Monday 5 December 2016

Innovation once again

Published 06/08/2011 | 05:00

OPEL MERIVA RATING 81/100
OPEL MERIVA RATING 81/100

The world has changed an awful lot since I last drove a Meriva. Frightening where the years have gone. I can remember it clearly, as I had it at the funeral of a great man whose presence among us we now all regard as one of life's blessings.

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Back then this was a country still on the 'up'.

If the world has changed significantly, the Meriva has certainly kept in step. And some, but not all, of that change has been for the better.

The new one is virtually everything the old one was not. It is significantly roomier, much more stylish and displays a range of innovation and thinking I always used to assign to the French makers of MPVs in particular.

By the same token it has lost a lot of its driving appeal as the larger body takes the edge off the handling and general sharp feel of the old car.

Realistically, and in practical terms, that is a small price to pay for what is a 'large' small people-carrier.

The most important element for families looking at buying one of these, apart from price/value, is the inner space. And this has plenty of it.

However, in the version I had -- it's was what is called SE trim -- I found a conundrum. The space is there -- I could easily sit into the back with the driver's seat set at my usual driving position and still enjoy plenty of room.

Which means there should be accommodation for three reasonably-sized at the back.

Only they have gone and put a spur of a sliding-rail/central console jutting right into it.

That doesn't interfere with those on the outer seats but it intrudes just where the legs of even a relatively small passenger might dangle. Which means -- and I suppose it makes some sort of sense -- that is where the 'baby' of the family will be seated.

While I'm in negative-vibe mode, they also have an electronic parking button which maddened me several times because when I thought I had it on I hadn't and vice versa. I never really got used to it.

The petrol engine, in my case a 1.4-litre turbo with a lot of power, was not shy at soaking up the precious liquid.

Running costs are so important at this level and that's why I'd opt for the 1.3-litre diesel if you are in the market.

Now, I really liked this car but there is no doubt price poses a challenge.

For this sort of money you can buy a (larger-segment) Renault Scenic or, for a good few euro less, a Hyundai i20x for example.

Still, there was a lot to admire about this. The rear doors open out and back rather than out and forward as is conventional.

Opel maintain this is a huge safety factor in that it corrals rear-sear passengers into a more tangible and manageable area.

I tried it. No, there were no toddlers on my test. The world has moved on a fair bit since those days. But one or two, shall we say, more mature individuals were put through their paces and I could see how a parent would have more immediate access to children getting in or out.

Behind the rear seats, which slide back to give impressive room if you need it, was a really spacious boot -- even at its minimum it would shame many a family saloon.

And with the Flex Floor business which Opel have perfected you can fold some or all of the rear seats flat for more luggage space.

And -- in positive-vibe territory now -- well done on the net and hook for securing stuff in the back. They came in handy.

There were also plenty of knacky little stowaway slots with that central tramway I mentioned offering copious amounts of space for anything from a small package to cans or coffee cups.

And the seats were grand, though I'd have welcomed a bit more lower- lumbar support as the old back acted up a little.

Over a fairly extensive series of drives, I found this straightforward, comfortable and easy to manage. However, the resonance of road ripples and bumps came through the steering wheels a little too easily.

My version had a panoramic sunroof (make that 'rain roof' for most of the week). Whether or not that contributed to a noticeable amount of tyre/road noise boom around the cabin,

I'm not certain but it was there. I'll tell you how I almost subliminally noticed that -- when I had to turn up the volume on the radio over certain stretches of road.

Really there was a lot to enjoy in it, especially the sense of spaciousness, the smoothness of engine and gear-change, plenty of internal and external visibility; in other words a car that put, and mostly kept me at my ease.

I can see families getting a lot of work out of this. It is one of the most impressive I've driven.

With a diesel engine under the bonnet, purchase and ownership costs would come down. And they are so critical for those buying the likes of this. Always were. Some things in this world don't really change after all I suppose.

ecunningham@independent.ie

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