New EU rules on rear-hinged 'suicide' doors have put Vauxhall's revamped Meriva ahead of the game.
The EU rules on so-called 'suicide' rear doors will pave the way for more accessible cars from 2012 but Vauxhall will have them on the next Meriva from June.
Currently, only the Rolls-Royce Phantom has such doors after the company fought a long battle with legislators in Brussels, although the Mazda RX-8 and Mini Clubman have panels that can swing out once the front doors are open.
Suicide doors with safety stipulations
However, the EU has now agreed to permit independently-opening rear-hinged rear doors 'under certain conditions'. The main stipulation is that they should lock automatically once the car is moving and be inoperable again until it stops.
'Suicide' rear doors started to be banned in the early 1960s after several instances where they sprang open as cars passed over bumps, largely because of the feeble locks available at the time.
Rolls-Royce developed elaborate mechanical locks for the Phantom, and Vauxhall has now achieved the same results with an electronic system that bolts the car like a vault at speeds above 2.5mph. The locks are deactivated if an airbag goes off in a crash.
Vauxhall wanted this kind of rear door for the Meriva to provide maximum access for the young families and 'active elderly' customers it is expected to attract.
All four doors open to a maximum of 84 degrees, but there are four dtentes in each, so that they can be held at various points to avoid banging cars on either side.
Most 'accessible' car in the world
Vauxhall claims that because rear passengers can now step straight into their seats, the Meriva is arguably the most accessible car in the world.
The rear doors are not the Meriva's only sign of improved practicality. It has more in-car space for odds and ends, a more flexible boot, the option of the built-in bike rack first seen on the Corsa, and a nifty new three-tier storage rack called Flex Rail between the front seats.
The new car is not based on the Corsa like its predecessor, but is in effect a shrunken Zafira with bits of Astra and Insignia incorporated. As a result it is around 20cm longer than the current car.
It is also much more stylish, with hints of the Citron C4 Picasso at the sides and the Volvo C30 at the back.
It makes its public debut at the Geneva motor show in March, when the engine range and pricing will be revealed.