BMW 218i Active Tourer, Opel Meriva 1.4 Innovation 23 Photos Zoom

Opel Meriva 1.4, BMW 218i Active Tourer - Comparison: Can cheap beat expensive?

The BMW 218i Active Tourer coses around 5,000 Euros more than its comparable Opel Meriva 1.4. Because a brand's first van has to put forth a strong argument.

Detractors would say that simply having the BMW logo makes a care more valuable and desirable. Innovative technology, powerful engines and the much cited driving pleasure are the promises fulfilled, in particular by the brand's top-of-the-range and technology-filled models such as the M3 or i8, and which are rewarded with corresponding price hikes. But is such a price also justified in the traditional classes,into which the which the Bavarians have now squeezed with their first van, with front-wheel drive and transversely installed engines following the design popular within the segment?

In terms of design and dimensions, the Opel Meriva could have in any case served as a blueprint for the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, and yet with comparable engine and equipment, the BMW comes it at around 5,000 Euros more. This will make even the image-conscious and those loyal to the premium brand pause for thought, especially seeing as the smaller discounts and more expensive extras further hike up the price. Whether or not the younger BMW can recoup this expense upon subsequent resale remains to be seen.

The Opel Meriva is more variable

We are also having a look at what the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer has to offer in the here and now: first of all comfortable access through four conventional doors, a noteworthy 7.5 cm additional standard seating space and, in spite of being less tall, a much larger luggage compartment with adjustable intermediate floor. Unlike in the Opel Meriva variability on standard delivered models is limited to folding rear seat back with a 40:20:40 ratio, while the back of the passenger seat can only be folded, the rear seating bench moved and the boot lid opened electronically with a swing of the foot subject to additional cost.

Granted, the latter isn't available in the Opel Meriva, but it does have three highly flexible individual seats to the rear with a central section that can be lowered and a Lounge setting for increased leg and elbow room. On the other hand, the back doors opening in the opposite direction offers no clear advantage, for the hatch is really narrow and it is somewhat difficult to get in when parked in tight spaces. Furthermore, the operation via the confusingly small buttons on the central console, the modest plastics and the wobbly storage box in the otherwise solid, creak free, don't really generate the desire to buy.

Opel Meriva without adaptive dampers

You would much rather have the BMW with its foam-covered surfaces, the clearly laid out operating area and the intuitively operated iDrive system. And although there are not quite so many assistance systems offered as in the larger series, als of the important extras are available in this category. That said, the Opel Meriva features larger, yawning hatches, although it does not offer lane keeping assistance, LED headlights nor a high beam assistant.

When up against the BMW 218i Active Tourer, the Opel Meriva also lacks adaptive dampers (500 Euros extra) and a "Driver Experience Switch" (as standard), which also offers am Eco-Pro mode tuned for efficiency, in addition to the Normal and Sport modes. In this mode the engine and climate control are slightly restricted, whereas in "Sport" the car gets down to business, noticeably more lively, firm and with reduced sway. However, regardless of the setting selected, the BMW acknowledges horizontal joins in the road relatively harsh and bumpy fashion, with the risk that the car will be pushing right down on the blocks when fully laden.

A host of extras for the BMW

So are these gimmicks? Prehaps, but the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer has to prove itself a worthy member of the family somehow. And it manages to do this after just the first few metres, with its light-footed, precise steering and a level of agility that is very good for a high-clearance van. The variable sports steering (350 Euros) conveys a great deal of feeling, but barely any drive influences or impact, and when cornering briskly the gently pressing rear makes you forget the front-wheel drive altogether. Even during the slalom and a double lane change, delicate ESP interventions ensure high stability and safety. The Opel Meriva doesn't lag so far behind in all of this, but there is a sense of obligation rather than being lively and engaged. In the direct comparison, it understeer more strongly and paws the ground quickly with its front wheels, and the ESP then brakes strongly, often unnecessarily. In addition to this, the somewhat sterile, indirect steering delivers little feedback or driving precision, reducing both the handling and the manageability. Nevertheless, overall, the chassis disguises short bumps and the considerably higher load (521 rather than 448 kg) in a more relaxed and calm manner.

Just as well, since for many van-buyers a light suspension is much higher up the wish list that defined driving dynamics or powerful engines. For this reason, the 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine with 138 HP in the Opel Meriva is the ideal engine, even though it doesn't feel like it. The four-cylinder engine only delivers power and torque at higher rev counts, and at that, it always has to be coerced. Stingy when it comes to power from below, not to mention with regard smooth running and clean response, the ride is not without jerks and buzz when accelerating or in the event of load change.

The 218i is a far cry from the Opel Meriva, with a practically identically powerful basic petrol engine – a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo - as used in the Mini Cooper, the build of which is most recognisable when idling or when switching off. It is hard to believe how sophisticated and quiet engines like this can be nowadays, especially seeing as, unlike when downsizing from six to four cylinders, the transition from four to three combustion chambers in no way has to mean a loss of emotion. On the contrary, as is evident in the beautiful sound and lively power delivery of the direct injection engine.

Opel Meriva with high consumption

Here, after a minimal start-up delay, the full torque is available from just 1,250 rpm, which spares the need to continually reach for the precisely tuned gear lever of the six-speed transmission. The Opel Meriva requires more frequent gear changes, and also requires more force and precision when shifting gears. Alongside the higher noise level, this also results in a noticeable increase in consumption: in the test car, the four-cylinder engine indulged in 8.5 litres of super fuel over a distance of 100 kilometres- whereas the Triple swallowed 0.7 litres fewer.

By no means a huge amount, true, and certainly not enough to save the world or at least to be able to quickly recoup the much higher purchase price. What's more, no-one would buy the BMW on the basis of the lower CO2 emissions, the better efficiency rating or the slightly shorter braking distances alone, and not even on account of the larger boot. What is crucial is that it scores points in the areas considered the key values of the market: handling, temperament, safety and driving pleasure. And it is precisely in these areas that the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer is way ahead of the Opel Meriva.

The price of progress

Therefore, while the Opel Meriva is by no means a bad car, the edge it has when it comes to price also poses its own dilemma: those who, like the majority of customers, always have to keep one eye on the bottom line, can only rarely afford the most recent technology. This is most evident when it comes to engines and assistance systems, where the most significant process is currently being made – and premium brands are naturally taking advantage of the earning capacity of their more expensive models.

So is the BMW worth its higher price? In principle, yes, for aside from the slightly poorer variability and suspension, straight off the bat the brand new BMW 2 Series Active Tourer is better than the established Opel Meriva. You just have to be able to afford it.



Hans-Dieter Seufert


21 January 2015
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