European Review: Opel Meriva 1.6 CDTI

Vojta Dobe
by Vojta Dobe
european review opel meriva 1 6 cdti

As we know, the once-glorious Buick has two objectives today: To sell GM products to Chinese people, and to sell Opels to North American people. Of the five Buick models in the US, three (Verano, Regal and Encore) are badge-engineered Opels or at least have their Opel twins. And fourth, the Cascade convertible, is coming soon.

It thus makes sense to look at Opels as potential Buicks. It even works the other way, as many Opels feel a bit like Buicks. With their visual bulk, hard-to-see extremities and hefty weight, they seem much bigger than they really are. In fact, they feel more American than Euro Fords.

So when I got my hands on an Opel Mariva for a week, I tried to see it as a Buick. When you look at it, with its minivan-like profile and weird shoulder line, it doesn’t look like one. But it turns out it would make for a terrific Buick.

Why? Because Buicks are cars for old people. And while the Meriva is supposed to be exact opposite, it actually does the job even better than any of the current Buicks.

The Meriva was conceived as a car for a young family, or maybe a second family car to replace the wife’s supermini. With its reasonable price and small footprint – it’s actually half a foot shorter than Astra hatchback – it can replace a small hatchback, while being much more adept at hauling kids and stuff. But the same things that make it good at this make it even better as a car for old folks.

There is a few things old people usually want in a car. Buicks used to offer all of them – in about 1955. Old people like high seating for easy ingress and egress. They like good visibility and real windows instead of gun slits you find on most new cars (especially Buickpels). And they prefer plush, comfortable suspension to anything “sporty”.

Meriva offers all of this, and some more. The seats are high and provide lots comfort. There is also Opel’s typical wide range of adjustment of everything, from steering wheel reach to seat height. Almost anyone, regardless of body shape, should be able to find a great driving position.

High bodywork also brings airy, roomy interiror and big windows. And with you sitting quite high above window sills, you have great outlook from the car, much unlike other Opels/Buicks, such as Astra or Verano.

Then there’s the biggest surprise: the suspension. For a relatively small, high car on 17” wheels, it is great at filtering ruts and potholes. Actually, in some evironments, it was even a bit plusher than the paragon of old folks’ car – the ’98 Town Car I used as my daily driver. I admit that the ’98, with its stiffer front springs, isn’t the most comfortable of Panthers, but still – for a compact MPV, Town Car is quite a benchmark to beat.

And since we’re talking Lincolns, we should also mention the Meriva’s last party trick. The suicide doors, exactly like those on the classic Continental. They do not just look cool – they have practical advantages as well. Their main raison d’être is probably to make stuffing children into their seats easier, but in reality, they are much better for stuffing stuff in the rear seats.

Coats, briefcases, maybe shopping bags or even canes or walkers. The stuff that would normally require you to take at least few steps around the car to open the rear door (which, especially in case of canes and walkers, can be annoying) can be thrown to the rear seats easily, after just cracking open the rear doors from where you’re standing when getting inside the car. It may not sound like much, but it’s supremely comfortable even for young guy like myself.

Similarly, the suicide doors can be quite convenient for putting kids in the back. There’s a “but”, though. The kids have to be at least toddlers, i.e. suitable for bigger, forward facing child seats (in which case, they’re probably quite able to climb there themselves). For transporting infants in rear facing seats, the doors are quite useless and actually even worse than normal doors.

I know it, because I borrowed some kids to use as guinea pigs. While the almost 3-year old toddler just climbed there, not seeming to give a damn about the way the door opened, putting an infant into the rear facing seat meant standing exactly where the opened door are, which is a bit uncomfortable. Also, there’s not quite enough space for the rear-facing seat. To even fit it there, the rear seat had to be slid in rearmost position and front passenger’s seat so far forward that it would be useless even for modest-sized adult for any trip longer than half and hour. Rear-facing seat behind the driver? No way. And with the rear seats all the way back, forget about going shopping – you’ll either cram a stroller in the trunk, or the shopping, but not both.

Even with the rear seats all the way forward, the trunk is in no way cavernous. It’s about the same size as Golf’s. That’s enough for mother with two children to go shopping, but certainly not enough for a family trip. Customers looking for affordable family vehicle are thus still much better off looking at wagons, which offer much more trunk space at slight expense of worse rear-seat access.

