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Vauxhall Meriva 1.6 CDTi 136PS ecoFLEX SE Start/Stop

Click to view picture gallery“Flexibility is emerging as the front-
  runner for what most people want
  from their cars these days, whether
re buying the baddest SUV or the
  slickest supermini and driving down
  mean city streets or twisting green
  lanes. Vauxhall
s compact MPV, the
  Meriva, is one car that is packed full
flex. Not only that, but it comes
  with a
whisper quiet 1.6 turbodiesel
  that will be as easy on your wallet as
  it is on your ears...”

LEADING DIRECT TO THE HEART OF ITS MAX-FLEX, people-friendly cabin are a pair of novel side back doors that are hinged on the C- instead of the traditional B-pillars. Consequently they open out to the front of the car to create a substantially larger step-in opening for passengers and perfect for the stress-free, back-friendly belting-in of child-seat-sized youngsters.

Flex, so far as the Meriva goes, is definitely the name of the game its multi-configurable FlexSpace rear seating system offers three rear passengers genuine multi-choices when it comes to individual seating positions; but if it's boxes rather than bodies that's the need of the moment then the rear seats can be folded completely flat (and safely locked down) for a maximum cargo loadbay amounting to 1,496 litres.

“MPV is a term that’s
never sounded the least
bit sexy but looks-wise
the Meriva is by no
means a plain-Jane
people carrier.
Far from it — it benefits
from some dramatic
curves that would shame
a catwalk model...
Even when you're carrying three passengers in the back cabin you'll still have a usable 397 litres for your party's luggage. Pretty good going for a 'compact' version of anything.

'Multi-purpose vehicle' is a term that's never sounded the least bit sexy but looks-wise the 4.3-metre-long Meriva is by no means a plain-Jane people carrier. Far from it recently made-over, it benefits from some dramatic curves that would shame a catwalk model, most notably a shapely rising waistline punctuated with front and rear door handles set eye-catchingly back-to-back, a smartly-intertwined glass-and-metal tailgate and a thrusting Vauxhall 'family' chrome grille flanked by stacked headlights with LED daytime running lights.

In keeping with all the latest models sporting a Griffin on their nose, the Meriva's cabin is as welcoming as it is well-finished. And spectacularly airy too, courtesy of the panoramic glass roof set high above the oh-so-easily-adjusted, active-safety headrests and which extends over both seat rows.

For the driver it's all good news, from the commanding driving position with a fist of headroom and height-adjustable seatbelt to the logical instrumentation and switchgear and the close-to-hand gearlever and multifunction (cruise, speed limiter, phone, audio, and voice) leather-rimmed wheel.

The handbrake is operated by fingertip (the switch is logically sited immediately behind the gearlever) while all your infotainment needs are managed via the crisp screen set top-dead-centre of the fascia part of the optional 1,200 all-singing, all-dancing Navi 950 IntelliLink system. Windows are deep and visibility fine in all directions which makes reversing and parking without the help of a rear-view camera or audible sensors easy enough.

Upholstered in an embossed fabric that will temper the heat of summer as well as the chill of winter, the front seats are well padded and pleasantly bolstered numerous long trips during our week-long test didn't throw up a single grumble (and we'd be the first to complain!). They also benefit from being set high off the floor so lower leg comfort is also good, with the secondary advantage of making it easy to get in and out.

Another hidden 'plus' is the extra storage solutions incorporated into their bases: a storage box under the driver's seat; and a large pull-out tray secreted beneath the front passenger seat. More 'flex' is present is the form of a three-tier FlexRail centre console system incorporating a sliding tray/cupholder with a big sliding centre storage module topped with an armrest.

“A two-level boot
maximises load height
at its lowest setting or,
in its uppermost position,
merges the boot floor
seamlessly with the
folded rear seats to
create a long,
flat and easily loaded
cargo hold...
Living with the Meriva is no hardship at all; it comes fitted with all the essentials such as power windows (all one-shot up/down) and heated door mirrors, AirCon, cruise control, ambient lighting, CD/MP3 CD player/stereo radio with USB/iPod connection and aux-in socket, Bluetooth, multifunction trip computer, dark-tinted rear windows and, as already mentioned, a panoramic glass roof with an opaque power-operated sunshade and a straightforward electric parking brake.

