Vauxhall's Meriva 16 CDTi features a diesel engine that shows the car at its very best. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
There's little cause for complaint about the latest 1.6 CDTi under the bonnet of the much-improved Vauxhall Meriva. It delivers a 10 per cent efficiency improvement over the old 1.7 CDTi unit, despite being more powerful. It's hard to argue with 64.2mpg in a car this practical.
It used to be so difficult. You wanted a vehicle with decent economy that could do the family duties, yet had something about it when you pressed the throttle pedal. Trying to square those requirements for a reasonable budget could tie even the most knowledgeable car enthusiast in knots. These days things are a whole lot easier. If you want to know how easy, just go to a Vauxhall dealer and cajole them into lending you a Meriva 1.6 CDTi diesel. It's a car that's been steadily improved over the course of its lifetime, but replacing the old 1.7-litre diesel lump with a smaller but more modern, powerful and economical engine has given this particular Meriva real appeal for family buyers. If you tried one of the old Mk 1 Merivas in the past and found it all a bit too compact for your needs, now might be the time to reassess. The second generation car is a good deal bigger and the 1.6 CDTi engine we look at here is leagues better than the old 1.7-litre unit. If there was an industry award for biggest improver, this car could be in with a shout.
We've seen this 1.6-litre unt before in the bigger Zafira Tourer and if it can do a job of moving a vehicle that big, you know it's not going to have any problem whatsoever shifting a Meriva up the road with some verve. And so it proves. Developing a healthy 136PS, this Euro6-compliant motor also serves up a supersized 320Nm of torque at just 2,000rpm, which lends it a hugely muscular feel. By comparison, a BMW X1 sDrive18d requires a 2.0-litre diesel engine to achieve the same torque figure. In fact this Meriva will get to 62mph in just 9.9 seconds and Vauxhall has worked at improving the quality of the six-speed manual gearshift so that changes are slicker and gear engagement more reassuring. Refinement at speed is a notable strong point, with the engine only really becoming vocal at around 4,000rpm, at which point you will have probably upshifted anyway. Chassis dynamics have never really been a Meriva high point. You buy a Ford B-MAX if you're the sort of driver who wants to take the long route home from the school run. The steering in the Meriva is accurate but decidedly synthetic in feel. Nevertheless, the car generally feels very substantial and reassuring to drive, with plenty of grip and safe, predictable handling. Ride quality is firm but the advantage of this is that body roll is very well controlled. You will have to put up with a few bumps and thumps on very poor surfaces though.
Design and Build
This facelifted second generation Meriva gets a revised grille, but the chrome accents that frame the front fog lamps aren't so obvious. The headlights seem to have soaked up much of the budget and now feature an 'eagle-eye' graphic. For the first time, LED daytime running lights and LED tail lights are available as an option. If you're in the mood to tick options boxes, you can also pay extra for some 18-inch alloy wheels. The Meriva still differentiates itself from its many rivals via its rear-hinged back doors. The advantage of this design comes when entering and exiting the vehicle as the doors open to an angle of almost 90 degrees and you can step straight out unhindered. It also helps parents when they're strapping the kids in or fitting child car seats because there's no door in the way to manoeuvre around. The interior itself is based around the FlexSpace seating system which allows the rear seats to fold down and slide individually. Splitting the cabin on the plusher models is the FlexRail, a pair of metal runners between the front seats that various modular storage bins and arm-rests can be clipped to and slid along. It's all very clever but those who have a thing for plastics quality might feel that some parts of the Meriva's cabin - especially rearwards from the front seats - show clear signs of cost-cutting. Still, that's the case with many of its rivals. It goes with the territory at this price point.
Market and Model
Whereas you used to have legions of trim level variations to wade through in order to find the Meriva you wanted, with this 1.6-litre CDTi, things are a whole lot more straightforward. You either pay just over £19,000 and buy the S trim or you pay just over £21,000 and bag yourself the SE specification. The S isn't badly finished with an ESP-plus electronic stability control system, twin front airbags, an electric parking brake, a CD / MP3 CD player / stereo radio with USB and AUX-in socket, electric front windows, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, remote central deadlocking, front side airbags and door-to-door illumination. Go for the up-spec SE version and you'll find refinements such as a panoramic glass sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, folding seatback trays and under-seat drawers, a trip computer, cruise control, curtain airbags, leather trim for the steering wheel and gear shifter and heating for both the seats and the wheel. That still stacks up very well against rivals, undercutting the Citroen C3 Picasso and the Ford B-MAX but if you still think that this is a little out of your range, your dealer will also take orders for a cheaper 110PS variant.
Cost of Ownership
There are many MPV or SUV owners who have looked at the cost of petrol and diesel derivatives of the same car, done the calculations and decided that based on the amount of miles they do, they'd never justify the additional expense of the diesel variant. So they buy the petrol model and soon come to realise that the torque deficit you get with entry-level petrol engines requires you to flog them really hard to make progress. They look at their economy figures and then realise the error of their ways. They should have bought a car like this Meriva 1.6 CDTi. Although owners might not replicate Vauxhall's claimed 64.2mpg fuel consumption average, it's a car that doesn't need too much throttle to row along quite nicely, so you shouldn't need to resort to extreme measures to see better than 50mpg on a regular basis. Emissions are also kept well in check at just 116g/km which, like the economy figure, is even better than the lowly 1.3-litre CDTi diesel engine you can also have fitted in your Meriva. Residual values ought to be strong as well, with many buyers being attracted to the Meriva range's best and most economical powerplant.
If you've already decided that you want a Vauxhall Meriva, then this 1.6-litre CDTi diesel engine is, without a shadow of doubt, the best engine in the line-up. If you can afford the asking price, you should choose this variant. Why? It's the most economical, it's got the most torque and this diesel unit just works better in a vehicle that's often going to be carrying a bit of weight on board. It's the mark of a good engine when the car seems designed for that powerplant and that's certainly the case here. The one caveat we'd forward is that this level of competence doesn't come cheaply. The entry-level price of over £19,000 might well have many family buyers looking at slightly larger compact five-seat MPVs like Citroen's C4 Picasso or Renault's Scenic. What's undeniable is that at this price point, neither can match the talents of the Vauxhall's engine. If you care not a jot about what engine you get, this Meriva's never going to appeal. Do your homework though and you'll see why this one's been so well received.