Pictures from Rallye Monte Carlo Historique leave TG.com lusting for fast French ‘minis.
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The Top Gear car review:Vauxhall Meriva
For:Spacious, flexible interior and not at all bad to drive
Against:Sparsely equipped at the bottom end of the range
1.6 CDTi 16V Exclusiv 5dr
Under pressure from Ford’s B-Max, the backward-doored ‘Vaux has been facelifted. Piers Ward reports
The new Vauxhall Meriva VXR is the Russian doll of the automotive world. It’s a niche within a niche within a niche, and is for those who’ve spent...
What we say:
Nice to drive and with funky doors, the Meriva is very practical for such a small car. What's not to like?
What is it?
A small people carrier/MPV thingy. Well, ‘small’ is relative, as this Meriva is significantly bigger than its predecessor and now competes with models previously thought to be a class above. Its USP is its funky door design, with the rears hinged at the back. Sounds like a bit of a gimmick, but use them and you soon realise they’re a stroke of genius. Parents of small children will approve. It’s been facelifted for 2014, but this is very much an engineering update: styling changes are few and far between.
Your impression of the Meriva’s road manners depends largely on which engine is under the bonnet and the size of the wheels fitted. The larger alloys available look great, but they do detract from the car’s comfort – and this is not supposed to be a sporty vehicle, even if the turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine is a feisty little thing. Despite that, the smooth new 1.6-litre diesel engine is the fastest, and, let’s face it, most buyers will go for the diesel anyway. There’s a 1.3-litre turbodiesel too: avoid.
Regardless of which engine you do opt for, the Meriva is surprisingly nice to drive. And we don’t mean ‘nice’ as in ‘I just want to be friends’, it’s an enjoyable car. Despite the upright design and seating there’s very little body roll, the steering is direct and it clings on gamely if you’ve forgotten your kid’s Dora lunchbox and you need to do a U-turn in a hurry.
On the inside
This is where you’ll realise you get what you paid for. The cheapest Merivas available do without a lot of niceties, most noticeably aircon, so it’s best to pay a little more for a mid-range version. That’ll then include nicer trim. Leather is optional and probably too much of a luxury in this price bracket, but sports seats are highly recommended.
Aside from the specification, the Meriva’s interior is well thought out. The rear seats slide and tilt to allow you to balance luggage with passenger space, while the centre console has a seemingly endless range of adjustment.
‘Class-competitive’ is the best way to describe the Meriva’s running costs. Obviously, fuel economy and emissions figures vary from model to model, though Vauxhall’s engines are all pretty good in that regard. Indeed, since the facelift, they’ve been improved to class-leading levels. Watch out for the ecoFlex badge, as that means it’s an economy special: a 1.6-litre 110bhp versio with stop-start manages 74.3mpg and just 99g/km of CO2. That means free road tax: impressive for a vehicle this practical. As for petrol, even the most powerful turbo manages nearly 45mpg.