Opel's new tall hatch offers a touch of class with coach doors that swing open to almost right angles
Making a grand entrance The Opel Meriva's wide-angled coach doors open up to 84 degrees at their widest. -- PHOTO: WINSTON CHUANG

Coach doors that open like those on a Rolls-Royce Phantom. They are really quite spectacular.

When all four are swung open to their widest 84-degree angle, the car forms a shape that resembles a winged contraption in a sci-fi movie. Or a ladybird in flight.

But they are the only spectacular aspect of the new Opel Meriva, which remains a functional single- box five-seater like the Renault Megane Scenic and Mercedes-Benz B-class.

Not that cars in this segment need to be spectacular. They are mostly anything but.

A brand like Opel, however, needs to be novel to be noticed. And coach doors, in that respect, do a great job.

No doubt, they are harder to execute. To be sure, much harder to do than a large grille and daytime- running lights - two elements that helped raise another German brand from the generalist pool not too long ago.

But they are by far more useful than daytimerunning lights or a large grille. Of course, that unique usefulness is somewhat diminished if you are parked in a tight vertical space.

Otherwise, those Rolls-like doors facilitate a grand entrance, even for people of grand proportions. The compact Meriva, measuring no more than 4,300mm tip to tip, has an inordinately long wheelbase of 2,644mm. That means inordinately lanky people are able to sit in the second row without their knees touching their chins.

Equipped with a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, the new Opel is better equipped for ferrying its occupants with verve than its predecessor, which was launched here nine years ago with a 1.6-litre normally aspirated power plant.

Even so, it is unremarkable at the wheel, coming across largely like a mini-MPV, with lots of body movement and a dull driving sensation unmitigated by an artificially stiff steering.

The car goes from zero to a hundred in

11.9 seconds (from 14.3 previously) and on to a top speed of 185kmh (181kmh previously). And it does so with an output of 120bhp, qualifying it for Category A COE.

Which means the Opel dealer is able to price the car quite competitively. At $109,800, the price tag is on a par with those of smaller tall hatches such as the Honda Jazz and Nissan Note.

The Meriva offers more space than either car, but is substantially heavier too. At 1,396kg, it is about 30 per cent heftier than the two Japanese cars. This translates to higher fuel consumption.

In real-life, the Meriva uses 11.6 litres of fuel per 100km - 60 per cent more than its stated economy of 7.2 litres/100km.

The Opel dealership says Opel cars tend to become more efficient over time, after the engine is run in.

That may well be the case, but there is one thing about the car that is unlikely to improve with time: its rather austere interior.

The cabin is dominated by hard, thin plastic panels, some with rather sharp edges. In terms of fit and finish, it falls behind most of the other cars mentioned here.

Its equipment list is a mixed bag of premium and rudimentary features.

You get cruise control but a manual air-conditioning system, navigation but no keyless system, electronic parking brake but manual seat adjustments.

Nevertheless, it is still a reasonable proposition in its price segment. Furthermore, it has Opel's reputation for versatility and ergonomics.

It is said to be the only production car certified by independent assessors to promote healthy backs.

Its second row of seats can be folded flat. And it has up to 32 storage bins, including its FlexRail centre console that allows you to configure the combination of stowage and arm support you want.

Pretty clever. But not as clever as those wideangled coach doors.

CAR INFORMATION

Opel Meriva 1.4 Turbo (A)

Price

:$114,888

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve ECOTEC Turbocharger

Engine Cap

:

1,364 cc

Horsepower

:

118 bhp / 6,000 rpm

Torque

:

200 Nm / 4,200 rpm

Transmission

:

6-speed (A)

Acceleration

:

11.9 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

185 km/h