Forget the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, the five-speed gearbox and the Insignia-inspired cockpit. The one thing that will set Vauxhall’s new Meriva apart from all its rivals when it goes on sale later this month is its distinctive doors.
The FlexDoor set-up is unique in this sector of the market – in fact, the only other cars on sale to feature anything similar are Rolls-Royce’s Phantom and the London black cab. It’s a demonstration of how Vauxhall has striven to offer great real-world practicality – a mission we think it has successfully accomplished - you can see them in action in our video of the car, here.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Vauxhall Meriva
What's more, The Meriva has a smart face, and in profile there is a passing resemblance to the Mercedes A-Class – giving the car a premium feel. But the doors are the big talking point. At the back they are hinged at the rear, and while that means a narrow opening, the more logical layout makes for easier access.
It’s the kind of flexible design buyers demand, and we think it works. It makes getting in and out of the cabin simple, and will appeal to buyers with young families.
Strapping in child seats will be a breeze, and robust grab handles ensure you can reach both sides of the rear bench without having to clamber all over the seats.
Crucially, the practicality doesn’t end there – as Vauxhall has also fine-tuned its FlexSpace seating system. It’s a version of the set-up in the outgoing Meriva, and provides a choice of four and five-seat interior layouts. The seats can be folded quickly and easily, and slide back and forth by up to 10 inches. On top of that, Vauxhall has come up with the FlexRail. This is a bar running the entire length of the cabin, on to which occupants can fix a variety of movable and secure stowage bins.
Further back, the boot has a generous 400 litres of space with the rear seats in place, and the tailgate lifts to give a wide and practical opening.
With the rear seats occupied, drivers can slide their seat a long way before it begins to limit space for those in the back. The driving position feels upright, and there’s a good view of the road ahead. The controls are light,and the instrument layout clear.
Our car had a 118bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine. At idle, it’s smooth, and it’s quiet at cruising speeds. But with only 175Nm of torque, it needs to be worked hard to make the most of the performance. Vauxhall claims 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds, yet this would be difficult to match away from a test track. Revved hard, the unit’s power delivery felt uneven. It will be interesting to see if the 138bhp version of the engine suffers the same issue.
Still, the 118bhp Meriva compensates with 46.3mpg economy and 143g/km of CO2. The steering is light and accurate, too, and despite the tall body, the suspension works well to resist roll in corners. The brakes are responsive and powerful, and refinement is good, with road and wind noise kept to a minimum.
But the movable seats and the doors are where the Meriva scores. Vauxhall set the MPV benchmark high with the original Zafira, and when it comes to practicality, the Meriva nudges it higher still.
Rival: Ford C-MAX
The five-seater C-MAX arrives later in the year. Its conventional bodywork is not as practical as the Meriva’s, but the new 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbo will be a key part of its better driving experience.
* Price: £17,430
* Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl turbo
* Power: 118bhp
* 0-62mph: 11.5 seconds
* Economy: 46.3mpg
* CO2: 143g/km
* Standard equipment: Air-conditioning, cruise control, multifunction steering wheel, electric front windows, front, side and curtain airbags, FlexSpace seating system
* On sale: Now