We’re used to turbochargers assisting our diesel engines but they’re increasingly being found in petrol cars too.
And not just high performance models. By using a turbo, modern petrol engines can replicate the power of a far larger unit while controlling fuel consumption and emissions. It’s an attractive combination, especially in compact cars were the price premiums attached to diesel engines are more keenly felt. Vauxhall is one of the manufacturers embracing the turbocharger but how does its 1.4-litre VVT Turbo engine work in the latest Meriva MPV?
The original Meriva was one of the first entrants into a niche in the market that would become known as the supermini MPV sector. It basically amounted to a Corsa supermini with extra interior space and practicality courtesy of a taller shape and Vauxhall’s clever FlexSpace seating system. Many of the cars that Meriva counted as its rivals were based on van platforms and while the Vauxhall represented a more sophisticated option than these, it still kept things relatively simple with a firm emphasis on affordability. Since that time, the supermini MPVs have evolved. Models like the Nissan Note and Citroen C3 Picasso have taken things in a more technologically advanced and style-conscious direction. The latest Meriva follows in those themes.
Three versions of Vauxhall’s 1.4-litre VVT petrol engine are available with the Meriva but only two are assisted by turbochargers. The 1.4-litre VVT Turbo engines come in 118bhp or 138bhp states of tune, both achieving fairly lively levels of performance. The two engines produce their peak torque from under 2,000rpm and keep it available almost until the engine reaches 5,000rpm. It makes for a strong pull through the part of the rev range where we spend most of out time in everyday driving.
"its safe, predictable handling should go down well with the target market"
The 138bhp engine feels particularly lively through the gears but it is possible to get caught out at lower revs before the turbo has got into its stride forcing you to snatch a lower gear quickly to maintain progress. Refinement is pretty good with the engine staying hushed at low speeds before taking on a tuneful zing as the revs rise, only close to the limiter does the sound get slightly harsh.
The Mervia’s steering is on the weighty side for a supermini MPV which is appreciated on the open road but less beneficial when performing low speed manoeuvres. The car generally feels very substantial and reassuring with plenty of grip and safe, predictable handling. It isn’t the most enjoyable supermini MPV to drive but it’s comfortable and relaxing which might well count for more with buyers in this sector.
A lot of cars have been built in the world to date and all but a vanishingly small minority of the models with four or more doors have them laid out in the familiar fashion. The Meriva is in the minority. Giving the car rear doors that open in the opposite direction to those at the front is a bold move by Vauxhall and there are positive and negative things to be said for it.
The doors are hinged on their rear edges and swing out to an angle of 90 degrees with the car’s body. This creates a wide opening with the door itself well out of the way of parents leaning in to fit a child’s car seat or make sure the youngsters are buckled-up. The door’s positioning requires you to swivel as you get in as you’re naturally facing the rear seat and it’s also a little awkward in confined spaces where occupants might get trapped if both front and rear doors are opened at the same time. To prevent the doors being opened while on the move, they lock automatically at 2mph and an alarm sounds if they aren’t closed correctly.
The Meriva’s cabin is generally impressive in terms of build quality and design. All the controls operate with a sturdy efficiency and the seating system couldn’t be much simpler to operate. The Meriva is designed to give all occupants a great view out with its large glass area and upright seating. A kink in the car’s belt line makes the rear windows deeper to help kids see out and a panoramic glass roof is available as an option.
At close to 4,300mm long, this Meriva is significantly larger than the model it replaced and the prices have also edged upwards. This reflects a desire within Vauxhall for the car to not only rival genuine supermini MPVs but to also offer an alternative to models from the compact MPV class. Vauxhall has its seven-seat Zafira compact MPV and the Meriva sits below it with the potential to serve as an alternative to five-seat models like the Ford C-MAX, Citroen C4 Picasso or Volkswagen Golf Plus
The turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engines are available in S, Exclusiv and SE trim. The 118bhp versions get a five-speed manual gearbox but the 138bhp unit is mated to a six-speed manual. The S models get electric windows, a CD stereo, the FlexSpace seats and an electronic parking brake but it’s better to go for the Exclusiv which is more generously appointed with the FlexRail storage system, cruise control, curtain airbags and 16" alloy wheels along with various other extras.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the Meriva’s diesel engines that are its most efficient but even the entry-level 74bhp 1.3 CDTi oil-burner is around £700 more than the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol with 118bhp. Economy for this model is measured at 46mpg on the combined cycle and even the 138bhp engine manages over 42mpg which is a decent showing. Emissions for the two engines are 143 and 156g/km respectively.
Small, practical cars tend to work quite well with diesel engines but petrol is making a comeback with the help of our old friend the turbocharger. Modern turbos are aids to efficiency as well as performance because they allow smaller capacity engines to be used and Vauxhall’s 1.4 VVT Turbo Meriva really can give the diesel alternatives a run for their money. Fuel economy may be less impressive but lower upfront costs and lively performance make this engine an attractive choice in Vauxhall’s supermini MPV.
The Meriva’s pricing looks to be on the high side compared to supermini MPV rivals but it’s a sizable and sophisticated car with those novel rear doors giving it a unique appeal. While it isn’t the most thrilling vehicle to drive, its safe, predictable handling should go down well with the target market and the cabin is well thought-out with strong build quality in evidence. Vauxhall has considerable success with the original Meriva and this one is well capable of continuing in that vein.