Underneath the bonnet sits an all-new 1.6i ECOTEC, turbo-charged petrol engine that produces 180PS (around 177bhp) at 5,500rpm and 230Nm of torque between 2,200 and 5,500rpm. It takes just 7.9 seconds to get from standstill to 60 mph and the top speed is 137mph. The engine is sneaky and if you don’t keep an eye on the needle it is very easy to find yourself well over the speed limit without realising it.
There is also an overboost function, which reacts to how fast the accelerator pedal is pressed and increases the torque by 30Nm for up to five seconds. There is only a small amount of lag before the water-cooled turbo comes into play and the car zooms off. Even in sixth gear, at motorway speeds the engine’s capability makes overtaking a walk in the park.
To cope with all this extra power, the suspension has been lowered by 10mm at the front and 15mm at the back, which doesn’t sound a great deal but in combination with stiffer spring rates and tuned dampers, it does make a lot of difference to the handling and attitude of the car. The result is a firm but very nice drive.
However, the Meriva VXR still has mini MPV dimensions and that is where my uneasiness sets in. For sure, the speed and power is a hoot and a lot of fun to play with but it feels inappropriate. In a sports car, there is generally a low centre of gravity generated by the positioning of the engine within a body that is both wide and low.
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