Vauxhall says the original 2003 Meriva invented the compact MPV segment, and it’s a strong claim, but there’s no place for self-congratulatory sentimentality in the modern car warzone.
Rivals like the Ford B-Max and Fiat 500L have swooped in for a piece of the action, so this refreshed second-gen Meriva, spotted by its extra-chromed grille, sharper-edged light clusters and new wheel designs, has a major fight on its hands. It’s got the clever door party trick, but is there more to Vauxhall’s family-friendly hatch than that?
So what’s the big change for the 2014 Vauxhall Meriva?
A (much-needed) new diesel engine. Granted, a lofty MPV gaining a new 1.6-litre turbodiesel is hardly trouser tent-pitching news, but as far as real-world cars for real-world driving go, the Meriva 1.6 CDTi is a promising thing.
The new 1.6-litre CDTi mill replaces the 1.7-litre diesel that’s offered across the Vauxhall range. Good riddance – the old 1.7 has more lag than dial-up Internet, and is as poorly refined as a Sunday league football chant.
What’s the engine spec of this shiny new diesel?
The numbers are all superior to the old 1.7 CDTi. You get 134bhp (up from 108bhp from the old engine) and a meaty 236lb ft at 2000rpm – bettering the 1.7’s 206lb ft. Way to hit the downsizing nail on the head, Vauxhall.
CO2 emissions freefall like a Chinese power station on shutdown – 160g/km to 116g/km – dropping four tax bands in the process. Vauxhall claims the six-speed manual version will achieve 64.2mpg on the combined cycle, though our test average was a more realistic (though far from awful) 44.8mpg.
It feels faster, right?
‘Fast’ is probably the wrong word, though Vauxhall does quote a huge 2.6sec saving from the Meriva’s 0-62mph time, now 9.9sec. No, what you want in an MPV is measured, accessible torque. Your playroom on wheels needs to feel spritely when empty, so it’ll cope with hauling the whole family and their assorted paraphernalia.
The 1.6 derv is a good fit for the job. There’s still a dead spot before the turbo wakes up just shy of 1800rpm, but thereafter the Meriva makes all the usual motorway sliproad and roundabout gap-spotting bursts a cinch.
The six-speed gearchange isn’t quite as clever, but its rubbery action is at least more pleasant than the reluctant notchiness of the Adam city car’s shifter, so it’s a case of ‘could be worse’.
There’s still room for improvement as far as refinement goes. There’s too much chunter on start-up, and labouring the engine in the taller gears caused some of the suspect door card trim in our test car to rattle and buzz, as vibrations penetrated the cabin.
Is the rest of the Meriva is as before?
Pretty much, so it’s a mix of the good, bad, and ugly inside. Though Ford’s B-Max has claimed small-MPV bragging rights with its pillarless sliding arrangement, there’s still a lot to be said for the ‘FlexDoor’ openings of the Meriva. The backwards-opening rears are lightweight, and handy for loading items in a tight parking space – members of the CAR team with a young brood particularly like the advantage of being shielded from the roadside while belting in a little one.
It’s no gimmick, though neither is it a segment-changing feature that means MPVs will never be the same again. Like the wavy windowline that encourages more light into the rear of the cabin (pinched from Citroen’s old C4 Picasso), it’s merely a sign Vauxhall wasn’t on autopilot when the Meriva was on the drawing board.
When it’s next there, we’d ask for more knee and elbow room in the rear seats. The full-length glass roof of our test car does much to make the Meriva feel airy and spacious inside, but adults sitting behind are cramped if you’ve got six-footers riding up front. You get the feeling Vauxhall’s hoping potential airport taxi customers will be forced to upgrade to the larger, more expensive Zafira Tourer seven-seater.
Unfortunately, the refreshed Meriva misses out on the revamped dashboard enjoyed by the recently tweaked Insignia. Instead of that car’s on-trend touchscreen, the Meriva looks rather old-hat, with its clustered buttons and unintuitive infotainment (the Intellilink sat-nav system of our test car is a £1200 option). Apart from those pesky door trims, it’s all commendably well-finished, but sorely lacking in the wow factor that’ll drive some fashion-conscious buyers towards Citroen’s funky C3 Picasso, not to mention the admirable new C4 Picasso too.
Where does price come into the equation?
In mid-spec SE trim as tested, the 1.6 CDTi Meriva sets you back £21,370. Ford’s fine B-Max – certainly a more engaging steer but suffering an equally fussy cabin – looks a bargain, given its top model starts at £19,095. But none of its engines can hold a candle to the Meriva’s figures, with the most potent 1.6 TDCi outputting a mere 94bhp and 158lb ft. A more fair comparison (that Vauxhall would rather we overlook) is the 2.0 TDCi C-Max – almost identical power outputs close the gap, but the Ford’s thirstier, dirtier, and pricier, at £21,725.
Citroen’s impressive new C4 Picasso has even more punch in BlueHDI 150 guise, but it asks more outlay too: £22,755 in fact. Mind you, it nukes the Vauxhall for cabin capacity, never mind design flair.
The Meriva was a decent car – albeit flawed inside and under the bonnet – before its facelift, and a willing (if raucous) engine has removed one of those flies from the ointment. It doesn’t do anything palpably better than anything else in this class, but the Meriva does do most things rather well anyway.