Suffering from back pain? Chuck out the Nurofen and buy a new Vauxhall Meriva – soon to be hated by osteopaths
CO2 per km 129 grams
It’s one of the trickiest and potentially more embarrassing manoeuvres a driver has to perform – the roadside loo break. Crouching in the lee of an open door, the wind of passing traffic whistling between your bare thighs, the silent prayer a car travelling in the same direction won’t suddenly appear and leave you hopelessly exposed… Well, worry no more. The new Meriva, a stylish small family car from Vauxhall, features rear-hinged back doors which mean when you open back and front together you create a small pocket of privacy. The relief!
Much as I’d like to believe these back-to-front doors were created as the ultimate mobile comfort stop, they were designed to make access and egress to the back of the car as undemanding as possible. NHS statistics on back pain make for grim reading. Half of us will have lower-back pain this year (you may, in fact, be reading this while lying on a hard floor – in which case, I hope it passes soon); and our dodgy backs account for more sick days than anything other than, well, dodgy prawns.
Working with chiropractors, physiotherapists and design experts, Vauxhall has managed to reduce twisting and loading on the lower back by up to 58%. They have done this by creating taller doors which open wider so you don’t have to bend over as much to get in. To make that more technical: the Meriva’s rear-hinged door opens to 84 degrees – 17 degrees more than a traditional door. A grab handle on the inside of the central B-pillar also makes it easier to haul yourself out, something older passengers will appreciate. The RAC estimates that in the next 20 years there will be twice as many male drivers over 70 and three times as many female drivers over 70 – that’s a whole lot of back pain.
The sexier name for “rear-hinged back doors” is suicide doors. So named because if the door becomes unlatched at speed, the wind will snap it open. On a conventional front-hinged door, the wind forces the door shut. The Rolls- Royce Phantom and London black cab – and now the Meriva – have got round this safety problem by having a special lock that prevents the door from being opened unless the car is at a standstill. The only other cars with rear-opening back doors are currently Mazda’s RX-8 and the Mini Clubman. But they have front doors which overlap the back doors so they’re not strictly speaking suicide doors, they’re clamshell doors.
The old Meriva was the best seller in its class for seven years, so this new incarnation has a lot riding on it. It’s wider and longer than the outgoing model, but a great deal funkier. Clever cut lines around the front spotlights and below the grille give the face an expressive appeal and the wave in the window line and the stepped door panels give it a slightly zany, sculptural look.
Inside, the car follows in the soft-soled footsteps of Vauxhall’s reworked Astra and its new Insignia – it feels comfortable, contemporary and unexpectedly swanky. The car is also a compulsive hoarder’s dream. It has 32 separate storage cubbies, including a removable central console – Vauxhall came up with a list of 100 items that the typical Meriva owner would want to fit into these spaces. Engine wise, I drove the economical turbocharged diesel variant which was lively and responsive.
The Meriva won’t win awards for smoothness or the quietness of the engine, but this is a model determined to take some of the back (and bladder) pain out of family driving.
Talking dirty: white van slogans
Car sales have been in the doldrums recently, but vans have been a different story. The past year has seen purchases increase by almost 130%. So, plenty of fresh canvas for our streetwise and hilarious “dirt sloganeers” to display their wit on. Here’s a list of some of our favourites, compiled by the insurance specialists Hastings Direct. Why not see how many you can spot on the road? “I wish my wife was as dirty as this”; “I’m a Porsche in disguise”; “For sale: sponge and bucket, never used”; “Don’t wash me, plant something” and “Born to roam, no time for foam!”