Practical Meriva has real treat in store for families

Vauxhall Meriva is a largely unsung hero of common sense

Vauxhall Meriva is a largely unsung hero of common sense - Credit: PA

The Vauxhall Meriva is a largely unsung hero of common sense and intelligent design, says Matt Kimberley of the Press Association.

It's okay to be compromised. Few companies which produce and market products of any kind will ever admit it, but it's the truth, especially when the product is as expensive as a new car. Compromise helps a product excel in the areas it is chiefly designed for.

Take the 2014 Vauxhall Meriva, for example. Without putting it side-by-side with the model it replaces you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference, especially from the back. But that's not a bad thing.

It's actually a bit of a looker, with the new Vauxhall family 'hawk eye' headlights and that distinctive kink in its shoulder line through the rear door. Form is actually following function though, and the curvaceous line's real purpose is to give rear passengers a better view out and a lighter, airier environment.

The rear-hinged back doors are another feature you notice when giving the Meriva the visual once-over. If they're a compromise in familiarity they allow much easier access to the rear seats and making mounting child seats – and securing wriggling toddlers into them – so much easier you wouldn't believe it unless you tried it for yourself.

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They open to almost 90 degrees for practicality's sake, and what's more there's a convenient grab handle on the back of the B-pillar. It's not pretty but elderly parents will love it. Even the front doors open to 84 degrees – way beyond that of most other cars (and, bizarrely, occasionally beyond your own reach). If you can't comfortably get into the Meriva, you probably can't comfortably get into any car, anywhere.

These are some of the Meriva staples that separate it from its rivals. What's really new about the 2014 model is the so-called 'Whisper Diesel', a cannily-named 1.6-litre engine first seen and appreciated in the Zafira Tourer.

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While diesels aren't often the best engines to choose for urban motoring because they take longer to reach their operating temperature than petrols, this one's charm is undeniable. It's as quiet as a church mouse in a sponsored silence and doesn't get particularly vocal even when driven unfairly hard. Cruising around town and country, stirring the soft but quiet and precise gearbox only when needed, the Meriva paints a very rosy picture of itself.

The compromises come at higher speeds, where things get a bit noisy in the cabin and the one or two trim rattles become more apparent. Vauxhall makes other cars that are much more suited to high motorway mileages, and you'd probably be best advised to steer clear of the Meriva if your schedule includes significant high-speed stints. It's not that the car won't do it, just that its ultimate refinement isn't on a par with, say, its Insignia stablemate.

The thing is, by allowing compromise in this way Vauxhall has been able to achieve back-slapping excellence in terms of practicality and functionality. You'd be hard-pressed to find another car with so many interior storage solutions or that was so wonderfully easy to live with.

The Meriva makes sense. It's not trying to sell itself on any curious new technology or trying overly hard to lure young buyers with the promise of in-car Facebook at every traffic jam. It's just a well thought-out design that's perfectly suited to its target market. And that makes it pretty brilliant.

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