Opel's new 1.6-litre diesel engine is a star, offering refinement and frugality where the brand could not before. While the extent of the Meriva's facelift (in a cosmetic sense) is minimal the new engine is welcomed. And we suspect the best is still to come.
In the Metal:
Some mid-life facelifts are more extensive than others. The one applied to the Opel Meriva to mark the second generation model's four-year anniversary definitely falls into the latter category. Only owners of the current car and Opel fans will be able to spot the discrete changes to the bumper necessitated by the new, Insignia inspired, front grille. Or pick up on the restyled fog lights. Some may even attribute the extra chrome bits to a higher trim level than they have previously seen. The Meriva was a smart car anyway (in a mini-MPV sense) so probably did not need much alteration, but this facelift is closer to a small eyebrow lift rather than the full on rhinoplasty, collagen injections and Botox we have become used to.
The 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' thinking continues inside where again, only a utter car bore will note that the rails for the Flex-Rail system no longer extend into the rear of the cabin, freeing up legroom; or that the seats themselves have been re-profiled. In fact, the most noticeable change is to the infotainment system, which is a cut-down version of the Intellilink system fitted to the Adam and Insignia. While it includes the smartphone integration and a seven-inch colour screen, it is accessed via the bewildering array of buttons that Opel has used since time immemorial. Seems only the Adam and Insignia will be getting the touchscreen and gesture controlled system. Shame.
The interior of the Meriva remains one of the most clever and useable in this class though. Accessed through a rear-hinged 'Flex-door', the back seats can be slid fore and aft individually, collapsed into the floor to boost luggage space from 400- to 1,500 litres or the middle seat folded down and the two outer seats adjusted to make a 'lounge' seating area like that in the larger Zafira Tourer.
While the cosmetic changes are a little underwhelming, the modifications made to the drivetrain are anything but. Primary amongst these is the addition of the new 1.6-litre CDTi 'Whisper Diesel' engine. This is a unit we have previously experienced in the Zafira Tourer, and while it shone there it positively sparkles in the smaller car. With peak power of 136hp and 320Nm of torque it is pretty brisk. Quiet too, especially when compared with the 1.7-litre unit that it will eventually supersede. The engine pulls well from as low as 1,000rpm, with peak torque kicking in at 2,500rpm. It is only as you push on towards 4,000rpm that refinement gives way to characteristic diesel clatter, but in truth there is little reason to stretch the engine that far. The six-speed manual transmission has also received a thorough going over and now shifts smoother and quicker than before.
A shame then that a touch more time could not be spent on the chassis. At motorway speed the Meriva rides impeccably, but slow down and it becomes jittery, jarring over even the smallest ripple on our Belgian test route. There is also a complete lack of feel through the steering wheel, but rumours point to this issue being fixed before the car arrives in Ireland with engineers in Vauxhall in the UK recalibrating the steering for right-hand drive models, much as they did with the Opel Mokka.
What you get for your Money:
To go along with the facelift Opel Ireland has introduced a new entry level 'S' trim and the 100hp 1.4-litre petrol engine from the Adam to go along with it. That car is available now from €18,995 with the 'S' trim also extending to the €19,995 1.3-litre CDTi.
The new 1.6-litre diesel tested here starts at €21,495 for a mid-spec SC car or €23,295 for a range topping SE model. With quoted fuel consumption of 4.4 litres/100km (64.2mpg) - and emissions of just 116g/km - it is up to 10 per cent more efficient than the 1.7-litre diesel. However, the 136hp unit may be trumped by a new 110hp version that will arrive later in the year. With consumption as low as 3.8 litres/100km (74.3mpg) and emissions of 99g/km it may well be the pick of the bunch.
The 110hp engine mentioned above will debut in the Astra at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show before entering series production later this year. While the higher powered version will replace the 1.7-litre of old, the lower power unit will take over the slot of the 1.3-litre CDTi, as these engines don't adhere to upcoming EU6 legislation and will be phased out before September 2015.
Think of a Volkswagen Group diesel engine and you are likely to imagine the 2.0-litre TDI unit. Think of a BMW unit and you may plumb for the silky smooth six-cylinder 3.0-litre lump. This 1.6-litre diesel is Opel's signature diesel, an engine that instantly transforms whatever car it is applied to. Sure, the cosmetic updates of this mid-life facelift are minimal at best, but without the engine they wouldn't even be newsworthy. With it, the 2014 Meriva becomes an interesting proposition.