Counting sheep: driving the Vauxhall Magnolia

New cars Vauxhall Reviews
PetrolBlog takes a drive through the Somerset countryside in the new 2014 Vauxhall Meriva. Whisper this, but the new 1.6-litre diesel engine is quite good.

The Vauxhall Meriva. However hard you try, it's impossible to say that sentence out loud without feeling depressed. Try it. You may even find your head starting to nod forward, much like the way it does after you've settled down to watch an old movie after a hearty Sunday roast. It's a wonder the Vauxhall Meriva hasn't been made available on prescription as some kind of cure for insomnia.

Next time you're struggling to sleep, forget counting sheep, try focusing on the Vauxhall Meriva instead.

2014 Vauxhall Meriva 1.6 CDTi ecoFLEX diesel

The first generation Meriva - introduced in 2003 - is credited by Vauxhall as creating the small MPV sector. So on this basis alone it needs to be taken outside and given a damn good thrashing.

Then the second generation Meriva arrived in 2010, with its FlexThis and FlexThat technology. It looked better, too. But only in the way that adding a splash of magnolia paint would improve the look of a freshly plastered wall.

But hey, let's cut the Vauxhall Magnolia some slack here. The first generation car sold 115,000 units and there are now over 150,000 of them enduring active service on the roads of Britain. So clearly the FlexDoors, FlexSpace and FlexFloor things are rather appealing. And to be fair, the rear-hinged FlexDoors are rather clever and they do make entering and exiting the cabin a piece of cake.

2014 Vauxhall Meriva FlexDoors

However, the FlexDoors are just about the only feature that warrant special attention. Well, the doors and the new 1.6-litre CDTi diesel engine, but more on that later.

Last month I took a trip to the Haynes Motor Museum in Somerset to test drive the new 2014 Vauxhall Meriva. On the face of it, not much has changed. There's a new grille and some new headlights, plus LED daytime running lights are available for the first time. But aside from these features and the addition of a new Emerald Green pearlescent paint colour, it would take a special kind of Meriva enthusiast to notice the changes.

Has anyone ever been enthusiastic about the Meriva? Sorry, I digress.

With all the proper motoring journos bagging the new 'Whisper Diesel' models first, I was left with a top-trim Meriva SE, powered by the 1.4-litre petrol engine. In truth, things were as I had expected. A reasonably commanding driving position, plenty of interior space and the usual Vauxhall cabin quality. It's as though Vauxhall is always a decade or so behind its rivals, both in terms of genuine quality and ergonomics. Which is why the new Insignia was such a pleasant surprise when I drove it last year.

New Vauxhall Meriva cabin

The Meriva is one of the cars you'll never notice on the road. That is, until you're driving one, at which point you'll realise they're bloody everywhere. On my 45-minute jaunt through some pleasant, but ridiculously wet Somerset countryside, I must have counted a dozen of the things. All painted in ditchwater-dull colours and - I swear this is true - mostly driven by elderly chaps in flat caps. So much for the young families demographic.

But then, just how many young families could truly afford a new Vauxhall Meriva? In one of those genuine eyebrow-raising moments, I glanced at the spec sheet of the Meriva SE I was tootling about in. How much do you reckon it cost? £13,000? £18,000, perhaps? Wrong - with a few bells and whistles, plus the fancy new pearlescent paint, this Meriva would set you back £24,040.

Good lord, that's an awful lot of cash for a car you'd assume would cost between £12,000 and £18,000. To be fair, Vauxhall had loaded the car with over £4,000 worth of extras, but it's still a shocking price. Surely you're better off buying a secondhand estate car than a brand new Meriva? Or is that just the PetrolBlog way of thinking?

Vauxhall Meriva SE 1.4 Turbo

OK, the Meriva range does start at £12,620, but the specification of the Expression trim is so miserly, it's a wonder Vauxhall didn't call it the Meriva Ebenezer. The problem is, the Meriva only starts to become remotely appealing at the Exclusiv mark, by which time the car is too expensive. So you're left with the Tech Line, which, at £13,995 to £17,045, is the only Meriva worth considering.

But even then there's a catch, because the Tech Line is the cheapest way of getting your hands on the really-rather-good 1.6 CDTi ecoFLEX diesel engine, but that's at the higher price of £17,045. Still, at a claimed 64.2mpg on a combined cycle and 116g/km CO2, the Meriva 1.6-litre diesel has the potential to be stupidly cheap to run. And with 134bhp and a healthy 320Nm of torque at 2,000rpm, the diesel engine is surprisingly punchy.

2014 Vauxahll Meriva dashboard with Intellilink

In truth, it's a very good engine. Never quite living up to Vauxhall's 'Whisper Quiet' claim, but it's certainly quieter than the wind and road noise that seem to surround the cabin. You'll notice the extra weight - 1,518kg against the 1.4-litre petrol's 1,480kg - but given what most people will buy the Meriva for, this is not going to be a deal-breaker. And besides, with numb steering, a nasty six-speed gearbox, a harsh ride and fair dollop of body roll through the bends, the extra weight at the front is the least of the Meriva's problems when it comes to dynamic prowess.

As such, it would be unfair to labour such points on a review of the Vauxhall Meriva, even within the confines of PetrolBlog. Has anyone ever found themselves on the verge of Meriva ownership, only to pull back at the last minute because the steering felt a little vague? It's doubtful.

Instead, they'll revel in the generous and well-proportioned 397 litres of luggage space, the flexible seating arrangement, the clever doors and the way in which the steering wheel and driver's seat can be adjusted in tandem to create the ideal driving position for a Meriva driver. In other words, bolt upright with nose pressed hard against the windscreen.

2014 Vauxhall Meriva front seat

So the Vauxhall Meriva isn't a car for you or me. Rather like the Nissan Qashqai, it's car for other people. One that's unlikely to ever appear on the PetrolBlog radar. A car that delivers an immediately forgettable driving experience and complete anonymity on the roads of Britain.

Still, it did give me a chance to play Popmaster with Ken Bruce on BBC Radio Magnolia. Can you name three top 40 hits by Peter Frampton?