"With its innovative door design, the Vauxhall Meriva aims to provide practical and versatile mobility for growing families."
The Vauxhall Meriva dares to be a little bit different to other small MPVs in its class – and does that with some success. Its main USPs are its unusual rear-hinged back doors, which make it very practical for growing families, with easy access to the interior. Its thunder has been stolen somewhat recently by the amazing Ford B-MAX's huge side opening, but the Meriva still offers excellent interior versatility, strong build quality and comfortable space for up to five people. The engine line-up consists of some small petrol engines, and a pair of diesels – although they’re more expensive to buy than the petrol alternatives and only really worth the extra cash if you regularly clock up the mileage.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The most efficient engines on offer in the Meriva are the CDTi ecoFLEX diesels, which offer fuel economy of up to 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 109g/km, but none of the engines offer emissions below the magic tax-free 100g/km mark. The worst economy comes from the 118bhp 1.4-litre 16v Turbo automatic, which returns a lowly 39.2mpg and emits 169g/km. While the diesels are significantly cheaper to run, they are quite a lot more expensive to buy outright, so you they only become a real bargain if you regularly rack up a lot of miles. However, competitive servicing costs and a wide dealer network does mean that Vauxhalls appear to generally offer good value for money, until you compare it to rivals such as the Hyundai ix20 and Kia Venga.
Interior & comfort
Four passengers can fit comfortably inside the Meriva, especially if you move the back seats slightly inward to create extra shoulder room. There's no denying, however, that when you have five adults on board, it does feel cramped in the rear. However head and legroom are good, with the rear seats sliding back to create more legroom for taller passengers, as long you don’t mind sacrificing some boot space. The Meriva is calm and composed when driving around town, but as you start to gain speed on the motorway, it does suffer from an annoying amount of wind and road noise, which greatly reduces its appeal as a car for long-distance journeys.
Practicality & boot space
With the standard-fit split-fold rear seats in place, the Meriva offers 397 litres of boot space. Fold down the back seats flat and that expands to a much bigger 1,496 litres, which will be more than most drivers will ever really need. The boot also comes with a handy under-floor storage compartment for stowing away valuables and objects you want to hide from prying eyes. The Meriva was clearly designed with practicality very much in mind, even if it isn’t quite up to scratch. Access to the interior is very good, with the rear-hinged doors proving particularly useful if you need to fit child seats. The back seats offer plenty of passenger space, but are also pretty flexible thanks to their ability to slide and fold in various directions. Vauxhall's optional Flexrail organiser even allows you to slide storage bins between the front and rear seats. But in reality it promises more practicality than it delivers, with its positioning actually reducing space for passengers feet in the back.
Reliability & safety
The Meriva ranked 118th in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, failing to crack the list of top 100 cars. Vauxhall only managed to get three cars into that top 100, which reflects its individual performance in the manufacturers section of the survey, where it fell a hefty 13 places down to 26th after a superb showing as the most improved car maker in 2012. So what does that really tell us about the Meriva's reliability? Well, the previous model didn’t perform very well in this area at all, so the fact that the new car is better is something of a moot point because it pretty much had to be. When you’re inside it does feel substantially better built than its predecessor, constructed with improved quality materials, with a tight fit and finish throughout. It did secure the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, with electronic stability control and traction control fitted as standard, although curtain airbags are an optional extra on entry-level models.
Engines, drive & performance
The petrol engines in the Meriva offer reasonable rather than exciting levels of performance, with the 118bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine providing the best day-to-day driving experience. The similarly priced 1.3-litre CDTi diesel does provide better fuel economy, but it feels underpowered in comparison, so isn’t really worth the extra cost. Vauxhall focused on tuning the Meriva to drive on the UK's poorly surfaced roads, so the suspension copes very well with virtually everything but the deepest potholes. Plus, the steering is light and pleasingly accurate, so you always feel in control. The high, central location of the gearlever also means that your hand doesn’t have to move very far away from the steering wheel to change gear, and the gear change itself feels snappy and precise.
Price, value for money & options
The entry-level Meriva is a bit stingy with the standard equipment, leaving out basic accessories like air-conditioning (which is only understandable if you’re paying dirt-cheap prices, like for the Dacia Duster), a rear seatbelt indicator and side curtain airbags. This wouldn’t be too troubling if the Meriva wasn’t targeted at the family market and wasn’t more expensive than the model it replaces. It's best to shop around, because dealers are eager to get people behind the wheel so you should be able to find a good discount, and the pricing does reasonably reflect its different positioning and new rivals. However, expect resale values to be poor in the used car market, so you’re unlikely to see much of your money back when you do sell it second-hand.