Good: new engine is a revelation. Flex Door makes loading and unloading easy.
Not so good: interior plastics are not the greatest.
Opel claims it created the mini-MPV segment with the original Meriva, but it has faced stiff competition from the Ford B-Max and Citroen C4 Picasso. A new engine and transmission put it back on top of the pile.
Here at CompleteCar.ie we like to test cars in a manner befitting their market position. Give us a sports car and we will thrash it around Mondello; give us a luxury saloon and we will waft between our offices and our stately manors (or a convenient luxury hotel that makes a good backdrop for pics) and give us a mini-MPV and we will load it up with our kids and all the stuff that goes with them and head off for a few days to Mayo.
That is exactly what I did in the facelifted Opel Meriva earlier this year. Ok the family break was not a spur of the moment trip inspired by the car, but with access to all manner of large MPVs, estates etc. why did I go in a Meriva?
Well when the batteries have died on the Nintendo GameDs 3D or whatever it's called and the tablet is out of Wi-Fi range the little cherubs in the rear seats need something to keep them amused and the high seating position in the back of the Meriva coupled with the kink in the window line means that they can take in the scenery around them. When they are done staring at sheep and picturesque mountain views the covering on the panoramic glass roof can be retracted, allowing light to flood the cabin and allowing for a game of 'spot the birdy' - my children have simple needs.
The flexible seating of the Meriva also means that the kids can be moved around to suit; more legroom for the eldest fella and the youngest moved closer to the picnic table on the back of the passenger seat. When you are travelling cross country with two children who have an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish you will take anything going, but you don't need to be on a week-long holiday to appreciate the talents of the Meriva.
Take the Flexdoors for example; the rear-hinged back doors appear to be a great novelty item, one that children still marvel over, but they are also quite useful. Admittedly, the Ford B-Max with its sliding rear door and lack of a B-pillar may win the door wars, but it is a close thing. For a start the doors on the Meriva are lighter and easier to open. They also open wide providing ample access to the rear seats for loading and unloading, before acting as a shield against traffic - something especially important on the likes of the school run.
The Meriva is not just about the rear occupants however; those up front are well catered for too. There is the tri-level Flex-Rail storage space between the seats with the biggest area enough to swallow a large handbag whole, meaning it can be left securely in the car while you run off for ice-cream. The top of the Flex-Rail also acts as an armrest, perfectly positioned for operating the dash-mounted gear lever. This is a new six-speed manual unit introduced as part of the Meriva's facelift that shifts much sweeter than the transmission of old. The other big introduction is the new 1.6-litre CDTi 'Whisper Diesel' engine. Replacing the creaking old 1.7-litre unit, fossils of which have recently been dug up alongside Cretaceous dinosaurs, the new engine is quiet and refined - much quieter at idle than many rival engines and it produces a much softer, less gruff, noise when pushed too.
In a word it is a sensation, bringing conversation back to a cabin that was once before a talking free zone such was the clatter of the engine, all while sipping on diesel as it does so. The official rating for the 110hp engine is 3.8 litres/100km and while we did not manage to achieve that figure on our tour of the west coast (travelling four-up and with a boot full of suitcases and the like) we also never bothered the lower end of the fuel gauge.
The SE specification model tested here is available for €23,495. The €22,995 starting price for the trim level gets a 1.4-litre petrol engine that isn't really suited to the car. In general, the Meriva gets a decent if not generous specification. Alloy wheels for example only become standard on this SE model and you really shouldn't have to move up to a top spec version to get electric rear windows in a family car. That said the Meriva remains a handsome car - the facelift adding to that - and the new drivetrain really elevates the small Opel back towards the top of the mini-MPV ladder.