Opel Meriva 1-4

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Keywords: Opel Meriva 1-4

Description: This magazine rated the previous-generation Opel Meriva very highly. In fact, it even won the Best Compact MPV award in our Top 12 awards programme in 2004. Well-built, spacious, practical and

This magazine rated the previous-generation Opel Meriva very highly. In fact, it even won the Best Compact MPV award in our Top 12 awards programme in 2004. Well-built, spacious, practical and economical, the Meriva was also relatively affordable. But all that mattered little, and sales were slow in South Arica – internationally, more than a million of the first-gen model was sold.

Around the same time as the Meriva’s local launch, the Opel marque started going through a bit of a rough patch and much confidence was lost, especially as GMSA moved its focus onto Chevrolet. The Opel saga of the past decade or so is well documented, and I won’t go into details here, but the outcome is not yet entirely clear. Nevertheless, General Motors has recommitted to the German brand (locally and internationally), it has been largely restructured and, importantly, will move upmarket. This, of course, is easier said than done, but a visit to Europe and a peek inside the cabins of all the latest Opels will confirm one thing. They’re serious about it.

Positioning Opel as a premium brand, however, and especially in South Africa, will not be easy. Positioning it as a quality, “interesting” brand, may be easier… This is where the all-new Meriva could be quite instrumental.

It’s certainly right up there in terms of quality. I spent the holiday period in Russia and the Opel distributor was kind enough to make a 1,4 Turbo model available for me to drive. I spent 1 500 km behind the wheel of it, driving on some of the dodgiest roads I’ve ever seen, and in some of the worst conditions too. I’m not kidding when I talk about monster pot-holes on the highway! There was not one creak from any of the interior fittings.

The interior design is really neat, with a nice, sturdy feel to all the materials. A variety of trim options are available. It’s also very spacious and the flexibility it offers is superb. The rear seats can individually slide or be folded (see pic showing all the configurations). Rear legroom is very good, and the boot is of a decent size, too. It is the attention to detail that lifts the Meriva out of the mainstream – the FlexRail console system is particularly good. Two aluminium rails span from the base of the facia to just behind the base of the front seats. These rails feature exchangeable storage units that can slide forwards or backwards as required, or be removed. My Meriva featured a large sliding armrest/storage box, and it was very useful. Driving in Russia during winter time requires you to dress up like the Michelin man, so upon entering any vehicle there immediately follows an undressing of sorts, and a search for storage space for gloves, ice scrapers, beanies and the like. Well, the Meriva has 32 storage locations in the cabin!

Cabin comfort is superb. Partly because the Meriva is so economical and partly because the prospect of dressing up again just to have a comfort break didn’t appeal very much, I drove for 600 km stints without stopping. And more importantly, without any discomfort. The seats are excellent. It’s no surprise to me to learn that Germany’s Aktion Gesunder Ruken (Action for Healthy Backs), has given the Meriva its seal of approval. There are also a lot of surprise-and-delight features. The heated steering wheel and seats were very welcome in the sub-zero temperatures.

But now, let’s get to the Meriva’s party trick. I can’t think of another current production car (except for the Rolls-Royce Phantom), that features so-called rear-hinged, rear “suicide-doors”. Called FlexDoors on the Meriva, Opel says they improve entry and exit because they open to almost 90 degrees, much wider than the usual 67 degrees of most cars. It is certainly helpful when entering a vehicle dressed like the Michelin man, I can tell you. Also, for fastening child seats etc. there is real benefit. But they’re not always better than normal doors, especially in tight parking spaces where the person entering the rear door will have to walk past the door first before he/she can enter, and potentially get up close and personal with the person entering the front door at the same time. Nevertheless, the FlexDoors bestow upon the Meriva a real novelty factor in addition to the mentioned practical benefits.

The Meriva I drove in Russia was powered by the high-output version of the company’s perky 1,4-litre turbocharged engine. It delivers 103 kW and 200 N.m of torque (from a nice and low 1 850 r/min). It is fitted with a six-speed manual transmission. Opel claims a combined cycle fuel economy figure of 6,7 L/100, which is superb and within reach in my experience. The Meriva is also quite fast, with a 0-100 km/h time of 10,3 seconds.

I loved driving it – the controls are slick, the torque good and the handling balance probably the best I’ve yet encountered in what some people call the mom’s taxi segment.

Overall, the Meriva is hard to fault. It will undoubtedly be a more expensive offering than its predecessor when it arrives in South Africa in a few months’ time, but then again the quality and features reflect the move up. I expect pricing to be in the R200 000 to R250 000 bracket. Considering the fact that the next-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class will become less of a MPV and a proper hatchback, and the B-Class is more expensive, the new Meriva fits nicely in that kind of niche.



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