New Opel Meriva narrows the quality gap
Opel has upped its game with its spacious and comfy new Meriva, and an almost-premium 1.6-litre diesel engine
Date Reviewed: June 16, 2014
The question here is not whether the Opel Meriva is any good; we’ve driven it before and yes, it is pretty good, and has clever rear doors as a bonus. The question here, if you’ll excuse the grammar, is, “can Opel diesel?”
It’s a tricky question, because in the past the answer has generally been no. Opel’s mainstay oil-burner has until now been the 1.7-litre CDTI, which, while it was punchy in its performance and reasonable in its fuel consumption, growled and grumbled like a bear in search of aspirin. It was a quite staggeringly noisy and uncouth engine, especially against the best of the rest of the European diesels. Hardly surprising then that it could trace direct roots back to an Isuzu design of the early 1990s. Engine technology has moved on, but Opel hadn’t.
Thankfully, though, it has now; the German car-maker has just introduced a range of new, modern 1.6-litre diesel engines, and this is our first chance to try one, nestling as it does behind the smiling visage of the just-updated Meriva.
There is at first a little disappointment, though. Start it from cold and the new 1.6 CDTI rattles and coughs almost as loudly as the old 1.7. That’s a bad foot to be starting off on, right there. Thankfully, it does quieten down a lot once it warms through, and especially once you get up to any sort of a decent cruising speed, but the alarm bells were ringing there for a moment.
One aspect of the engine that won’t disappoint is the performance. 136bhp is a very healthy figure to be getting from any compact diesel, and 320Nm of torque is even more so. In fact, it’s remarkably easy to get this supposedly humble family people carrier to break traction and spin its wheels up in a most hooligan-like fashion, thanks to the overabundance to torque. Your passengers won’t like it but you probably will.
In terms of fuel consumption, things are a little less impressive. Opel claims an on-the-money 4.4-litres per 100km, or 64mpg. I found it hard to squeeze much more than 6.0 litres per 100km from the Meriva, though, and it would only bring its average down to mid-fives when very carefully coaxed. OK, I admit it, I have a heavy(ish) right foot and there were lots of long motorway miles in that mix, but still, surely you should expect to get around 55mpg in daily use from a modern 1.6 diesel?
Blame the Meriva’s weight, I guess, because for a compact family MPV it’s actually quite hefty. Of course, on our test car, much of the extra weight came from the extra standard equipment that comes with the ritzy SE model. A full-length glass roof and leather seats add up to quite a few extra pounds, although it does seem rather silly to spend an extra €1,400 on the optional Intelli-Link sat-nav system. Doesn’t Opel know that family car buyers are on tight budgets these days?
It’s all part of Opel’s attempts to push upmarket, to make its badge ring with the premium appeal of a BMW or Audi. That’s a tough call and there are many who reckon Opel can’t pull it off. There are signs of real premium goodness in the updated Meriva, though: the cabin quality is excellent, all the switches and dials look properly pricey and the seats are wonderfully comfortable. Only an occasional slight sense of ham-fistedness about the steering and suspension and the way their reactions are weighted keep it out of BMW’s ballpark. In particular, Opel needs to start paying more attention to the way its cars ride and react over bumps. The Meriva is fine, but it does clatter over certain obstacles in a way one of the premium players simply never would. A small thing, but it all adds up.
Good family car
As a family car, though, the Meriva is really good. It’s comfy and spacious, and thanks to those cut-down windowsills in the rear doors, the kids have a terrific view from out the back. Those rear-opening doors (FlexDoors in Opel-speak) are good, too, and allow you to lean in to help small people with seats and seat-belts with none of the back and spine twisting that conventional doors force upon you.
At a test car price of almost €30,000, the Meriva perhaps makes far less sense for family buyers, but trim back on the options a little and you can easily get that price down to the low-to-mid-20s, which is far more palatable. I can live without a glass roof and sat-nav, thanks.
I couldn’t have lived with the awful old 1.7 diesel, though, but thankfully now I don’t have to. Opel’s new 1.6 isn’t class-leading (a little work is still needed on that start-up noise and the overall fuel consumption) but it is at least class-competitive and so the answer is yes, at last, Opel can diesel. The lowdown: Opel Meriva 1.6 CDTI SE
Power: 136 bhp
Torque: 320Nm; 0-100km/h: 9.9 sec
Top speed: 197km/h
Claimed economy: 4.4l/100km (64mpg)
CO2 emissions: 116g/km
Motor tax: €200
Price: €29,105 as tested
Our verdict: Much-improved diesel engine in an appealingly clever family car