Turbocharged petrol engines haven't been the default choice in small MPVs but Vauxhall's improved Meriva 1.4 VVT Turbo could alter that. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Vauxhall has produced a well designed and cleverly thought out small MPV in its latest Meriva. The unorthodox rear doors will attract attention but it's the roomy, well-built cabin and the neat seating system that are the car's real strengths. The 1.4 VVT Turbo models offer lively performance allied to acceptable economy while costing less than the diesel alternatives. The Meriva still isn't the most thrilling drive but it's stable, composed and reassuring on the road which might mean more to the target market.
We're used to turbochargers assisting our diesel engines but they're increasingly being found in petrol cars too. And not just high performance models. By using a turbo, modern petrol engines can replicate the power of a far larger unit while controlling fuel consumption and emissions. It's an attractive combination, especially in compact cars were the price premiums attached to diesel engines are more keenly felt. Vauxhall is one of the manufacturers embracing the turbocharger but how does its 1.4-litre VVT Turbo engine work in the latest Meriva MPV? This car now has a sleeker look, higher-tech equipment and more efficient engines in a bid to better take the fight to small supermini-based MPV rivals like Ford's B-MAX and Citroen's C3 Picasso.
Three versions of Vauxhall's 1.4-litre VVT petrol engine are available with the Meriva but only two are assisted by turbochargers. The 1.4-litre VVT Turbo engines come in 118bhp or 138bhp states of tune, both achieving fairly lively levels of performance. The two engines produce their peak torque from under 2,000rpm and keep it available almost until the engine reaches 5,000rpm. It makes for a strong pull through the part of the rev range where we spend most of our time in everyday driving. The 138bhp engine feels particularly lively through the gears but it is possible to get caught out at lower revs before the turbo has got into its stride forcing you to snatch a lower gear quickly to maintain progress. Refinement is pretty good with the engine staying hushed at low speeds before taking on a tuneful zing as the revs rise, only close to the limiter does the sound get slightly harsh. The Mervia's steering is on the weighty side for a supermini MPV which is appreciated on the open road but less beneficial when performing low speed manoeuvres. The car generally feels very substantial and reassuring to drive with plenty of grip and safe, predictable handling. It isn't the most enjoyable supermini MPV to drive but it's comfortable and relaxing which might well count for more with buyers in this sector.
Design and Build
So, let's play spot the difference between this latest facelifted car and the outgoing version. You might well notice the 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. Otherwise it's as you were. 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.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £17,000 for the 118bhp 1.4 VVT Turbo Meriva. You have to stretch up to a plusher 'Exclusiv' trim level for the 138bhp variant, hence a much higher list price of just over £19,000. Either way, you're looking at a saving of around £700 over the comparable but much feebler 1.3 CDTi diesel model. Equipment levels are reasonable. The base S models get electric windows, a CD stereo, the FlexSpace seats and an electronic parking brake but it's better to go for the Exclusiv which is more generously appointed with the FlexRail storage system, cruise control, curtain airbags and 16" alloy wheels along with various other extras.
Cost of Ownership
Unsurprisingly, it's the Meriva's diesel engines that are its most efficient but even the entry-level 74bhp 1.3 CDTi oil-burner is around £700 more than the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol with 118bhp. Economy for this 1.4 petrol Turbo model is measured at 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and even the 138bhp engine manages over 44.8mpg which is a decent showing. Emissions for the two engines are 139 and 149g/km respectively.
Small, practical cars tend to work quite well with diesel engines but petrol is making a comeback with the help of our old friend the turbocharger. Modern turbos are aids to efficiency as well as performance because they allow smaller capacity engines to be used and Vauxhall's 1.4 VVT Turbo Meriva really can give the diesel alternatives a run for their money. Fuel economy may be less impressive but lower upfront costs and lively performance make this engine an attractive choice in Vauxhall's supermini MPV. The Meriva's pricing looks to be on the high side compared to some supermini MPV rivals but it's a sizable and sophisticated car with those novel rear doors giving it a unique appeal. While it isn't the most thrilling vehicle to drive, its safe, predictable handling should go down well with the target market and the cabin is well thought-out with strong build quality in evidence. Overall? Certainly worth a look.