The last Vauxhall Meriva was a charmless, if effective, little box. The new one looks great, but is there more substance to it than those rear suicide doors?
Is this the first mini MPV that you’re not embarrassed to be seen in?
Could well be. We thought that Kia’s Venga (or at least the show car that previewed it) was pretty stylish, but the new Meriva beats it hollow. Most of the GM family styling cues are present - expensive-looking chrome grille, side blade cut into the flanks.
But the Meriva has its own identity thanks to that crooked window line that adds drama and allows kids to see out. The cabin features a really low dashboard to make it feel airy and the material quality is excellent.
This is an MPV though – is the new 2010 Meriva useful enough?
Well it’s much bigger than the old Meriva for a start (246mm longer; although only 15mm in wheelbase). Despite being based on the Corsa supermini, the Meriva is actually only slightly smaller than a Renault Scenic, and it’s cars of that class that Vauxhall would rather you compare it to. There are still only room for five – no point in cannibalising Zafira sales.
The rear seat can be configured as a conventional three-person bench that can be slid backwards or forwards to alter the boot:cabin ratio. Or you can fold the central seat down and push the outer chairs inwards, giving more head and shoulder room when only carrying two.
The back seats fold pretty much flat into the floor for carrying big loads and if you’re prepared to stack to the roof there’s 1500 litres of room at your disposal. All of this folding and sliding is very straightforward.
You can tell that Vauxhall really researched what families need when designing this car – the door bins swallow large bottles of water and because every car has an electric handbrake, there’s loads of storage space in the central tunnel where Vauxhall has installed the ‘Flexrail’, a two-tier storage system running on tracks.
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What about those suicide rear doors? Just a gimmick, surely?
Absolutely not. Whether you’re a passenger trying to climb into the back or a parent depositing or retrieving a child, the fact that those rear doors open the other way (and to almost 90deg, like the fronts) makes the job much easier. And if space is limited and you can only open the door a few degrees, they’re even more useful.
Unlike a Mazda RX-8, there is a central B-pillar, but you’re never aware of it and having to open the front door before you can open the rear (necessary in an RX-8) would hardly be practical in an MPV. A sliding door might be even more useful of course, but presents other design and weight problems.
Anything for the driver?
Well it’s not exactly a Clio Cup if that’s what you mean, but given its remit, the new Vauxhall Meriva is surprisingly fun to punt along. Unlike UK-bound Insignias, Merivas for Britain gets a bespoke power steering map suited to UK roads. So there’s a more meaty feeling to the steering and it doesn’t suffer from that springy over-zealous self-centring action that makes the feedback of some electric steering systems feel so artificial.
The damping isn’t bespoke for UK cars but works well anyway. The Meriva’s ride is comfortable, erring slightly on the firm side, so the Meriva strikes a good balance between being fun for the a driver when he’s alone and comfortable enough not to upset the family when the car is full. That does mean that its not as cosseting as a Citroen’s wonderfully cushy but slightly roly-poly Picasso.
Sounds like a great all-rounder. When do we get to the ‘But’?
Well, the gearchange is a bit heavy, the 118bhp turbocharged 1.4 petrol engine feels sluggish (on paper the others look pretty anaemic too) and road noise could be better suppressed on coarse surfaces.
The other problem is price. Although the range starts at £12,995 for the Expression model, that buys a dog-slow 98bhp 1.4 and no air-con. You should consider the S model the real starting point, but that costs £15,495 - or £2k more than the equivalent C3 Picasso. Yikes.
The Meriva is more expensive than cars like the C3 Picasso, but then it looks and feels more expensive than them too, perhaps because Vauxhall actually has cars like the C-Max in its sights.
It drives well and those doors really do work brilliantly, something it’s difficult to appreciate until you’ve tried to thread a child into the back in a tight parking space. They’re so good you wonder why every family car doesn’t have them.