GENEVA PREVIEW: New Opel/Vauxhall Meriva brings FlexDoors to production
What do top Rolls-Royce cars and GM Europe's new Opel/Vauxhall Meriva MPV/minivan/'monocab' have in common? Rear hinged doors, dubbed FlexDoors, for which the automaker is claiming "unrivalled occupant access and convenience".
The production car, based on a concept shown at Geneva in 2008, has rear doors that swing open towards the back of the car at an angle of nearly 90 degrees, vastly improving the ease with which occupants enter and leave the cabin, according to GME. "Rather than having to step back, or to one side, as one would using a normal front-hinged door, the door allows unimpeded forward access/egress to and from the cabin, enhanced further by the exceptionally high roof line".
The larger door opening and free space around the B pillar mean parents can lift small children forwards in to rear-mounted, second-stage child seats without having to contort themselves around a door, designers added. And with both the front and rear doors open (the fronts open at a similar angle to the rear) a 'parent-friendly' zone is created with no door barrier between front and rear occupants.
The rear doors can only be opened from inside while the car is stationary, an automatic lock engaging as soon as the car pulls away.
Opel/Vauxhall said this is the first time two rear-hinged back doors have been used on a family car in recent years which is true, in European terms, but ignores Honda's North America-only Element launched in 2003, the same year as the first Meriva. That car has rear doors which open only after the front portals and early versions had the front seat belts mounted on the rear doors which could garotte a front occupant who'd cracked open his door enough to allow the rear doors to open but left the belt on. A 2007 model year update relocated the belts.
Other rear-hinged door applications more familiar this side of the Atlantic are the Rolls Royce Phantom and new Ghost and Mazda's RX8 - Opel/Vauxhall said the Meriva benefits from front and rear doors that open independently and do not require rear passengers to sit behind the door opening.
The 'FlexRail' centre console provides owners with a variety of modular storage and comfort features that attach to a dual-rail base. Storage bin and cubby count has also increased.
The original 2003 Meriva's 'FlexSpace' seat fold system (not the most intuitive at first encounter, we found) has evolved and now allows easier fold-down of the rear seats, while moving the rear seats to create more boot, leg or shoulder room is simpler.
The engine choice - six turbocharged petrol and diesel units with power outputs from 75 to 140PS - benefits from an average fuel consumption/CO2 reduction of 15%, or -25g/km across the range. A high mpg/low CO2 ecoFLEX model will also be available.
The Meriva - a Corsa spin-off - has been quite popular here in the UK since it was launched in 2003, effectively creating the small monocab sector in Europe. It seems most popular with older buyers who probably appreciate the easy access from a higher hip point. UK buyers have ordered over 107,000 to date.
ANALYST COMMENT: These rear doors, which swing open at an angle of almost 90-degrees combined with a high roofline and flexible rear seating, will doubtless have wide appeal, not least to parents and those with physical disabilities. It will also give Opel/Vauxhall an edge over competing models although time will tell if it can trigger a trend in the mini MPV segment. [Matthew Beecham]