Vauxhall's latest Meriva gets refreshed styling and a slick 1.6 diesel engine. Jonathan Crouch reports.
The Vauxhall Meriva used to have things pretty much its own way in the small supermini-MPV market but a rash of copycat rivals arriving on the scene means that it now faces a tougher task. This latest model gets refreshed styling and a 1.6 CDTi diesel engine that offers a 10 per cent efficiency improvement over the old 1.7CDTi, despite being more powerful.
Although we're thoroughly accustomed to the supermini-MPV genre, it's easy to forget quite what a game-changer the original Vauxhall Meriva was when it was introduced back in 2003. Such was the impact on the market of its bigger brother, the seven-seat Zafira, that few realised quite what a big step forward this car also was. Some thought it was a step too far, that buyers didn't either want or need an MPV-style vehicle quite this diminutive, but sales were encouraging from the word go. Since then, the supermini-MPV market has become absolutely rammed with rivals all looking to equal or one-up the little Vauxhall. As such, the Meriva has needed to be on top of its game. The original car was replaced in 2010 by a much bigger all-new model and that generation has now been further revised.
In terms of running gear, not a whole lot has changed but then not a whole lot has needed to change. The Meriva is one of the best-handling of all the supermini-MPVs but that doesn't mean that Vauxhall is resting on its laurels. The old 1.7-litre CDTi diesel engine has been replaced by a 1.6 CDTi diesel that we've seen before in the bigger Zafira Tourer. This Euro-6 compliant engine produces 136PS and 320Nm of torque at 2,000rpm, so you can imagine that it doesn't encounter too much of an issue providing motive force for the compact Meriva. In fact it'll skittle it to 60mph from a standstill in under nine seconds, nearly a second quicker than the old 1.7 CDTi, thanks to its additional 6PS and 20Nm of torque. The Meriva's petrol engine range (1.4 100PS, 1.4T 120 & 140PS) remains and is now fully Euro-6 compliant. The Meriva'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. Ride quality is firm but the advantage of this is that body roll is very well controlled and it's low frequency body roll that causes travel sickness in kids.
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.
Vauxhall has taken a red pen to the Meriva's trim line-up in recent years but it's still pretty hefty, with Expression, S, Exclusiv, Energy, Tech Line and SE variants. Even the entry-level cars get an ESP-plus electronic stability control system, twin front airbags, an electric parking brake, a CD / MP3 CD player / stereo radio with AUX-in socket, electric front windows, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, remote central deadlocking and door-to-door illumination. Go for an up-spec model and you'll find features like a Panoramic glass roof with electrically operated sunshade, 17-inch alloy wheels, tinted glass, a multi-function trip computer, leather trim for the steering wheel and gear knob, folding trays on front-seat backs, a driver's under seat storage box, and front and rear door-sill step plates. Prices start at around £12,500, stretching to just over £21,000 if you want bells and whistles too. That still stacks up very well against rivals, undercutting the Citroen C3 Picasso and the Ford B-MAX.
The Meriva's success is built upon its innovation paired with affordability. The prices Vauxhall is asking seem reasonable enough and they're backed up by healthy residual figures that look even better if you can negotiate a sizeable discount off the sticker price. Ongoing running costs have been nailed down reasonably well, with the entry-level 1.4-litre petrol model returning 47.1mpg. The 1.4-litre Turbo underscores its superiority with an identical fuel economy figure of 47.9mpg, this despite packing another twenty horsepower. A similar story applies to emissions, where the less powerful car emits 140g/km and the turbo model 139g/km. Go figure. Choose a diesel version and you probably won't be on first name terms with the staff in your local filling station. The 1.3 CDTi gets fully 60.1mpg and its emissions are also suitably mean at just 124g/km. The 1.6 CDTi diesel manages 64.2mpg combined and 116g/km of CO2 emissions. This equates to a 10 per cent improvement in economy/emissions over the 1.7 CDTi, which it replaced. Insurance isn't going to break the bank either, with groupings ranging from 6E to 16E.
On the face of it, supermini MPVs don't make a great deal of sense. What's the point of buying a small car when you need all the space you can get? It was indeed this issue that did most to hamper sales of the original model, but the MK2 is a significantly larger car both inside and out and is a properly practical option for families with older kids as well. That message might well have been lost on some customers who automatically gravitate to the bigger Zafira model. The latest set of revisions are rather modest but the introduction of a 1.6-litre CDTi diesel is a very welcome move, furnishing the Meriva with a powerplant that's muscular, refined, economical and clean. It instantly becomes the pick of the range, with the 1.4 turbo petrol also well worth consideration. The Meriva is probably a better car than you think. It deserves wider recognition but Vauxhall may well have underplayed its hand this time round.
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