What is it? Mk 3 version of small MPV
Key features: Minor restyle, more equipment, 1.6 Whisper Diesel engine
Our View: These changes won’t put the Vauxhall Meriva in lights, but they won’t harm its showroom performance either
Vauxhall claims to have invented the small MPV sector just over a decade ago, when the brand launched the first Meriva. In 2010, with more than 115,000 Merivas sold, the longer second-generation version arrived, and immediately wrote headlines with its backwards-hinged ‘FlexDoors’.
The latest Vauxhall Meriva now arriving at showrooms is not an all-new model; no surprise with the Mk2 just four years old. Rather it is a subtle reworking, with the highlights in the engine department. All the petrol engines now meet Euro 6 regulations, and most notably there is a new 1.6 dubbed the ‘Whisper Diesel’, along with transmission improvements.
The restyling is really only noticeable if one places the old and new Meriva alongside each other. There is the brand’s latest-design grille, a reshaping of the headlamps, and for the first time on the Meriva the availability of LED-version daytime running and tail lamps. Apart from the ability to choose a new Emerald Green pearlescent paint colour, and extra chrome detailing on upper-spec cars, that’s about it.
The good news is that all of the practical aspects of the car remain. The rear-hinged FlexDoors are very conducive to easy entry and exit from the back seats, especially as they open to 84 degrees (a normal front-hinged door opens to around 68 degrees).
So life is made a lot less stressful when dealing with the extremes of small children or frail elderly. It’s perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek, however, for Vauxhall to remind us that the only other production cars using this door format are made by Rolls-Royce…
The interior remains highly versatile, thanks to lots of flex acronyms – FlexSpace, FlexRail and Flex-Fix. The former allows lots of adjustment of the rear seats –the two outer ones moving backwards, forwards and inwards to turn the car into a four-seater with extra space.
Meanwhile the handles that allow one-movement dropping of the seat backs for cargo carrying are now better placed, and with all of this able to be done without removing anything, this is one of the Meriva’s best features. Boot space by the way is 397 litres, increasing to a maximum of 1,496 litres with the seats folded.
It is all change between the front seats, with the handbrake lever replaced by an electronic version and the gearshift moved forward, freeing up space for FlexRail. This is a storage system of up to three tiers which runs between aluminium rails. All cars get a floor storage tray with two cup holders and space big enough to store electronic tablets, and the Aux, USB and 12-volt sockets to connect them. Exclusive models add the FlexRail above, boasting a storage tray and cupholder which slides along the rails to a favourite position. Choose an SE variant and an extra, also slidable module is added on top, with a flip-top, armrest/storage module big enough to carry CDs.
This is all rather clever, and one of a raft of changes that increase the usefulness of the car. These include major items such as the availability of Flex-Fix, Vauxhall’s built-in pull-out bike carrier, but also such niceties as various extra storage cubbyholes, shopping bag hooks in the boot and such like. And it even extends to coating the surfaces in a treatment Vauxhall calls Top Tec and which makes mopping up of spillages, even from nasty materials such as melted chocolate and ketchup, a simple matter of dabbing said area with a damp cloth.
This is all good, but it is slightly tarnished by some of the finishes, very obvious plastics that look and feel a little downmarket compared to some of the Meriva’s rivals.
The dash is standard current Vauxhall fare, with good visibility easy to achieve. This is helped by the seats, which are lifted from the current Astra and have more adjustability built in, even if one doesn’t opt for the optional Ergonomic Front Sport Seats.
The launch test attended by The Car Expert was conducted with the major news in the engine range, the 1.6-litre Whisper Diesel first seen in the Zafira Tourer. It’s combined with a six-speed manual gearbox that itself has undergone major improvements for refinement and ease of use, while also available is a six-speed auto.
This 134bhp engine is a very impressive powerplant, not just for its bald figures – a sub-10 second 0-62mph time while returning combined cycle fuel economy of more than 64mpg and emissions of 116g/km – but for its sheer refinement.
The unit really lives up to its name – it smoothly yet enthusiastically accelerates from very low in the rev range, and it does it with no fuss whatsoever. It is smooth and silent to a degree that you’ll be checking the fuel filler cap to remind yourself whether you are driving a diesel or a petrol car. One can imagine clocking up many a motorway mile in comfort with this engine, and it is in a different league to the 1.7 unit that it replaces.
The Meriva is of course, no sports car and its on-the-road performance is competent if uninvolving. Some of the less than perfect road surfaces on the launch route transmitted themselves through the cabin, while on the motorway the quietness of the engine was set against notable wind noise.
Vauxhall Meriva prices start from £12,260 and run through six trim levels – it’s good to see that even entry-level Expression versions come with such niceties as the FlexSpace rear seats.
You’ll pay rather more to get the Whisper diesel, which starts at £19,340, supplied in ‘S’, the second of the trim levels and including a stop-start function on the engine.
The Meriva is a core seller for Vauxhall and while these changes won’t put the car in lights, they should not harm its showroom performance either.
Vauxhall Meriva – key specifications
Model Tested: Vauxhall Meriva 1.6 CDTi Ecoflex
On Sale: Feb 2014
Range price: £12,620–£22,355
Engines: Petrol 1.4, 1.4 turbo x 2. Diesel 1.3 x2, 1.6, 1.7
Power (bhp): 99, 118/138. 74/94, 134,108.
Torque (lb/ft): 96,129/147. 133/133, 236, 206
0-62mph (sec): 14, 11.3/10.1. 16.9/13.8, 9.9, 12.9
Top speed (mph): 110, 117/122. 99/104, 122, 111
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 47.1, 47.9/44.8. 60.1/68.9, 64.2, 46.3
CO2 emissions (g/km): 140, 139/149. 124/109, 116, 160
Key rivals: Ford B-Max, Nissan Note, Fiat 500:, Citroen C3 Picasso
Test Date: Feb/Mar 2014
All with manual gearbox except 1.7
* = 1.3 94bhp with Start/Stop