Whisper it quietly but Vauxhall has created arguably the quietest mini-MPV on the road.

It should be no surprise for this company was a pioneer in this sector. Meriva, when it was launched in 2003, was the first small MPV. At least, Vauxhall claims it was the first.

Others have joined the fray, notably Ford B-Max, the splendid new Nissan Note, the unusual-looking Fiat 500L and the pleasing Citroen C3 Picasso.

But Meriva, with its unusual ‘suicide’ doors, flexible seating and huge interior, has done well for Vauxhall. The addition of a very, very quiet diesel engine which is both powerful and frugal will add to its appeal.

Meriva is a big car for this class but it is well designed and looks far less chunky than some of its rivals. It also drives more car-like than some of the other mini-MPVs and has some good petrol engines available, too, notably a 1.4 turbo unit with a fantastic six-speed transmission.

It’s the new 1.6 CDTi version, dubbed the whisper diesel by Vauxhall, which we are focusing on here. Many diesels these days can be mistaken for petrol but this is quiet by any standards, particularly so for an MPV.

Add to that a steering set-up tuned for British roads and an array of hi-tech features, and Meriva is a pretty fine family car.

The first Meriva appeared in 2003 with the FlexSpace rear seating system proving popular. The second-generation in 2010 added the clever FlexDoors system (Vauxhall prefer not to call them suicide doors!). These are rear-hinged rear doors which allow a 20 per cent larger opening for passengers. With a longer wheelbase offering practicality for buyers, especially those with young children, current Meriva shifted out of the small MPV and into the five-seat compact MPV-B sector. In truth, Meriva looks very much like the old model but it is cleaner and neater and it has 18in alloy wheels available, a rare sight in this sector.

It is available with a choice of seven powertrains, three petrol and four diesel, including tested here the 1.6-litre CDTi engine. In addition, all new Meriva benefits from substantially revised, low friction transmissions which offer more efficiency and better gear changes.

Fresh from its launch in Zafira Tourer, this engine is setting a high benchmark in the industry for efficiency and refinement, produces 136PS, yet achieves a remarkable 64.2mpg combined and low emissions of 116g/km.

Additional economy is achieved through Vauxhall’s ecoFLEX technology and a Start/Stop system.

This state-of-the-art ‘Whisper Diesel’ is simply one of the quietest engines in its class. Its refinement is due to its highly efficient combustion process and clever use of acoustic covers.

To create more interior space, all Merivas are fitted with an electronic parking brake (EPB) as standard. The button is at the base of the gearshift and is easy to operate with just one finger. I would prefer a proper handbrake lever, but I can appreciate the space created by this system.

Electronic Stability Programme Plus (ESP) is standard across the range and tuned to act progressively. Traction control is included in the ESP system.

The FlexDoor system is controversial but Vauxhall are keen advocates. It makes access to the interior easy for both front and back seats.

It is said to be especially ideal for parents securing young children in to the rear seats. The Meriva joins landmark Vauxhalls from the pre-war years, like the iconic 1923 30-98 and 1934 Light Six saloon, each of which had back doors hinged from the rear for ease of access and exit.

Other FlexDoor benefits include easier entry and exit in narrow parking spots and more convenient access to the rear doors for the driver or front passenger. It’s easier, for example, to open a FlexDoor to hang up a jacket or pick up an item from the rear seat. Inside and out, the Meriva raised the bar in the compact MPV segment with adaptable features like FlexSpace, FlexRail and Flex-Fix that are easy to use and offer families a high degree of versatility.

Meriva’s FlexSpace concept offers a range of cabin configurations for versatility, without having to remove any seats.

The cabin can easily be transformed between a five, four, three or two-seat layout to meet the needs of occupants and their luggage. With the rear seatbacks up, the Meriva’s cargo area offers a load capacity of 397 litres, which increases to 916 litres with the seatbacks folded. Using available space up to the roof, an impressive 1,496 litres maximum load capacity can be deployed.

With prices spanning £12,620 to £22,355, Meriva is flexible in more ways than one.

Vauxhall Meriva 1.6 CDTi PRICE: £19,340. Range starts at £12,620 ENGINE: a 1.6 litre diesel engine generating power via front wheel drive PERFORMANCE: Top speed 122mph and 0 to 60mph in 9.9 seconds COSTS: town 58.9mpg; country 67.3mpg; combined 64.2mpg INSURANCE: Group 16 EMISSIONS: 116g/km WARRANTY: 100,000 miles lifetime guarantee