Vauxhall’s five-seat, sub-Zafira mini-MPV was good enough at its job of pootling about town with the kids and shopping, but lacked excitement.
Three years after it was introduced, Vauxhall has spruced up the Meriva with a few choice cosmetic accessories and a trio of new engines which combine to give the boxy runabout a bit more street cred.
The tinting spray has been waved liberally about, with darkened tail lamps and tinted windows on certain models, as well as lashings of chrome.
A fatter front grille and a stripe across the tailgate bejewel the exterior, while the cabin has also been revised with more chrome and some new fabrics.
So, a bit more jazzy than before, but nothing to raise any eyebrows. But what’s this?
A look down the engine list reveals the expected new 1.6 Twinport petrol unit and a 1.3 CDTi diesel… and a 178bhp VXR Turbo!
Yes, Vauxhall’s latest addition to its bonkers power division line-up is a frankly mad Meriva that can blast from 0 to 60mph in 7.9 seconds and carry on to 137mph, shocking the kids into silence and splattering the shopping all over the inside of the rear windscreen.
As well as the headline torque figure of 196lb-ft, there’s also an overboost facility which boosts this by 15% if the accelerator is really pushed hard to the floor.
Vauxhall says this is particularly useful in an emergency situation where you need to accelerate out of trouble. All well and good, although this feature is likely to be in use most of the time as keen drivers thrash the little VXR.
It comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and bodykit as well as Recaro front seats, revised suspension and massive 308mm ventilated brake discs at the front.
Vauxhall is keen to show that a mini-MPV doesn’t necessarily mean school run.
The Meriva VXR is serving as a test-bed for the new 1.6 turbo petrol engine, which will also find its way into future VXR models. Vauxhall won’t confirm which ones, but don’t be too surprised if it appears next year wrapped in the shell of the all-new Corsa.
The hot Meriva is only expected to account for 400 units out of the total range’s 17,500 sales this year, so as far as fleet goes that means you’re not likely to see any VXRs in the rental industry – but perhaps a few user-choosers if they’re tempted by the power and want to seriously downsize.
However, the rest of the range will find more favour in the fleet market – 7,900 Merivas will find their way into fleets this year, spread between Motability sales, user-choosers, single-badge fleets and daily rental.
The new 1.3 CDTi diesel is likely to be the biggest fleet seller, followed closely by the new 1.6 Twinport unit.
The 1.7 CDTi diesel and 1.4 and 1.8-litre petrol engines are all carried over from the previous range.
Behind the wheel
THE launch of the new Meriva was on the island of Sylt, just off the German coast near the border with Denmark.
Unfortunately, this being early February, it was freezing cold and so all the cars on test had non-standard wheels and snow tyres. This makes analysing handling somewhat difficult.
However, evaluating the cars statically holds no such problems. The facelift is definitely an improvement. The new darkened rear lamps and chrome strip break up the rather solid back end, making the car seem smaller from behind, and the new front bumpers streamline the shape.
The A-pillars, while taking up quite a bit of room, have been split into two in an effort to improve forward visibility. It helps a little, but sporadic head-bobbing is still required when checking for traffic at junctions.
In the VXR, the Recaro seats are immensely comfortable and supportive, but do swipe some legroom from those in the back.
On the road, the 1.6 Twinport engine is a disappointment. There’s very little grunt and it feels sluggish.
The 1.3 diesel is better, and feels more powerful than the figures would have you believe. There’s plenty of torque throughout the rev range,and around town the Meriva is quite happy to trundle around in third, while the petrol engine requires almost constant shifting.
And so to the VXR. This 178bhp monster is quite an experience – the gearchange is noticeably more solid and defined, with a shorter throw. Plant your right foot and the front wheels scrabble for grip. A deep, bassy roar emanates from the exhaust and reverberates round the car. The engine is a beauty which demands to be thrashed.
VAUXHALL has made what was already a perfectly decent family car that little bit better, especially with its 1.3 CDTi engine. And with the madness that is the VXR, it may well open up a new niche for parents who don’t want to give up big horsepower quite yet.
|Model:||1.3 CDTi||1.7 CDTi||1.4||1.6||1.8||VXR|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||74/4,000||99/4,400||89/5,600||104/6,000||123/6,000||178/5,500|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||125/1,750||177/2,300||92/4,000||111/3,900||122/4,600||196/2,200|
|Max speed (mph):||98||111||104||112||118||137|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||56.5||53.3||44.1||42.2||35.8||36.2|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||135||143||154||161||190||187|