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Vauxhall Meriva: Supermini MPV has flex appeal

We all know about superminis. But supermini MPVs, they're not so well understood.

Basically, supermini MPVs are people carriers based on smaller cars. Like most things in car design, they're a trade-off.

In this case, you get a roomier cabin, better practicality - for example, sliding, folding seats and lots of cubbyholes - bigger boots and better storage.

Against this, they don't drive quite as well as a proper supermini, and the design tends to be, well, not quite clumsy, but not exactly sleek and purposeful either.

This doesn't sound particularly exciting, but if you're juggling the demands of a young family, then you'll gratefully swap all that versatility for some compromise in the looks department.

All of which brings us quite nicely to the Vauxhall Meriva. It's easy to forget that the Meriva was in some ways a minor revolution when it was launched back in 2003.

This is because it was the first determined popular entrant into the supermini-MPV market. At the time, more attention was being lavished on its larger, seven-seat sister, the Zafira.

But it was the Meriva that some view as the mould-breaker. The Zafira was in a class with several other competitors, but the Meriva was going it alone in a segment it pretty much defined.

The original Meriva was fairly dull to look at, but scored well on practicality compared to the Corsa on which it was based.

By the time the second generation came around in 2010, the car had settled down well in a niche that had by then become crowded. It looked like a car in its own right, rather than an extended Corsa.

That model's distinctiveness was greatly assisted by its FlexDoors system - rear-hinged rear doors which allow a 20 per cent larger opening for passengers.

An equally clever FlexSpace system, which allows rear passengers a variety of different seating combinations, also helped put clear blue water between the Meriva and its rivals.

That was then, and things haven't changed much since. The car is still popular, albeit in a competitive marketplace with strong contenders like the Ford B-Max and Nissan Note.

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Vauxhall Meriva

Thing is, the industry is rife with predictions that the third-generation Meriva is on its way. If this is correct, then current trends strongly suggest the new Meriva will be more crossover than MPV, which means there will be bargains galore ahead on the current model, in all its utilitarian glory.

If you're tempted, you'll like that. As with all Vauxhalls, the Meriva comes with lifetime warranty, which offers first owners peace of mind for as long as they own the car, up to 100,000 miles.

The second-generation vehicle received a timely refresh in 2014. Here, you'll find standard Vauxhall fare under the bonnet, with seven powertrains, three petrol and four diesel.

All these cars' petrol engines are Euro 6-compliant, and there's a 136PS 1.6 CDTi 'Whisper Diesel' engine as a useful alternative choice.

Petrol drivers might be most interested in the Meriva's 1.4 turbo petrol engines available with revised six-speed automatic transmission. Vauxhall's ecoFLEX and Start/Stop system technologies are available.

Models come with a good range of assists and equipment. For example, Electric Parking Brake (EPB) and Electronic Stability Programme Plus are both offered as standard. Hill Start Assist briefly uses the rear brakes to minimise downhill movement of the car when taking off on a slope if the electric park brake has not been engaged.

Despite the 2014 facelift, technology inevitably isn't the car's strong point compared to recent launches, however there's still plenty to keep you occupied, including the new generation of Vauxhall's IntelliLink infotainment system.

All in all, if you're looking for a versatile, roomy small car with backwards-opening rear doors to help with loading small children and the like, the Meriva, priced from £12,725, is well worth a consideration.

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