Car Test   R0323
 
March 2003
First Drive Vauxhall Meriva
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 1.6 16v
Remember the good old car-buying days when there was just a simple choice between a saloon or an estate? Nowadays, with umpteen styles and so much ‘sector straddling’, the lines of model demarcation are decidedly blurred. Some models in the supermini market, for example – like the Ford Fusion – can’t seem to make up their minds what they’re supposed to be.
  
   Vauxhall’s new five-seater Meriva has no such personality problems; it’s a supermini-sized MPV and smaller sister to the seven-seater Zafira – simple as that. Actually, though, it’s as tall as big Sis and almost as long as Astra. What’s more, with a lot of Corsa underpinnings, too, the newcomer boasts a wealth of déjà vous DNA.
  
   Complementing the high roof is a long wheelbase, with the result that the interior offers a surprising amount of space all round. It’s very comfortable in the back, too, with the reclining seats providing good support and generous kneeroom. Several packs – functional or luxury orientated – are available, as is Twin Audio. With this option, rear passengers can listen to radio and CD independently via headphones.
  
   But there’s more, because Meriva’s pièce de résistance is its uniquely clever FlexSpace concept. With this, the (narrower) middle rear seat can be folded flat and the outer pair moved fore and aft by a generous 20cm, as well as sliding inwards by 7cm, thus providing exceptional leg and shoulder room. And it’s all done with one lever and a smooth, zig-zag movement. Very clever.
  
   Even with the Meriva as a five-seater, luggage space is very acceptable. If more is needed, one or both of the outer rear seats can be slid forwards, folded down or lowered to form a flat load deck. Finally, for extra long items, the front passenger’s backrest folds flat. As with Zafira, you don’t have to heave heavy seats in and out, and they’re always on board if you should need them.
  
   Elevated seating means that it’s easy to make a dignified entry and exit. Once behind the height-adjustable wheel, you’re in a room with a view - all-round vision is helped a lot by the ‘monocab's’ four side window design. Clear dials, ergonomic switches and bold audio controls also make life easier for the driver.
  
   Of the three petrol engines initially on offer, we sampled the 100bhp 1.6 16v which feels quite eager when pressed, although Vauxhall’s claim of 0-60mph in 16sec isn’t anything to write home about. A bit more of an ‘up-and-at-'em’ pick-up from the lights would help. It’s always smooth, though, and an amiable lane potterer. The gearchange is first class.
  
   Unlike the rorty, sporty, firmly sprung Fusion, Meriva is more of a one for the quiet life, with a softer, more family friendly ride and less direct, though nicely weighted, electric power steering. It’s speed sensitive and manages to avoid the inert feel of some such systems. Keener drivers haven’t been forgotten, though – a Sport version of Meriva is in the offing.
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • high multi-function display (clock/temp/audio)
  • clear instruments - speedo calibrated 10, 20, 30 etc
  • two bag hooks on rear seatbacks
  • prospect of modest insurance and repair costs
and GRIPES
  • rear head restraints don't lower flush with seatbacks
  • no lower sill paintwork protection
  • air-con warning light low and tiny
  • bumpers lack replaceable nudge strips
VERDICT
We thought Zafira’s third-row back seat stowage was clever, but now Vauxhall has topped that with this even more imaginative second-row seating system. But more than that, it’s installed it in a practical and pleasant-to-drive family holdall that’s compact on the outside, yet roomy and comfortable within. It’s a combination the opposition will struggle to beat.


BRIEF SPECIFICATION
engine 1598cc, 4-cylinder petrol; 100bhp at 6000rpm,
111 lb ft at 3600rpm; belt-driven double overhead camshafts, 16 valves
drive front-wheel drive, 5-speed manual
suspension front: independent MacPherson coil spring/damper struts
rear: torsion beam axle with compound-link location and coil springs
wheels/tyres 5.5in steel (alloy on Design) with 185/60R15 tyres
brakes ventilated discs front, solid discs rear with electronic ABS and brake force distribution. ESP optional
0-62mph* 12.9sec
official (combined) mpg 37.6
CO2 emissions 179g/km
* maker's figures

THE MERIVA RANGE
size and type mid-priced, 5-door supermini MPV   trim levels Life, Enjoy, Design
engines petrol: 4 cylinder/1.6 litre/87bhp, 4/1.6/100, 4/1.8/125
diesel: 4/1.7/100 due autumn 2003
  drive front-wheel drive; 5-speed manual (Easytronic autoshift clutchless gearbox optional on 1.6 16v - available on 1.8 autumn 2003)
notable features FlexSpace sliding/reclining/foldaway back seats, CD with rear audio system, rear DVD entertainment system, 'Travel Assistant' armrest/travel box, electronic climate control, dark-tinted glass, two electric sunroofs, rear parking sensors, breakaway pedals, wide range of accessories.


SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
  in centimetres (x)
  steering
   
  easy to park/garage?
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