I’ve finally seen one. Fourteen years after the Vauxhall Meriva VXR made its unlikely debut, I’ve seen one on the road. It was a fleeting glimpse. The blue unicorn darted into a garden centre car park before I could grab a photo for social media LOLs.
The Vauxhall Meriva VXR was an unlikely performance car. Giving the Vauxhall Meriva mini-MPV the VXR treatment was akin to turning a McCarthy & Stone retirement home into a lap dancing bar. Different concepts and different audiences.
All of which meant it shouldn’t have worked. Although Vauxhall loaded the Meriva brochure with images of bright young things, it became the favoured chariot of people in the autumn of their years. The kind of people who enjoy a light lunch at a garden centre. Countdown viewers.
So the Meriva VXR was a bit of a conundrum, Carol. The other VXR models made sense. Go-faster versions of hatchbacks and saloons. A hardcore VXR220. Something mad from ‘Down Under’. Even the Zafira VXR had an element of ‘daddy cool’ about it.
The Meriva VXR was a different story. Tall and compact monoboxes aren’t designed to go fast. They’re for people who get excited about flexible seating, good visibility, cup holders and fuel economy. Folk who visit retail parks and load their boots with B&M Bargains.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this. It’s easy to be sniffy about cars like the Vauxhall Meriva, Honda Jazz and Nissan Note. You may not want one, but for non-car people who just want to get from A to B without worrying about C, they’re rather appealing.
But the Meriva VXR came from so far to the left it wouldn’t even be welcome at Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment. It added some unlikely spice to the mini-MPV segment. Like adding Tabasco sauce to the butter candy market. A hot Werther’s Original? Meriva drivers would be choking on their bedtime cocoa.
But here’s the thing. The Vauxhall Meriva VXR looks bloody good. The 17-inch alloy wheels fill the arches. There’s an understated roof spoiler at the back. A trapezoidal tailpipe. Chunky bumpers and side sills. Oh, and lowered suspension for some Maccie D’s scene points, innit.
It shouldn’t work, but it does. Under the stubby-nosed bonnet lies a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine producing 180hp. Enough to complete the nought to Pets at Home dash in 7.9 seconds, before hitting a top speed of 137mph on its way to The Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
Enough poke to keep a hot hatch on its toes, then. But despite the lowered suspension – 10mm at the front and 15mm at the rear – the Meriva VXR would struggle to keep up when the road turns twisty. There’s only so much you can achieve when you’re working with a slab-sided monobox designed for comfort and practicality.
Still, at least you have a pair of Recaro sports seats to keep you in place, even if the kids are being chucked from side to side like they’re riding Colossus at Thorpe Park. You can always pick up a cheap sick bucket at Poundstretcher.
The Meriva VXR was never going to be anything other than a novelty act. The eccentric uncle who turns up at Christmas, gets drunk and falls asleep in the corner. Vauxhall had visions of shifting maybe 400 a year. Instead, around 250 found a home in the UK.
Today, there are around 200 left. You stand more chance of seeing a Ferrari FF on your way to work than you do a Vauxhall Meriva VXR. Two practical cars, but the Meriva is the more exclusive of the two. You’ll pay between £2,000 and £4,000 for the privilege of owning the VXR. A proper B&M Bargain.
It’s the most PetrolBloggy VXR you can buy. The oddball of the range. The one that leaves you scratching your head questioning what Vauxhall and Opel were thinking. That makes it acceptable. That’s why I had to document my first experience of seeing a Meriva VXR on the road.
Yours for the price of a deposit on a characterless compact crossover. More practical. Better looking. Ten times cooler. Why buy a humdrum Vauxhall Meriva when you can buy a heroic Vauxhall Meriva? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.