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New Vauxhall Meriva review

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One upon a time your 'flexible friend' referred to our credit cards, but now it will be associated with Vauxhall's new Meriva midsized MPV which goes on sale from 19 June.

It uses Flex technologies in the form of FlexDoors, FlexRail centre console storage and FlexSpace rear seating system. Like its past Meriva owners - it's a clever thing.

The all new Meriva is no longer a mini MPV it has moved up in size to become and four/five seater family segment MPV with smarter user friendly features, better equipment levels, better quality and a higher price.

Although the range actually starts at a lower price of £12,995 for the 1.4-litre 100PS petrol Expression version, the mainstream models show an average price increase of £1,200 ranging from £15,495 up to £21,255 but Vauxhall says this reflects the advantages the newcomer has over the old.

Engines are 1.4 petrol, normally aspirated and turbocharged with power outputs of 100, 120 and 140PS and 1.3 and 1.7-litre CDTI turbodiesel units with 99 and 106PS and to come 95 EcoFlex and 137 PS CDTI units.

The 120PS petrol engine will be the most popular followed by the price leading 100PS petrol version. Trim and equipment levels on offer are Expression, S, the best selling Exclusiv and SE. Vauxhall expects the new Meriva to sell over 20,000 units a year in the UK, a bit more than the outgoing model.

The new model is 4,228mm in length, up from the 4,052mm of the old version which was based on the Corsa. The new model uses revised suspension layout from the former version but with a floorpan associated with the Vauxhall seven seat Zafira MPV. Inside the design and layout of the controls, instruments and overall the higher quality reflects the theme offered by the new Astra and Insignia ranges.

Vauxhall Meriva FlexDoors system

But it is the FlexDoors system that will grab all the headlines. FlexDoors are rear-hinged back doors which swing open towards the back of the car at an angle of nearly 90 degrees, vastly improving the ease with which occupants enter and leave the cabin.

Rather than having to step back, or to one side, as one would using a normal front-hinged door, the FlexDoors allows unimpeded forward access/egress to and from the cabin, enhanced further by the Meriva's high roof line.

For parents with children, there are further benefits. Due to the larger door opening and free space around the B-pillar, parents can lift small children forwards in to rear-mounted, second-stage child seats without having to contort themselves around a door.

And with both the front and rear doors open, the fronts open at a similar angle to the rear FlexDoors, a 'parent-friendly' zone is created with no door barrier between front and rear occupants. For ladies wearing short skirts there is an added element of modesty as rear passenger step into and out of the rear seat area.

Crucially, the FlexDoors cannot be opened by occupants while the Meriva is travelling at more than 2mph, after which the doors automatically lock. The sophisticated system also warns drivers if a door is not completely closed.

While the concept of two rear-hinged back doors is not new in the motor industry, cars in the 1930's 40's and 50s used this system for front and rear doors as did London cabs and as do Rolls Royce and Mazda with their RX-8 Coupe and Mini with their Clubman.

But the Meriva's FlexDoors system is the first time it has been used on a family car in recent years and unlike other rear-hinged door applications the Meriva benefits from front and rear doors that open independently, and does not require rear passengers to sit behind the door opening. As yet the Meriva has not received its EuroNCAP safety rating but Vauxhall are sure it will achieve a five star passenger safety ranking.

This system really works and looks safe but the wide opening front and rear side doors lose some of their benefit because they cannot be opened fully due to their wide angle when the car is parked in the ever smaller parking areas in car parks, especially at supermarkets.

The other Flex technologies include a FlexRail storage centre console between the front seats and FlexSpace rear seating where the 40/20/40 split rear seats slide fore and aft for optimum legroom and the outer ones can slide inwards to improve shoulder room if the narrow centre one is not being used.

The load space in the longer new Meriva is good as well ranging from 400-litres with the rear seats in use, 920-litres up to the window level with the rear seats folded and up to a maximum 1,500-litres if the car is loaded to the roof.

Engines and specifications

So the new Meriva is a user friendly and versatile package with a wide range of engine options. During the UK media press launch only two engine options were available as the car does not go on sale for a few weeks. There was the main selling 1.4-litre turbocharged 120PS petrol unit and the same capacity turbocharged 140PS engine. Do not be put off by the turbocharging aspect.

Modern direct injection smaller capacity petrol engines with variable valve and variable fuel injection timings boosted by turbochargers are the answer to engine downsizing. They provide more power, more torque improved fuel consumption and better torque than the larger units they replace.

The 120PS, the anticipated main selling engine, produces 175Nm from 1,750rpm giving the driving characteristic of a turbodiesel unit. Average fuel economy is 46.3mpg but unfortunately I cannot give you an actual real-life figure as the best selling Exclusive model I tried, although it has an on-board computer, strangely doesn't include a mpg readout.

I suspect that 40+mpg will be realistically possible. The 1.4 turbo 140PS/200Nm petrol engine with SE trim did have the fuel use readout facility. Officially the figure is 42.2mpg; in real life my test car returned 32.7mpg.

Both engines are fine for most people but they can be harsh and noisy when pushed. The 120PS unit did run out of puff on hills to some extent and the car wasn't loaded. The 140PS was more responsive and of course gave a sportier drive but it costs £775 more and the annual road tax bill is £155 against the £125 for the 120PS unit. The Meriva is a very smart car so I know the Meriva owners will make their own smart choice.

For Exclusiv models all the usual feature apply; electrically operated windows and mirrors, air conditioning, stability control, cruise control, curtain airbags and a good sound system.

Ride comfort was good, stability was fine although it is a tall car and there was some bodyroll during cornering but not enough to unsettle the car or its passengers so perhaps the age old cry of 'Are we there yet' will be a thing of the past.

Vauxhall Meriva MILESTONES

Vauxhall Meriva 1.4T 120PS Exclusiv (likely best selling model)

Price: £17,365

Engine/transmission: : 1.4-litre, four cylinder petrol, variable valve timing and direct fuel injection with turbocharger, 120PS and175Nm of torque from 1,750rpm, 5-speed manual gearbox.

Performance: 117mph, 0-62mph 11.5 seconds, 46.3mpg, CO2 143g/km, VED £125

BIK company car tax: 17%. Insurance group: TBA

For: Roomier than the previous model, better specification, better quality, better rear seat access, generally a much more clever vehicle.

Against: : The increase in price and size might deter current Meriva owners from changing up to the new model, engine noise when being pushed along, wind noise from the rear side door seals, wide opening side doors are limited in their use in some car parking spaces.