The Opel Meriva is a car that has surprised me for some time - primarily because it has been so under-rated by Irish motorists.
Here is a car that in the highly-respected TUV 2014 report, which is based on inspections of eight million two to three-year-old cars in Germany, is rated as having the lowest defect rate and the absolute best quality of all those cars. Yes, better than the premium brands too.
The Meriva also has a top ranking with the equally prodigious JD Power ownership satisfaction ratings. And the new Meriva has achieved the maximum five-star result in the Euro NCAP crash test.
It first went on sale in 2003 and more than 1.06 million of that original generation was sold until 2010. The second generation Meriva has seen a further 330,000 sold, yet we saw fewer than 100 sold in Ireland last year.
However, Opel will have a newly-updated Meriva on sale here in April and I suspect it may exercise the palate of Irish motorists more. Plus, Opel has introduced a new entry-level Meriva, which will be available from a new lower price of €18,995 for an S trim 1.4i petrol variant. The entry level diesel model will be the S 1.3CDTi 95HP at €19,995, but check out the 1.6 CDTi too.
That said, the out-going Meriva has had a couple of issues, such as a far from smooth gearbox and not dynamic enough styling to attract trendy small families and older motorists down-sizing.
So let us deal with these. First the looks, and because this is a mid-generation face-lift as opposed to a new model, Opel could not go as far with design changes as it probably would have liked.
It gets a new bumper, new grille and chrome accents, changes to the lights front and rear, plus a new wave panel/window design in the rear-side doors. The design upgrade has succeeded in making the Meriva look fresh, more technical, and refined. It is certainly sharper looking, and not too dynamic to put off some older buyers, who really will like the access to and quality of the interior. Opel has also added a couple of new colours to the range.
Of course, Opel now has another similar sized car in the range. The Mokka offers more sportiness and also 4WD ability, while the new Meriva is more about comfort and flexibility. It will also offer a higher seating position, more relevant features, and ease of use.
And thankfully, the GM-owned German carmaker has held on to its innovative rear-hinged FlexiDoors, which really do make access to the back seats much easier. It also has the variable rear-seating system which it calls FlexSpace.
It has a good infotainment offering. Just like the Adam and Insignia, the Meriva gets its own variation of system, which will follow in other models such as the Astra. Their new IntelliLink multimedia system allows you to stream music and make calls through Bluetooth phones, tablets or portable devices. Voice commands for navigation, phone calls and music tracks have been introduced for convenience. It will even display texts so you stay connected for every minute of your journey.
The new Meriva majors on ergonomics, with great front seats and they are very good in the rear too. In fact, the Meriva is the first and only car in the world to be certified for its comprehensive ergonomic concept by independent doctors and back health experts - so back injury/pain sufferers take note.
There is also lots of leg, head and shoulder room, and it has 31 storage spaces (no, I did not count them). And Opel’s unique FlexFix, a fully integrated, rear-end bicycle carrier system is also the perfect complement for active individuals and families.
Back to a second issue with the out-going model - the gearbox. Here again, Opel has been hard at work, spending €50m on upgrading all five and six-speed transmissions. In the Meriva versions I drove near Brussels last week, the transmissions were smoother, quicker, softer and more precise. Problem solved.
Opel will offer nine engine options in the new Meriva compared to four on run-out model. And Opel’s new generation 1.6 136hp turbo diesel 'whisper' engine is the star unit. This is the quietest and most efficient engine in the class, consuming as low as 3.8 litres per 100 kilometres (or 74mpg) and qualifies for road tax band A4 (€200 annually). Of the diesels, the 1.6 litre diesel is the one to go for, because it will replace the 1.3 and 1.7CDTi units totally within a year.
And helping them on their way later this year, Opel claims that for the first time in a petrol or diesel MPV, emissions will go under 100g, with 99g/km CO2 when it introduces a 1.6 CDTi 110bhp variant.
The entry model S Meriva spec includes daytime running lights, FlexSpace adjustable rear seats, FlexFloor – an adjustable luggage compartment floor that can be lowered to give more load height and volume, CD with USB for iPod/ MP3 player and aux-in sockets, electric front windows and heated door mirrors, door-to-door illumination, remote central dead locking and driver’s seat height adjuster, and electronic stability programme-plus.
The expected best-selling SC version gets additional features such as air conditioning, cruise control, active-safety front seat head restraints, FlexRail® centre console system featuring aluminium rails and sliding tray/cup holder, full-size curtain airbags, steering wheel mounted audio controls, ambient lighting in centre console, front seat back pockets, 12-volt electrical accessory socket in rear centre console, rear courtesy lights, as well as remote control security alarm system on 1.6CDTi models. Opel will also offer a top-of-the-line Premium SE trim level.
The new Meriva is sharper looking, drives really well (especially the 1.6 CDTi), is very comfortable, and is functional. In the segment that accounts for 1.91 per cent share of the overall Irish market, expect to see it challenge the market leading Hyundai iX20, and others such as the Ford B-Max, Kia Venga and Citroen C3 Picasso.
The Meriva should be to compact MPVs what S-Max is to bigger people-movers and dare I say what Qashqai is to crossovers. Praise indeed.