By Andy Bannister
The company, based in Germany, has eschewed the traditional sliding door solution for rear access in favour of innovative rear-hinged “suicide” doors, although you can be sure GM’s marketeers won’t be using that term.
The car, to be sold as an Opel in most of Europe and as a Vauxhall in the UK – our pictures show the Vauxhall version – will be a key player in the small family car market, pitched against rivals like Citroën’s C3 Picasso, the Skoda Roomster, Nissan’s Note and the new Kia Soul.
It is also likely to be offered in South America, where the current Meriva is built in Brazil and sold as a Chevrolet.
It is bigger overall with a notably longer wheelbase than the outgoing model, being around the size of the latest-generation Astra, itself just going on sale. It uses some platform elements of that car as well as the smaller Corsa and the Meriva’s mid-size MPV brother, the Zafira.
The second generation Meriva looks a big step forward in comparison to its rather boxy predecessor, with a hint of Mercedes A-class about its rear three-quarter view.
Stylistically, the new car features GM Europe family traits seen in the new Insignia and Astra models, notably the “kink” in the front doors. This corporate image is surprisingly successful, looking classy and coherent.
One innovative new feature is a dip in the waistline, which has been incorporated to allow passengers sitting in the back to see better out of the side windows.
The most striking innovation in the Meriva – likely to be copied by rivals – is the rear-hinged FlexDoor arrangement. This boosts rear access and makes the car more family-friendly.
The doors open at an angle of nearly 90 degrees and for safety reasons can only operate when the car is stationary, as an automatic lock engages when the vehicle is in motion.
The old Meriva, which had a particularly roomy and versatile interior for its class, deserved its advertising strapline of “the clever family car.” The new model aims to take this even further.
The rear seats are able to be folded away entirely, or mounted further back for better leg room, while a new sliding interior storage solution, called FlexRail, incorporates a rail above the centre console with sliding storage bins which can be utilised by front and rear passengers.
Engines for the car will be a mix of familiar petrol and diesel GM units, ranging in output from 74hp to 138hp, and there will be a particular emphasis on improving fuel economy and CO2 emissions compared to the outgoing model.
There’s no word yet on whether the current – and slightly mad – 178hp ultra-sporty Meriva, which is badged VXR by Vauxhall and OPC elsewhere, will have a successor in the new range in due course.
Having faced severe uncertainty for many months as a result of the on-again, off-again attempt to unload GM’s European facilities, the company finally looks like it has got something to celebrate, although tough decisions about tackling too much factory capacity remain – probably with the closure of the Opel plant in Antwerp, Belgium, as the end result.
With further Astra derivatives and the next-generation Zafira also due before long, Vauxhall and Opel dealers can at least look forward to showrooms bursting with competent new models as 2010 progresses.
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