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Tested - Opel Meriva 1.4T Cosmo
Not the King ... Perhaps a prince
The Opel Meriva, while hardly the king of the MPV segment, has been on our roads in fair numbers for the last decade. It's never been particularly exciting looking - barely noticeable in town or on a highway - or particularly exhilarating to drive but the impression has always been that it's safe, easy to drive and pretty innovative in terms of space maximisation and functionality.
So, let's explore the 2012 Meriva from these perspectives starting, in the interests of getting the boring stuff out of the way, with the safety features. Unfortunately, it literally is the boring stuff - the same old array of, as far as I'm concerned, outdated offerings in this department. Yes, it has an airbag in the roof which is a vaguely interesting addition to the standard two in the front but what I keep looking for and cannot understand the absence of in any modern car, are effective airbag safety measures for passengers in the rear of the vehicle. I realise that my consternation on this issue is probably due to the fact that I've never been a great 'bottom line thinker' while the people who design, build and sell these cars most likely are. I'm sure that rear airbags are probably a pricey addition to what is meant to be an affordable family car but how good a family car are you selling when only half the family is protected and it's the bigger, uglier and better able to take care of itself half at that?
Side impact protection bars, ABD, ESP, EBD and dual seatbelt pretensioners complete this, frankly, not very impressive safety line up.
Moving swiftly along to the subject of driveability and here I wasn't entirely unimpressed. The Meriva is driven by a 1.4 litre turbo-charged engine, producing 103 kW and 200Nm. While this hardly makes it a roaring beast, it will get you up a reasonable incline or past a trundling truck with relative ease.
Ease remains the right word when it comes to pedals, steering and gears, all remarkably light and well positioned. The seats are comfortable and cloth trimmed and fold down in a 60/40 split which can be very handy if you just need to carry a rake and some planks one day but the next day you want to put in a wheel barrow or a table. I rarely find myself in either of those situations but if I did one day I'm sure I would be glad of said split.
And now to the fun stuff. Is the new Meriva innovative in terms of space maximisation and functionality? Yes ... yes, it is. Apart from the simple facts of having ample head space and legroom as well as a nice size hatch for the big stuff, it also has all sorts of nooks and crannies for smaller stuff like sunglasses, cellphone, empty juice boxes, mismatched hair accessories and a toy soldier with no arms. It's been my experience that when you have children the list of small, unnecessary things that find their way into your car is just about endless so I like all the extra storage.
A particular favourite was the cubby that most cars have between the front seats which always doubles as an armrest - in the Meriva, that cubby is able to slide forward over the cup holders to reveal another secret compartment for yet more stuff. That made me smile every time.
Staying on the subject of functionality, the Meriva has suicide doors although Opel prefers to use the term 'Flexdoors' and I can understand that. Now I realise they're not necessarily an innovation having been around, in one form or another, since the early half of the 20th century but they haven't really been a common sight for a number of decades and, apart from looking very cool they really do make getting in and out of the car just a little bit smoother and easier a process.
As far as gadgetry, the Meriva is fitted with a decent, 7 speaker sound system which can be controlled from the steering wheel. It includes all the Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary attachments you could want as well as a graphic information display, all of which is nice for the price.
For most of the first decade of its production the Meriva was, as I mentioned earlier, a very bland looking affair with a classic shapeless minivan shape to it that failed utterly to impress. Since around the 2010 model all that has changed and I really liked the look of this latest version. It's all angles and interesting shapes with deep black trim around the windows which makes it look edgier than ever and I'm fairly certain edgy is not a word that has ever been used before in connection with this particular people mover.
I have only one small complaint about the looks in that the 17'' wheels, which would look perfectly fine on a normal size car look a little ridiculously small on the Meriva which stands pretty tall. Apart from that minor issue I'd say it's one of the best looking cars in its segment and price bracket.
So, the Meriva has had a fairly major face-lift since I last paid it any attention and its interior is fresh, solidly built and completely up to date but in every other department it's actually just okay. It goes well enough and it stops well enough. It's comfortable enough and, I guess, safe enough but I'm afraid it's just not quite enough.
Would I buy one? Well, to be honest, if someone handed me the money, I'd probably put it somewhere safe while I looked around a little longer. It's not off the table but I can't say it would be my first choice either.
Liked: Edgy looks
Solid, quality interior
Disliked: Slightly dull
Fun value: 9/20
Key Facts: Opel Meriva 1.4 T Cosmo
Engine: 1 364 cc 4 cylinder turbo
Transmission: 6 speed manual
Power (kW): 103kW @ 4900 rpm
Torque (Nm): 200Nm @ 1850 - 4900 rpm
Driven Wheels: Front
Fuel Consumption: 6.7l/100km
Price: R254 000