Vauxhall Meriva review
The innovative Vauxhall Meriva offers family-friendly transport thanks to its versatile seating and wide-opening doors
The Vauxhall Meriva is a supermini-based MPV that’s designed to rival practical models such as the Ford B-MAX and Nissan Note. At the heart of the Vauxhall’s appeal are its novel ‘suicide’ rear hinged back doors that have been added to boost access. However, while the set-up is reasonably effective, it doesn’t create as wide an opening as the sliding side doors used on the Ford B-MAX.
On the plus side, the Meriva features an upmarket cabin that features plenty of soft touch materials and is robustly constructed. It’s practical, too. The rear bench slides to improve legroom or boost boot space, plus the individual rear seats can be moved together or pulled apart to create four or five-seat layouts. Elsewhere there’s a neat Flex-rail system that runs between the front seats and can be configured to hold extra storage and cupholders.
The Meriva backs up this display of practicality with a reasonably grown-up driving experience. Composed handling and decent refinement give Vauxhall a big car feel, while the supple ride does a good job of soaking up bumps. Only the limited engine line-up comes in for criticism. The 1.4-litre petrol units are getting on a bit and trial the best in class when it comes to running costs, while the 1.7-litre CDTi diesel is noisy and sluggish. Best of the bunch is the recently introduced 1.6-litre CDTi that combines smooth and punchy performance with decent fuel economy.
As with other Vauxhall models, the Meriva suffers from an extremely confusing model line-up – buyers can choose from Life, S, Exclusiv, Energy, Tech Line and SE trim levels. Some are aimed at private buyers, while the others are intended to appeal to company car users. As an example, all versions get air-conditioning, electric windows and central locking. However, the Life, which undercuts the equivalent S by nearly £4,000, adds alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control and a leather steering wheel to this tally.
Our choice: Meriva 1.4t (120) SE (a/c)
Given that it’s a practical, family-friendly runaround the Meriva is surprisingly stylish. Its swept back headlamps and chrome grille take their cues from the larger Insignia, while distinctive character line have been cut into the car’s flanks.
Though it's neatly styled, the high roofline and double door arrangement take centre stage. The rear-hinged back doors have been designed to improve access to the cabin, but the B-Pillar remains in place so the advantage over a standard set-up is small.
Inside, the Meriva benefits from upmarket loo and feel. Decent quality plastics are used throughout, while the fit and finish is excellent. Yet while the dashboard is slickly designed, the centre console is cluttered with a confusing array of buttons.
As with other models there’s a wide range of trim levels to choose from, although the line-up is hugely confusing. Vauxhall has attempted to tailor individual models to private buyers and business users, but the end result is massively overcomplicated. Essentially you can choose from Life, S, Exclusiv, Energy, Tech line and SE trims, and all get air-con, electric windows and central locking. However, Life models get more kit than S versions, despite costing far less, while the Tech Line models undercut the Exclusiv on price, but come loaded with executive car levels of kit.
The Meriva has been around a while now, and that’s reflected in its ageing engine line-up. The entry-level 99bhp 1.4-litre petrol struggles with the Meriva’s bulk, while the 118bhp turbo is only a little better. It’s quiet at cruising speeds, but with only 175Nm of torque needs to be worked hard to make the most of the performance. Vauxhall claims 0-62mph in a leisurely 11.3 seconds. The 138bhp version is better, but never feels as muscular as its power figure suggests.
Diesel fans are better catered for thanks to the introduction of Vauxhall’s new 1.6-litre CDTi unit. It’s available in 94bhp, 108bhp and 134bhp guises and is a smooth and punchy performer. It’s remarkably efficient, too. Less impressive are the 1.3-litre and 1.7-litre CDTi units. The former musters just 74bhp and carries the Meriva from 0-62mph in a glacial 16.9 seconds, while the latter is clattery and unrefined – although it’s only available with a six-speed automatic transmission. All other models get a positive five speed manual, apart from the 138bhp 1.4 Turbo and all 1.6 CDTi versions, which get a six-speed unit.
On winding roads, the Meriva handles well. The blend of well weighted steering, strong grip and good body control means plenty of agility. On rough roads it's reasonably comfortable, with supple suspension soaking up bumps easily and making long motorway journeys a breeze. Refinement is strong, too, and road noise is particularly well suppressed.
After a lowly 118th place finish in our Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey, the Meriva put on a stronger display in 2014, rising up to a creditable 82nd place overall. Owners raved about its comfort and practicality, but were less impressed with the car’s reliability and build quality. Even so, the Mervia shares many of its tried and tested components with the Vauxhall Corsa and Vauxhall Astra, so it should prove durable.
Vauxhall knows a thing or two about building reliable, safe cars, so the fact that the Meriva offers a five star EuroNCAP test result should come as no surprise. However, only four airbags are fitted as standard, with only Exclusiv, Tech Line and SE models getting additional curtain airbags – you can add these desirable extras to other models for £460. Elsewhere you’ll benefit from electronic stability control, adaptive brake lights that flash during heavy braking, ISOFIX child seat mounting points and hill start assist. However, unlike newer rivals there’s no option to add blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist or autonomous emergency braking.
The Vauxhall Meriva has a spacious 400-litre boot with an under floor compartment. Seats also fold completely flat to create an enormous 1,500-litre load space that's 1.75 meters long. In the cabin, there are lots of useful storage draws and spaces, including door pockets big enough to hold a one litre drinks bottle upright. Strapping in child seats is a breeze, and robust grab handles ensure you can reach both sides of the rear bench without having to clamber over seats. Vauxhall also offers the FlexRail in Exclusiv and SE equipped cars. This consists of a pair of rails that run the entire length of the cabin, on to which a variety of movable and secure stowage bins can be fixed.
The Meriva's FlexSpace seating arrangement allows you to slide the rear bench forward and backwards, and push chairs inwards to switch from a five-seater into a more spacious four-seater. There are grab handles to aid seat access, while the high set driver’s offers a commanding view of the road ahead. There’s also plenty of seat and wheel adjustment – although S and Exclusive models suffer from a cheap feeling plastic steering wheel.
Given its supermini roots, you’d expect the Meriva to deliver penny-pinching running costs. Yet the Vauxhall is hobbled by its high prices and steep depreciation. Rivals such as the Kia Venga and Hyundai ix20 make the Meriva look pricy. The entry-level Meriva Life looks like good value on paper, but it’s only available with the weedy 98bhp 1.4-litre petrol. The Tech Line also looks attractive on paper, but it’s not available with the handy Flexrail system – you can’t even add it as an option.
At least its engine range is efficient, with the recently introduced 1.6-litre CDTi delivering strong economy and low CO2 emissions. Best of the bunch is the 108bhp version that claims 74.3mpg and 99g/km of CO2. The costliest choice is the six-speed automatic gearbox equipped 118bhp 1.4-litre Turbo that suffers from official fuel consumption of 39.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 166g/km.