The Vauxhall Meriva VXR is the answer to a question literally nobody asked.
The non-VXR Meriva is a car for people called Derek or Jean, and it’s for taking the grandchildren to the garden centre, again, even though they’ve been pestering to go to Legoland for four months. It’s for people who like to take up two spaces at Aldi. It’s a car that should have a small terrier in it. It’s a car that will gather dust on anything above 40mph on the speedometer. It is not a car that should have 178bhp care of a turbocharged engine. It shouldn’t have Recaro seats. It shouldn’t have 17-inch alloys wheels. It shouldn’t have bright blue metallic paintwork. But, well, here we are. And do you know what? We love this angry little toaster. Just because nobody asked for it doesn’t mean it’s not epic on every level.
The Meriva VXR represents a time when the accountants at Vauxhall were clearly way on a team-building exercise, meaning the designers could push through whatever the hell they wanted. It’s daft, largely pointless but at the same time, an absolute riot. We need cars like this.
For all of the horrid cliches of the Meriva we listed above, there is no denying that while a bit of an ugly little sucker, it was and still is an immensely practical car. Its ‘shoebox on its side’ dimensions resulted in a small car with a lot of space. Then you have the clever rear seats, that can slide forwards and backwards to create more room in the boot or more room for passengers accordingly. The Meriva is a keen, determined, adaptable little car, and for that alone we should like it.
In fact, it’s the practicality that, to us at least, serves to make the VXRness more welcome. Why should those of us who need a practical car scoffed at when we also want performance? Why can’t we have a car that does both? We’re guessing that was the train of thought down at Vauxhall’s Luton head office. That or the whole thing is just a bet that got way out of hand. Either way, we’re glad it happened.
So what about that all important performance? Well, let’s get one thing out of the way. This isn’t a car that got a sporty name for visual reasons only, you know, like your dickhead 18 year-old neighbour with a Fiesta ST Line, who now thinks he’s Ott Tanak. No, the Meriva VXR is a full-fat, red-blooded performance model.
The engine comes from the Corsa VXR, and that’s not exactly a slow machine. the 1.6 16 valve unit is fitted with a turbocharger and kicks out a mighty 178bhp. It also have Vauxhall’s clever overboost system, that gives you five seconds more punch when overtaking, or fleeing a ram-raid at B&Q. Nifty. There’s a six-speed ‘box, the suspension has been reworked to keep everything under control and the brakes are beefier, too. It’s a proper bit of performance kit.
But does the angry toaster succeed in bringing all these performance elements together? Well, yes, in a way. No matter which way you look at it, the base car was always going to be a box with the dimensions of a loaf of bread. That’s not a good recipe for pin-sharp handling and speed. If it was, F1 would be altogether more entertaining to watch.
As such, there are compromises. For example, the steering is a tad over-assisted and fluffy, which detracts from the driving experience. The upright nature of the car also means you won’t be able to get your gangster lean on, not helped by the non-reach adjustable steering wheel. This a performance vehicle you have drive while maintaining good posture. Think of it as a sporty church pew.
That said, the 308mm front and 264mm rear brakes are perfectly weighted for the small Meriva, and thanks to it weighing about as much as a gerbil, they rarely get hot or over-worked. The 17-inch wheels and tyres offer excellent grip, though they do result in tramlining on the motorway, which is exciting to throw one adjective at it. However, the big, sexy Recaro seats will happily keep you in place as you involuntarily wobble down the M62.
Sadly, and somewhat predictably, Vauxhall only sold about three Meriva VXRs. It was a car we weren’t ready for. Nobody was to be honest. It was an automotive freak of nature that only confused the dull and otherwise beige people that normally walk into a Vauxhall showroom. The company hoped the VXR badge would, thanks to the success of the Astra and Corsa versions, translate into sales aplenty. But no.
The Meriva VXR had a short life from 2006 to 2006 and was quickly forgotten by Vauxhall. But their loss is our gain, and now you can get one for under £2,000. And get one you should. The Meriva VXR is unabashed, unhindered fun. And there’s a lot to be said for that.