New Vauxhall Meriva driven

* Mini-MPV tested * Innovative rear doors * On sale June from £14,500...

New Vauxhall Meriva driven

Vauxhall's all-new Meriva is getting flexy.

Not content with an improved version of the current car's FlexSpace seat layout, plus the FlexRail storage system and FlexFix bike carrier that make their debuts, the big news is its 'FlexDoor' system.

In plain English, that's rear-hinged back doors, a feature that's usually the preserve of luxury limousines like the Rolls-Royce Phantom.

You could say that the Meriva's getting sexy, too. It's much slinkier, with influences from the Insignia and latest Astra. The most unusual design element a dramatic kink in the side window line draws attention to those rear doors and helps to ensure rear passengers get a good view out.

Zafira's little relation

Although it's lower and sleeker than its Corsa-based predecessor, the new Meriva is longer and wider and it now shares most of its underpinnings with the Zafira MPV.

As a result, there's more interior space and, as before, the 'Flexspace' rear seat has a 40:20:40 split, with outer chairs that slide and recline individually. Folding down the middle part allows the outer pair to slide inwards and even further back.

The boot is large and well shaped, even if outright capacity is a fraction down on the old car's.

The Meriva's practicality hinges (excuse the pun) on those rear doors. With no wheelarch in the way, it's easy to slide yourself or a child seat into place. Access is via the tallest part of the door opening, too. The doors open to almost 90 degrees as well.

The innovation doesn't stop there. The 'Flexrail' storage system is a clever use of the space between the two front seats, which has been opened up by fitting an electric parking brake as standard.

Two aluminium-trimmed rails run from the base of the dashboard to the rear footwell and these can be fitted with a variety of storage features. A central rear passenger might find that the system gets in the way of their feet, but four can sit in the lap of luxury.

Impressive interior

The Meriva certainly feels more luxurious than before. Many of the fixtures and fittings are also seen in the Astra and Insignia cabins, and it wasn't hard to look beyond the rough edges of the pre-production cars we drove to see that the cabin will be impressively classy when it goes on sale in June.

Our test cars weren't showroom-ready on the outside, either, but they felt impressively resolved on the road. Our brief drive suggested that the Meriva rides smoothly, handles sharply and is refined.

Eventually, the engine range will span roughly 90bhp to 140bhp and include 1.3- and 1.7-litre diesels. The two turbocharged 1.4-litre petrols we sampled (about 120bhp and 140bhp) could well be the pick of the bunch. Both are smooth and here's that word again flexible.

Vauxhall Meriva
Price from: £14,500 (est)
On sale: June
You'll like: Practical; good to drive
You won't: Comfortable for only four
Verdict: More than fancy doors, it's stylish and good to drive