Ryan Bubear steps into the Opel Meriva 1.4T Enjoy...
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Doors. They're as vital a part of the modern motor car as the little perforations are an essential part of present-day toilet paper.
Yet, much like the "tear here" facilitators on your favourite brand of two-ply, we tend to take them for granted. They're always there, and we use them almost without thinking, but we never challenge them to do a better job.
The new Opel Meriva, however, does (challenge the conventional car door, that is). The second-generation incarnation of this compact MPV features a nifty rear-hinged door system that significantly improves access to the rear seats. It's a novel yet endearingly simple feature — despite the fact that Opel says it was painstakingly developed over a five-year period (to essentially move the hinges?) — and allows the rear doors to be opened as wide as 84 degrees. This makes it perfect for parents wishing to load/unload their pint-sized offspring.
These "suicide doors" — which also make full-size passengers' entry and exit a far more natural process, free from nasty twisting movements — are rightly seen as the Meriva's party piece, but the vehicle strives to innovate in other areas too. But more on that later.
That familiar Opel face
In small MPV terms, the Meriva is not a bad looking thing. It sports the distinctive Opel family face, and a rising belt-line, including a lovely flourish just aft of the B-pillar. Those centralised door handles certainly catch the eye too. Round the back, there's a hint of Honda Jazz thanks to the gloss black trim and steeply angled rear screen.
The Meriva is offered in two trim levels in South Africa: the Enjoy and the Cosmo. In the spirit of downsizing, both variants make use of the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine also found in the base model Astra GTC. This powerplant develops 103kW and 200Nm, a fair bit more than the range-topping 1.8-litre naturally aspirated engine in the previous Meriva.
There's enough grunt to get you around without too much fuss, and the front-wheel-drive Meriva is able to hit the 100km/h mark from standstill in a rather respectable 10.3 seconds. The six-speed manual gearbox is pleasant enough too, with the sixth cog making highway cruising particularly relaxing (and quiet). Opel reckons the Meriva is able to return a fuel consumption figure of 6.7 litres per 100km, but we ended up on 8.2 after a week. Not terrible, but not terrific either. Admittedly, if we tried hard, we could've done better.
The Meriva — which is both longer and wider than its predecessor — handles admirably for a compact MPV, yet still manages to pull off a really comfortable ride. The electro-hydraulic power steering system doesn't draw attention to itself, which means it's doing its job rather well. In all, it's a simple, comfortable vehicle to drive.
Plenty comes standard
We had the competitively priced base Enjoy model (R236 300) on test. Plenty of kit comes standard, including non-LED daytime running lights, fog-lights, powered and heated door mirrors, power windows, electric parking brake, air-con, seven-speaker sound system (MP3/Aux/USB/Bluetooth), cruise control, and parking sensors. For about R20k extra, the Cosmo model adds partial leather trim, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, a sunroof, auto headlights, auto wipers, climate control, larger (17- vs 16-inch) alloys, and chrome highlights on the door handles.
The cabin shares many of its instruments with the aforementioned Astra GTC, which is no bad thing. Although there are plenty of sweeping lines, the interior is in general rather subtly styled – it feels modern without giving the impression that it is trying to imitate a spacecraft. The quality of materials used is actually quite high, and overall it gets the thumbs-up in terms of ergonomics. The front seats are also particularly comfortable.
So, other than the trick doors, what does the Meriva offer? Well, this model makes use of a new version of the original "FlexSpace" rear seat layout system, incorporating what Opel calls "theatre-style seating". The rear seats can be moved into multiple configurations, including one that creates a lounge-type seating layout with more width and legroom for two passengers, or one that boosts boot space with the outboard seats sliding forward (and still providing rear seating for three passengers). For the record, the luggage compartment can hold 400 litres (enough space for the obligatory family Labrador or the weekly groceries), and be expanded up to 1500 litres thanks to the nifty rear seats.
Climb into a new Meriva, and one of the first things you'll notice is the peculiar "FlexRail" console system (complete with red lighting). This handy arrangement is made up of interchangeable storage units that slide on aluminium rails located between the front seats. There's more space than most console units, thanks to the position of the gear-lever and electronic parking brake, and the rails extend back towards the rear seats (our model had a tray and cup-holder on top, and acres of space underneath). Very useful indeed.
The family-focused Meriva obviously has plenty of safety gadgets too. At speeds under four kilometres per hour, green LEDs housed next to the door handles are illuminated to signal that the doors can be opened. Exceed that speed and the lights go out and the doors lock. Electronic Stability Control comes standard, as does traction control, EBD and BAS. A few less familiar abbreviations also elbow their way onto the list, including EDC (Electronic Drag Torque Control), SLS (Straight Line Stability), and CSC (Corner Stability Control). A five-year or 120 000km warranty and five-year or 90 000km service plan (15 000km intervals) is included too.
So, the Meriva's clever rear doors are more than just a gimmick, and shouldn't be seen as the defining feature of what is a flexible and easy-to-live-with vehicle. Just like the humble bog-roll's handy perforations, the rear-hinged doors are not the be-all-and-end-all of the product, but do make life just that little bit easier.
And only once you're forced to live without them do you appreciate the true extent of their usefulness.
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.