But for older folks, who typicaly need much less trunk space, but haul their friends time from time, the Meriva is perfectly sized. Even the rear seats are wonderfully accessible, offer great visibility and are comfortable. In fact, the only thing that the Buicks of yore had and this hasn’t, is the looks. Buicks used to be long, massive and regal. The Meriva has all the grace and elegance of a hamster with a mouthful of grain. But then, today’s elderly folks tend to buy cars like Honda Fit or Kia Soul lately, so it seems that this shouldn’t be such a problem. I think Derek’s granma would love it.

At least if she bought it with gasoline engine and automatic transmission. The “downsized” 1.6 CDTI diesel, offering the power of a two-liter in a 1.6 package, may be powerful and effective, but it still lacks refinement (althought it’s better than the older Opel diesels). And, as all small diesels, it woefully lacks grunt in low revs. It’s so bad that you will probably stall it regularly for quite some time – I did at least half a dozen times, as did everyone who I let behind the wheel. Once, I even stalled it on the move. And most intended customers don’t even drive enough annual miles to make the diesel worthwhile. On the other hand, the 1.4 Turbo I have driven few years ago, is really nice and even the economy difference isn’t that terrible.

The Verdict

Great city runabout and great car for old folks. Less great for soccer moms and hardly useable as family vehicle. Comfortable and easy to drive. A perfect vehicle to replace your Buick Park Avenue.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, and serves as editor-in-chief at After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a ratty Chrysler LHS. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

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2 of 27 comments
  • Volt 230 Volt 230 on Mar 10, 2015

    This is actually a nice vehicle and I think it should do well here as a Buick, or a Chevy if they had not tried to bring in the inferior Trax.

  • Richard Richard on Mar 11, 2015

    I´d like to address some of the comments about Buick and “old people´s cars” in general. First, it is true that if you design a car that can accommodate the reduced physical capabilities of older people (the over 55s) you will get a car that is super easy for every one else to use. Ford used this thinking, called Inclusive Design, for the Focus and this car was accepted by all user groups as being extremely good to drive and to operate. BMW are addressing the needs of older users by making all those raised versions of their cars. The GT3 and GT5 plus their off-roaders are intended to bring the BMW driving experience to people who prefer not to fall into a car and who appreciate a raised H-point. In particular, I would like to say that it´s far from true that only old people like Buick. I´ve been a fan since I was 22 and that´s despite my Buick experience involving a 1984 Century. I think that some people prefer a laid-back drive and Buick at their best really deliver on this score. It would be helpful if car journalists refrained from assessing all cars through the lens of track day excellence. Typically they might say something like “the x is a good car with some nice features, good economy and a spacious cabing but we feel that it´s not so exciting to drive….” This formula is routinely offered and is not really appropriate. If I reverse the formula you can see how silly it is “ the x is a good car with commendable grip and high-speed handling and super acceleration but we feel that it´s not spacious, has a small boot and it only seats two people plus the ride is harsh”. Buick generally set out to provide a few expected qualities and they deliver these: nice ride, plush interiors, useful performance and ease-of-use. If you want speed and acceleration shop elsewhere but don´t criticise comfort-orientated cars for delivering comfort. That´s as silly as picking at an Elise for its tiny boot and crap ride. If you want to find out more about Inclusive Design Google the Inclusive Design Toolkit. Sooner or later we all get old and it´s great someone is thinking of our future selves when we want to drive or use some product.

  • Jdt65724922 How can a Chrysler E-Class ride better than a Chrysler Fifth Avenue?
  • Lorenzo This series is epic, but I now fear you'll never get to the gigantic Falcon/Dart/Nova comparison.
  • Chris P Bacon Ford and GM have decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Odds are Chrysler/Cerberus/FCA/Stellantis is next to join in. If any of the companies like Electrify America had been even close to Tesla in reliability, we wouldn't be here.
  • Inside Looking Out China will decide which EV charging protocol will become world wide standard.
  • Chris P Bacon I see no reference to Sweden or South Carolina. I hate to assume, but is this thing built in China? I can't help but wonder if EVs would be more affordable to the masses if they weren't all stuffed full of horsepower most drivers will never use. How much could the price be reduced if it had, say, 200hp. Combined with the instant torque of an EV, that really is plenty of power for the daily commuter, which is what this vehicle really is.