REVIEW DATE: 17 May 2007
The 1.4-Litre Twinport Might Be The Entry Point In The Vauxhall Meriva Engine Range But It Might Also Be The Informed Choice. Steve Walker Reports.
The Meriva is based on the previous generation Corsa but whereas Vauxhall's supermini was available with small 1.0 and 1.2-litre petrol engines, the company's supermini-MPV has a 1.4-litre unit as its entry point. Why is this? First, the Meriva is a bigger vehicle, 23cm longer and 18cm higher. Second, it's nearly 200kg heavier and thirdly, it's designed to be used in a different way. Whereas the rear bench in a Corsa will spend large parts of its time accommodating nothing more substantial than a some casually tossed shopping bags and a road atlas, Merivas are purchased by individuals who have the express intention of seating people in the rear seats. More passengers mean more weight and more weight necessitates more power.
The physics will not be denied. You'd have to carry three rear seat passengers in a Meriva with a piddling 1.0-litre petrol engine because you'd need all of them to get out and push whenever a modest incline presented itself. The 1.4-litre Twinport petrol engine, by contrast, has the wherewithal to haul a fully-laden Meriva up some serious slopes without undue drama.
MPVs of all descriptions are largely bought as family vehicles and hailing from the compact end of the MPV spectrum, the Meriva is largely bought by families on a fairly tight budget. These kinds of buyers will like the 1.4-litre Twinport engine not just because it's cheap to buy but because it's economical with its fuel and clean with its emissions. This equates to money saved at the pumps and on the tax that can be redirected into some of the other expenses that accompany modern family life. There sure are plenty of them.
44.1mpg is the average fuel consumption figure supplied by Vauxhall and that's a good showing for a 1.4-litre petrol unit. For the kind of urban motoring that most Merivas will do, however, better to expect something closer to the 34mpg official urban figure - which still isn't bad. That, combined with CO2 emissions of 154g/km and the unit's EuroIV compliance, will save Meriva buyers a pretty penny. It's all achieved with the aid of Vauxhall's Twinport technology. It's a clever system that recycles exhaust gasses containing unburnt fuel back into the engine. Under partial load, 25% of the fuel/air mixture going into the engine is actually made up of already burnt exhaust gasses and the result is a big improvement in efficiency. It's all done by synchronised electronic management of the fuel injectors, the emission control (Houston, we have a problem) and the 3-way catalytic converter.
"The engine is well capable of getting the car from A to B and occasionally across to C for the weekend."
Performance is what you'd expect from a small engine powering a small MPV - unremarkable. 0-60mph takes just shy of 13 seconds and there's a 104mph top speed - not too lethargic but not unduly quick either. In reality, a 1.4-litre Twinport-powered Meriva is perfectly adequate for the type of usage that it was intended for. The engine revs-freely, it's quite zippy off the line and gets up to cruising speed rapidly enough - which is all most owners will really want. In terms of handling, the Meriva is actually surprisingly good. For a high-sided MPV, it feels stable in the corners and ride comfort over those traffic-calming measures is a definite strong point. If you do try to extract what little performance the 1.4-litre unit has, things can get a bit noisy in the cabin but at normal revs, the engine is quiet and at normal speeds there's not much wind noise.
There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the Meriva's shape, the exterior being a product of the interior's roominess and functionality rather than something created to make a fashion statement in its own right. The latest models do, however, feature the Vauxhall trademark V-shaped grille set in a reprofiled front bumper along with dark lens rear light clusters and a thick chrome strip across the tailgate. It's nothing too over the top and this, of course, is how it should be.
As with any vehicle that touts itself as some sort of MPV, the Meriva stands or falls on more practical considerations such as interior space, the ingenuity of its seating system, passenger access and overall comfort. It's here that the Meriva comes up trumps. Just as Vauxhall aced the opposition with the Zafira's Flex7 seating system, the Meriva aims to do likewise with its less snappily titled FlexSpace arrangement. With five seats to play with, the Meriva doesn't have as many tricks up its sleeve as the Zafira, but you'll still be able to wow your passengers with a few deft flicks of the wrist.
Most of the time, the Meriva functions as a conventional five seat supermini-MPV, but many of us have tried travelling five up in cars like these and it can feel a bit of a pinch. The Meriva goes some way to alleviating the problem by offering one of the widest rear passenger shoulder width measurements in its class, but the real benefit comes when travelling with four rather than five aboard. The centre seat can fold flat into the footwell, leaving the two remaining seats at liberty to slide independently, not only backwards and forwards, but also on runners from side to side. This makes the Meriva feel extremely spacious indeed. But why stop at four? Vauxhall have equipped the Meriva with the capacity for all of the passenger seats to fold flat, freeing up an enormous 1,300 litres of available space. Even with the rear seats in position, there's a creditable 560 litres available.
The innovations don't stop there. Twin Audio is a first for a car of the Meriva's class, allowing rear passengers to listen to radio and CD independently from the front passengers using headphones. Other convenience features include front seat backs with airline-style fold-down tray tables, seat back net storage, a removable travel box with arm rest and cup holders for rear seat passengers and, most usefully of all, a tray beneath the boot floor in which to hide valuables.
Performance isn't high on amongst the priorities of buyers in the Meriva's sector so the more affordable and economical 1.4-litre models will find plenty of willing purchasers. The engine is well capable of getting the car from A to B and occasionally across to C for the weekend, plus it does so while supping lightly at its fuel reserves. The 1.4-litre Twinport unit is a cost-effective companion for the wider Meriva package.
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