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Inside the Vauxhall Meriva

We get world first access to groundbreaking new supermini-MPV

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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It’s so far so good for Vauxhall’s new supermini-MPV. The rear-hinged back doors are more than just a gimmick, and make getting in and out a breeze – they should also be popular with parents, who’ll notice the benefits when strapping their children in the back. Folding and adjusting the seats is easy, while the Meriva really scores on storage. The designers have even added a splash of desirability with the sculpted bodywork.

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Vauxhall is opening up about its all-new Meriva – and Auto Express was first to jump into the driver’s seat!

Practicality is key in the supermini-MPV class, and the Meriva is stuffed with fresh ideas. Bosses say the car is groundbreaking – so to put these claims to the test, we got exclusive access to an early Opel-badged model.

The new Meriva has been designed from the ground up to be the most versatile and stylish car in the class. And with its innovative doors, wide variety of seat layouts and novel storage solutions, its cabin promises to take family-friendly features to a whole new level.

The major talking point is clearly the rear-hinged FlexDoors. They are similar to those on Mazda’s RX-8 and the MINI Clubman, but uniquely, on the Meriva the back doors can be opened independently of the fronts.

Easier

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As a result, access to the rear is narrower than on most cars – but we found this set-up easier and more logical. We got in and out of the back with the door fully open, and also in a tight space, while you fall back into the seat, rather than climbing round it. Even when the Meriva is in a supermarket car park, for example, occupants will be able to rotate their bodies around the B-pillar and slip through this space with ease.

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A further advantage of the layout is that parents will be able to strap their children into the back without having to contort themselves around the door. However, a Vauxhall engineer assured us this layout does not compromise side impact protection or torsional rigidity – so the car will be just as strong in the event of a crash.

The clever features don’t stop there. The cabin can be configured in layouts from one to five seats, depending on whether you need to maximise luggage or passenger space.

Up front, the design is a variation on that seen in the larger Astra and Insignia, and uses the same high-quality materials and intuitive controls. The front seats are carried over from these cars, and have the widest range of adjustment in the class. The gearlever sits high on the centre console, with the standard electric handbrake below it, and that has created space for the Meriva’s party piece: an entirely new version of Vauxhall’s FlexRail system. This comprises two aluminium rails, running between the front seats, on to which designers have mounted a three-tier storage bin with trays and cup-holders.

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The box can be moved along the rails or taken out, and with the middle section of the rear bench folded flat, it can even be placed between the back seats. Adding to the practical feel is an optional bike rack, built into the rear bumper, as on the Corsa.

On the outside, the Meriva hides its functionality with genuinely desirable looks. The similarities to the Astra and Insignia are evident in the grille and creases in the door panels, but elsewhere the newcomer has its own personality. A blacked-out section below the rear windscreen disguises the model’s height, while the big headlamps and wraparound tail-lights help it stand out.

Yet chief designer Niels Loeb is most proud of the pronounced kink in the window line. “Not only does it add character to the profile, it also offers extra visibility for rear passengers, which could prevent children from feeling car sick,” he said.

Power comes from a range of six turbocharged diesel and petrol engines, delivering from 74bhp to 138bhp. We drive the Meriva in April, after its debut at March’s Geneva Motor Show – and if Vauxhall carries over the Astra and Insigina’s dynamic polish, it will have a real winner.

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