauxhall's new FlexRail system between the front seats. Two rails can accept a number of storage compartments to complement the two healthy door pockets. The units are interchangeable and can slide backwards and forwards. For lower spec models with no FlexRail cubby holes as standard bags, toys, briefcases or any other family accruements can be dropped into the gap.
The downside is that the rails extend into the rear of the cabin, limiting legroom and foot space for anyone occupying the central seat.
That's unlikely to detract from the Meriva's massively practical status, however. It's a much larger vehicle than of old and although it lacks the extra row of seats feels as though it could bother the larger Zafira for space.
Headroom is excellent and the flexible rear seating throws up a number of options for legroom and shoulder space while also maximising the potential of the impressively proportioned boot.
Despite the raft of improvements, the rear door arrangement will remain the unique selling point of the Meriva until the competition catches up. The 'suicide' or 'FlexDoor' arrangement makes a huge amount of sense in the flesh, with the doors opening to a whopping 84 degrees - pausing at various increments to spare the paint of the vehicle in the next space.
This opens up a whole new world of accessibility even though the chunky B-pillar remains, and families will find it to be much more than gimmick or novelty.
Economy and safety
Until the EcoFlex variant arrives the entry 74hp 1.3 CDTI model is the most economical in the line-up with 129g/km CO2 emissions and combined consumption of 57.6mpg.
Those seeking the additional performance needn't be disheartened, however; the downsizing approach has reaped rewards with none of the engines dropping below 40mpg on the combined cycle and even the more powerful petrol units trumping the 1.7-litre CDTI in the CO2 emissions stakes.
The 118hp 1.4-litre petrol appears to make the most sense with additional performance but economy and emissions virtually identical to the entry level petrol.
ESC is standard across the range, which is reassuring given the Meriva's family focus. Anti-rollover protection is also standard and systems such as tyre pressure monitoring can be ticked on the options sheets.
To get type approval from the safety obsessed boffins at the EU, Vauxhall had to develop the FlexDoor system to a very high standard. The upshot is that, although the rear doors can be opened independently of the front ones, they are automatically locked down above 2mph - the deadlocks clunking into place audibly to leave no doubt.
Tiny red or green lights in the rear door handles indicate whether the rear of the car is in Alcatraz mode or not.
Keeping the chunky B-pillar in place makes a big difference to rigidity and side impact protection, too.
MSN Cars verdict
Although a hugely popular car - it sold 112,000 examples in the UK alone - the outgoing Meriva left plenty of room for improvement. Vauxhall has clearly taken on the lessons learned and the feedback from fans and detractors of the old model, because the new Meriva is vastly improved in nearly all the areas where it mattered.
Practicality is raised several notches by the 'FlexDoor' arrangement alone, but instead of congratulating itself on that advancement and ignoring the rest of the car, Vauxhall has paid attention to the details to improve practicality in other areas, too.
The Meriva promised to raise the game in the sometimes gimmicky MPV sector and it has done so with a combination of smart thinking and high-quality engineering.
GALLERY: Vauxhall Meriva
Read more Vauxhall car reviews
|Need to know|
|Engines - Petrol||1.4, 1.4 turbo (118hp), 1.4 turbo (138hp)|
|Engines - Diesel||1.3 CDTI turbo, 1.7 CDTI turbo|
|Torque (lb ft)||96-192|
|Top speed (mph)||99-122|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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