Meriva stripdown

We find out the toll that 60,000 miles take on Vauxhall's supermini MPV.

The popularity of supermini MPVs is booming – so they’re becoming a common sight on used forecourts. Small on the outside and big on the inside, they feature versatile seating layouts and low running costs.

The Vauxhall Meriva was one of the first to arrive and is a great family car, but is it as dependable as it is practical? To find out, our 60,000-mile stripdown test left no nut unturned.

Even before we had a chance to put many miles on the people carrier, its clever FlexSpace seating system was winning over passengers. The rear chairs slide and fold in all manner of configurations to accommodate everything from luggage and children’s toys to surfboards.

The Vauxhall works as a cosy five-seater or, with the centre rear chair removed, as a comfortable four-seat family car. There are plenty of thoughtful, child-friendly features that pleased our testers, too, including electric windows fitted with a safety catch that prevents them from pinching any trapped fingers.

The Meriva is based on the Corsa platform and is only 4.04 metres long – yet there’s a surprising amount of room inside. If loadspace is a priority, you can lower the seats to the floor to boost the 350-litre boot to a van-like 1,410-litre capacity.

However, when there are five passengers on board, storage space is at a premium and you do have to pack the shallow boot carefully to make the most of the room available.

Engine Under the bonnet, our test car was fitted with Vauxhall’s excellent 1.7-litre CDTI diesel engine and, as with the interior, it quickly impressed. Fast and economical, the unit was perfectly suited to lugging a small family car around. With 100bhp and fuel returns of more than 45mpg, it proved a capable cruiser, too. But a new timing belt tensioner was fitted to reduce the familiar diesel clatter while the unit was warming up.

The engine’s rough note on turning the ignition was one of our few complaints – but we had no issue with its performance on the road. However, visibility is undoubtedly one of the weak points in the Meriva. The large A-pillars sit way out in front of the driver, and it takes a while to get used to the blindspots they create. Although most users learned to get around the problem, the pillars still frustratingly got in the way on the approach to roundabouts and on some bends in the road.

The specification on our test car included a ceiling-mounted DVD system, which proved a real hit with children on long journeys. However, we soon realised that the optional in-car entertainment did cause an unexpected side effect.

Jump-start One morning, after 27,472 miles, the Meriva wouldn’t start in very cold temperatures. Fortunately, a jump-start got things going, and the problem never occurred again. But during the final stripdown, our expert engineers traced the power failure back to the DVD system. They realised that it saps electricity from the battery, even when turned off.

The front seats also received a mixed reception. Some felt that they offered good support on long journeys, but others were less convinced. One thing universally disliked, though, was the central armrest. It is more of a hindrance than a benefit, especially when changing gear. How­ever, there is plenty of cubby space inside and, while the trim materials aren’t lavish, they stood up well to abuse throughout our test.

Mechanical gremlins stayed away, too – until 53,264 miles. That’s when we noticed a loud metallic scraping noise that sounded serious enough to warrant a trip to the garage. How­ever, the fault turned out to be less significant than anticipated and was caused by worn brake pads. As the lining wears away, a built-in hook is exposed and scratches the disc, creating the noise to let drivers know it’s time for replacements to be fitted. A simple dash warning light would have been less alarming!

Decent anti-corrosion protection ensures the body will stand the test of time, and the engine was still going strong at 60,000 miles. Our trouble-free experience was backed up by our stripdown findings, which is great news for used buyers.

It might not be the most glamorous choice but, on this evidence, the little Vauxhall won’t let you down.

Extra Info

Checklist after 60,000miles

Repair log Mileage/Problem 24,833/Service interval light illuminated 27,472/Several jump-starts due to flat battery 53,264/New front brake pads and discs fitted 59,152/New rear brake pads and discs fitted

Early Merivas are equipped with a flexible service interval indicator. However, examples produced after autumn 2005 come with an 18,000-mile/12-month maintenance schedule.

Vauxhall has fixed the problem of petrol running back during refuelling by adding an improved ventilation pipe from July 2005. It can be retro-fitted to older cars. The defect on our model’s DVD entertainment system can be sorted with a software update available from franchised dealers.

Test figures

Measured at 3,744 miles/60,302 miles 0-31mph - 4.3 secs/4.1 secs 0-62mph - 12.8 secs/12.5 secs 0-80mph - 22.4 secs/22.0 secs In-gear 50-70mph - 12.6 secs/12.4 secs Braking distance from 62mph (cold/warm) - 40.2/42.6 metres 41.6/40.1 metres Economy - 45.5mpg/47.9mpg Internal noise at 30/62/80mph - 58/67/70dB 61/68/72dB

Performance often improves as the mileage racks up, and the Meriva didn’t disappoint. Not only did the people carrier’s acceleration time increase during its test, but fuel economy also rose – by more than 2mpg. However, as our figures show, it came at the expense of refinement. The internal noise readings show greater sound levels.

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