There's also plenty of safety kit on board including twin front airbags, front side-impact bags and full-size curtain airbags along with an Electronic Stability Programme, tyre pressure monitoring and a 'seatbelt unfastened' warning light covering the rear seats most likely to be carrying youngsters who, as we all know, have a tendency to unbuckle when they think Mum's not watching. A five-star safety rating can also be taken for granted.

Versatile mini-MPVs like the Meriva are not only popular with small families, for whom their ability to effortlessly cover term-time school-run duties as easily as deliver up half-term holiday transport for the whole tribe is a major appeal, but equally so with drivers not encumbered with growing kids but who also need some 'flex' in their recreational lives for instance, carrying sports-themed equipment. Triathalon-types might also appreciate the Meriva's (optional) integrated FlexFix bike carrier that, when duty calls, slides niftily from out of the rear bumper.

Swing open either of the wide-opening rear-hinged side doors and you'll discover that getting in the back of a car has never been quite so easy. Once there the individual seats can easily be slid fore or aft as required to optimise leg room or maximise boot space. Nice touches include sturdy grabs on the B-pillars, rear windows that retract completely into the doors, and aviation-style folding trays with built-in cupholders on the front seatbacks.

Large third side windows help extend uninterrupted views out in all directions which, with seats set higher than those in front, keeps things interesting for adults as well as children. Headroom is usable and thanks to a minimal transmission hump in the floor there's also plenty of room for three pairs of feet side-by-side.

Fitted to the tailgate is a rear wash/wipe is not just useful but essential for the UK. A low-height loading sill leads into the Meriva's boot it's regular-shaped and easy to fill to the brim. A two-level boot maximises load height at its lowest setting or, in its uppermost position, merges the boot floor seamlessly with the folded rear seats to create a long, flat and easily loaded cargo hold. If you need a large load-through then the middle rear seat slides and drops totally out of the way.

“Vauxhall’s newest
‘Whisper Diesel’ unit is
refined and willing
courtesy of the thick
wedge of torque it serves
up along with a real-
world 48.9mpg...
One of Vauxhall's newest 'Whisper Diesel' engines powered our test Meriva but you can, if you prefer, have a petrol-drinker. However, with an official combined figure of 64.2mpg the diesel is a strong temptress at the pumps.

In use this so-called 'Whisper' unit is refined and willing courtesy of the hefty wedge of torque (236lb ft) it serves up between 2,000 and 2,250rpm. Consequently at that rev-band the sharpest progress comes to those drivers who choose the right gear an easy enough task given the smooth-changing, six-speed manual shift action and palm-fitting gearknob. All of which also contributes to the Meriva's ability for unruffled motorway cruising.

Hard driving over our usual week-long test saw the fuel consumption average out at 48.9mpg. Factor in emissions of 116g/km that incur no road tax at all for the first year and then just 30 annually from year two on and you have an affordable-to-run, very multipurpose car. Top speed, incidentally, is 122mph, with the benchmark 0-62mph done in a tenth of a second short of 10 seconds.

The Meriva is a family-oriented car and as such the ride comfort is what you'd expect. That doesn't mean that it's 'soft' the steering and handling are more than up to press-on driving should there be need for it although for most owners that won't be the most burning reason for buying one.

For most the fact that it's an easy-to-live-with choice whether family or flexibility is your number one priority will be of paramount importance. So too will be the price the 'whisper quiet' and decidedly family-friendly Meriva range kicks off from a smidgen over 13K. Finally, it's a nice thought that the only other car with rear-hinged back doors wears a Flying Lady on its grille.

Vauxhall Meriva 1.6 CDTi 136PS ecoFLEX SE Start/Stop | 21,980
Maximum speed: 122mph | 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds | Test Average: 48.9mpg
Power: 134bhp | Torque: 236lb ft | CO2 116g/km