Vauxhall Meriva 2010 review

As all-new supermini-MPV edges closer to showrooms, we try final prototype for size.

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

The new Meriva is so much more than a set of innovative doors with wheels attached. Whereas the old model offered bargain-basement family transport, this latest car is something special in its own right. The fact it drives so well is a bonus, and the powerful yet small petrol option is a brilliant way to save fuel and maintain performance.

What a difference a door makes! Meet the supermini-MPV which allows you to set foot on the pavement in the same way as the super-rich when emerging from their Rolls-Royce Phantoms.

With its rear-hinged back doors, the Vauxhall Meriva offers an Oscar-night cabin exit whether at the theatre or the supermarket. And as well as sampling its novel approach to cabin access, Auto Express has driven the car.

Rivalling the Nissan Note and Renault Modus, the Meriva will be priced from around £15,000 when it goes on sale in June.

And it’s not only innovative; it’s stylish, too. Although our early car was one of Vauxhall’s prototypes – and thus partially disguised – its sporty shape, neatly detailed head and tail-lights plus distinctive rising waistline really looked the part.

As for the doors, bosses give a great deal of credit to Rolls’ owner BMW. It offered a lot of guidance on how to pass EU legislation which requires a raft of safety interlocks on rear-hinged panels.

The finely engineered result allows passengers to retreat gracefully into the back seats. Vauxhall says the doors will appeal to the two sets of buyers who have kept the Meriva at the top of the supermini-MPV sales charts for seven years: young families and more mature drivers.

Shrunken

Under the skin, the Meriva is essentially a shrunken Zafira MPV with five seats. That means MacPherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear, with electro-hydraulic power-steering.

Petrol engines all measure 1.4 litres, with a basic, naturally aspirated unit, plus two turbos delivering 120bhp and 140bhp. Diesel fans will get a choice of the 1.3-litre GM/Fiat Multijet unit, as well as a 1.7 turbo in two states of tune: 100bhp and 120bhp.

A performance flagship SRi petrol version is set to arrive next year.

Inside, the little Meriva feels upmarket. As with the new Astra, it borrows heavily from the 2009 European Car of the Year, the Insignia, and the quality gains are striking and highly impressive. The steering wheel, chrome-edged dials, and heater and air-conditioning controls are all taken from the saloon, and are pleasing to look at and use.

The Insignia also provides the large and comfortable seats, while the innovative central tunnel boasts a combination of sliding storage compartments and an armrest which can be transferred to the rear. The back seats are big enough to take three adults abreast, but revised side-to-side and forward-and-back sliders allow the outside pair to be adjusted to offer two adults limousine levels of space.

A double floor system from the Corsa further boosts the already large boot, while the rear seats fold flat to give additional room.

Although it’s not much longer and only 80mm wider than the old Meriva, the new car feels far more substantial. The lower dash and revised driving position give a much better view of the road, as do the improved A-pillars and quarter-light windows. Rear passengers also get enhanced views thanks to the distinctive kinked window line and additional 50mm of glass area.

Our prototype ran on winter tyres, which made the ride hard to judge. We’d need a thorough test on UK roads to provide a definitive judgement, but the chassis felt stable and isolated large bumps well. And although we wonder how sluggish the naturally aspirated 1.4 will feel, our 140bhp 1.4 turbo was strong and swift. The six-speed gearbox is slick and light, the driveline refined and the brakes powerful and progressive. It all adds up to a very desirable package.

Rival: Kia Venga Bold looks fail to disguise how conventional the Venga is under the skin. A lacklustre driving experience also lets it down. But for those on a budget, the Kia is worth considering – especially in petrol form.

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