Vauxhall's improved Meriva supermini MPV aims to inject a little innovation into a market segment that's all about practicality. June Neary checks it out
Will It Suit Me?
We all know about superminis. Well, supermini MPVs are cars for people who can't quite manage with one of those. They offer more cabin space, both overhead and around the ankles, increased versatility, courtesy of the kind of sliding, folding seats seen in large MPV products, and there's usually quite a bit of additional storage space squeezed in there too. It doesn't sound particularly exciting but these are features that can really make a car much easier to live with day to day and Vauxhall's Meriva has one or two other tricks up its sleeve. The original Meriva was a very straight-laced small car. It was dull to look at but sturdily built and with useful extra versatility compared to the Corsa on which it was based. This improved second generation version is far more adventurous in its design and instantly feels more like a car in its own right rather than an extended supermini. Behind these first impressions are a distinctive exterior design, a clever seating arrangement and doors that open the wrong way.
It's the Meriva's doors that will get people talking but I'd question whether they really aid the practicality of the car that much. Basically, the rear doors are hinged on their rear edge rather than at the front as you'd find in most conventional cars. It means that they open out the opposite way to the front side doors so that the whole side of the car is more easily accessible. There's still a B-pillar in the middle of the opening to support the roof but with the door out of the way, it's easier for parents to lean in to buckle up child seatbelts or attach a car seat. The downside is that actually getting into the Meriva's back seats is made a little trickier because you need to turn as you lower yourself inside. Plus getting out in confined spaces can be more problematic. Whatever your feeling about the rear-hinged doors, there are plenty of other aspects of the Meriva's design that impress from a practicality standpoint. The car is designed to give all occupants a great view out with its large glass area and upright seating. A kink in the belt line makes the rear windows deeper to help kids see out and a panoramic glass roof is available as an option. The seating too is very versatile with all the rear chairs folding flat individually in one movement. The build quality is also good with all the controls operating with a sturdy efficiency.
Behind the Wheel
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 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. There's only one engine in the Meriva range that doesn't have a turbocharger, the 99bhp 1.4 16v petrol unit, but that same engine can be ordered in turbocharged guises packing 118bhp or a hefty 138bhp. It's the diesel I think you should go for though, a new 1.6 CDTi unit lately added to the line-up offering either 110 or 136PS and either way, blessed with prodigious pulling power.
Value For Money
The Meriva can be ordered in Expression, S, Exclusiv, Energy, Tech Line and SE trim levels. All models come with a CD stereo with USB and AUX connections, heated door mirrors, electric windows and an electronic parking brake. The Exclusiv is likely to be a popular choice with its air-conditioning, cruise control, curtain airbags and the FlexRail storage system. Pricing (which starts at around £12,500) reflects this Meriva's increase in size and sophistication compared to its predecessor and it can look a little expensive next to rivals.
Could I Live With One?
This improved Meriva is undoubtedly one of the top supermini MPVs and it has some genuinely neat design touches accompanied by a real feeling of quality. It's going to be a lot more user-friendly for a growing family than a conventional supermini, even if the jury is still out on those unusual doors and it's also quite enjoyable to drive.