Fascinating trip to Russelsheim (which is still the home of Opel) to see the new Meriva – or rather to see how and why Opel ended up equipping this mini-MPV with rear-hinged doors.
Now you may see the Meriva as just the kind of car you would never buy, and it is aimed at young families and older, retired types, but the process of developing any car is much the same and the one thing that always strikes me when I meet the engineers involved in taking a car from an idea to a real, tangible object is the total immersion these people put themselves into.
Take the doors on the Meriva. Nobody’s done these on a car the size of the Meriva before- in fact, nobody’s done two full-size rear hinged doors that can open independently of the fronts on anything other than a Rolls Phantom or a London cab in recent years.
So back in 2005 Opel took a current Meriva and cobbled together some rear-hinged doors for it with the aim of improving access to the back seats, especially for adults strapping kids in and for the elderly. People liked the idea, and Opel went on to the next stage – how to construct it.
It turned out that it wasn’t the construction that took the time – essentially the engineers moved the hinges to the C-pillar and added plenty of strength around the mounts – but the locking system. The problem with rear-hinged doors is that if they come open, they’ll effectively take your head off if you fall out of the car. So Opels’ people spent may thousands of hours developing an electronic locking system that would not under any circumstances fail. They stressed the car’s electronics to the point of catching fire to make sure that should there be some sort of system meltdown, the doors wouldn’t pop open.
Then there’s the interior, which had to have lots and lots of storage for kids’ books, plus 1.5 litre bottles of water in the front and 0.75 litres in the back, because children don’t need big bottles, a 250g bar of chocolate and so on and so on. All cars go through this process, but with something like the Meriva accurate storage becomes one of the key selling points of the car. It must work.
Okay, so it’s not refining the car’s turn-in under full throttle on the ’Ring, but I reckon there’s as much skill and dedication to getting a car like the Meriva to do its allocated job properly as there is in honing a Cayman’s reflexes. A different type of skill, but it’s just as admirable.