The trend for turbocharged small-capacity petrol engines continues in the Meriva with a new 118bhp 1.4. It does the job, and is probably your best bet unless you mileage is high. The low running costs of the 1.3-litre diesel will appeal to many, but it struggles to make decent progress – especially with a whole family on board. The 1.7-litre version is better, but it’s too pricey to buy and run for us to recommend it.
The Meriva has a firm yet comfortable ride, but the steering disappoints: it’s heavy at low speeds and fails to provide much feedback when you pick up the pace. Although there’s a reasonable amount of body roll, there’s plenty of grip. On the motorway, the ride is a little fidgety, but it won’t make anyone sick.
Most of the Meriva’s engines are hushed and smooth, yet it’s by no means the quietest car on the motorway. Thanks to the combination of road noise – even on smoother surfaces – and wind noise, the Meriva is far noisier than other family-car favourites. The diesel engines make themselves heard at tickover, but are quickly drowned out by the road noise when you move off.
Prices are on the steep side, but big discounts make up for that. However, although the Target Price of the Expression and S models may seem appealing, they lack some essential kit. The 1.3 CDTi Ecoflex offers impressive running costs, and costs £30 a year for road tax. The Meriva does come with the reassurance of a possible lifetime (limited to 100,000 miles) warranty on the car, but read the terms and conditions carefully.
Interior quality is a mixed bag. Some of the switchgear is borrowed from more expensive models in the Vauxhall line-up, and the cabin looks upmarket. However, some of the plastics make it feel cheap and flimsy. The old car didn't score particularly well in our annual JD Power satisfaction survey - finishing 13th in class in 2012 - so this one needs to be more dependable.
The Meriva scored an impressive five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, and all models get stability control and anti-lock brakes, as well as twin front and side airbags. We’re disappointed that the Expression and S models don’t get curtain airbags, though.
Vauxhall’s now-traditional ‘wing’ treatment across the dashboard features on the Meriva, as do things like the steering wheel from the Insignia and the entertainment unit from the Astra. However, the latter is rather cluttered. Visibility is very good, though, both forward and over-the-shoulder.
Vauxhall’s Flexspace rear seats make another appearance in the Meriva, allowing you to convert the car from five- to a spacious four-seater. However, in five-seat mode, the middle seat is narrow and firm, while the Flexrail system running between the front seats limits the space available for passengers' feet. The boot is an okay size, though, and the rear seats fold easily, if not totally flat.
The level of kit on the entry-level Expression and S models is poor: there’s no air-con or curtain airbags. Exclusiv models get all of what you need, including the Flexrail organiser between the front seats, while SE begins to look decent value with its lavish kit list.
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More than just an MPV with funny doors, the Meriva stacks up as an ideal car for a small family – better for four than five, though. This is our favourite version, but some may prefer to spend more on an engine with a little more power.