Vauxhall's Combo Life won't be the family car you dreamed about but it could be the one you actually need. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Vauxhall has long offered MPV passenger-carrying versions of its compact Combo van on the Continent. Now it brings that kind of package to the UK market in the form of this small but spacious People Carrier, the Combo Life.
Is this more than just a van with windows? Vauxhall wants to convince you that the Combo Life is just that. Yes of course it's based on the Combo panel van, but this little MPV gets the kind of safety and media technology that most LCV drivers can only dream of. It comes in two lengths, gives you a choice of either five or seven seats and can swallow up to 2,693-litres if you load it up to the gunwhales. Is there room in your life for a vehicle as versatile as that, one that can average around 65mpg and is priced from no more than around £20,000? If so, then read on...
Combo Life buyers choose between three engines. There's a 1.2-litre 110PS petrol unit. Or a 1.5-litre CDTi diesel, developing either 100 or 130PS. The units are combined with five and six-speed manual transmissions. In addition, in a segment first, a low-friction eight-speed automatic with Quickshift technology can be ordered in combination with the top-of-the-range 1.5-litre 130PS diesel. Under the skin, there's an independent Bi-link suspension system that can provide reasonably supple ride comfort, yet is firm enough to resist body roll and support heavy loads. It's a decent compromise. Whichever variant you choose - standard or long - you'll find that the driving position pretty good, with the steeply raked windscreen and low bonnet combining to give great visibility. Couple that with big panoramic door mirrors and the result is a vehicle you can be confident about driving even the most congested city streets where the light steering facilitates a tight turning circle, 11.2m in the short wheelbase version and 12.5m for the long wheelbase model. As for refinement - usually a van-based MPV issue - well, the slightly clattery note at start-up settles down quite acceptably once you get up to speed. Ultimately, probably the biggest compliment you can really pay this Vauxhall is that at times, it's easy to forget you're driving a van-derived product.
The Combo Life is available in a 4.4-metre standard length version or a longer 4.75-metre long model, with two sliding rear doors as standard. Both variants have a height of 1.8 metres and are available with either five or seven seats. Style-wise, compared with other van-based MPVs in the segment, this one has a shorter front overhang and a higher bonnet, making it look more balanced. From the front, it displays a typical Vauxhall identity and the high bonnet features two crisp lines, which go from the windscreen down to the grille and emphasise the stability of the vehicle. As with most van-based MPVs, you get plenty of boot space. The five-seat, standard length version has a minimum luggage volume of 597-litres, while the long wheelbase model has a minimum luggage volume of 850-litres. With the rear seats folded down, the boot volume of the standard version more than triples to 2,126-litres. The longer version of the Combo Life offers even more capacity when the rear seats are folded down with up to 2,693-litres available. For passengers, there are five and seven-seat variants. Either way, you get three individual rear seats, all with ISOFIX child seat brackets, and you can specify an optional panoramic glass roof.
Priced from just under £20,000, the entry-level 'Design' 1.2-litre 110PS petrol 6-speed manual model features air conditioning, a DAB Radio with USB and Bluetooth audio streaming and 16-inch steel wheels with styled wheel covers. Moving up the range, the 'Energy' trim starts from around £22,000 for the five-seater 1.2-litre 110PS petrol 6-speed manual model. Standard specification includes an eight-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system, 16-inch alloy wheels and front and rear parking sensors. If you need space for more passengers, the 'Energy'-spec seven-seater starts from just under £22,000 for the 1.2-litre 110PS 6-manual model. Standard specification includes 35/30/35 split-folding second-row seats with a fold-flat facility, two removable third-row seats and two foldable tables with cup-holders. The Combo Life aims to raise the bar for safety and comfort in this segment. It is fitted with technologies and driver assistance systems that are more commonly seen in the compact or SUV sectors, such as Driver Drowsiness Alert, a rear view camera with 180?? bird's-eye view, a Head-up display, and an 'IntelliGrip' traction aid, as well as improved comfort features such as heated seats and a heated steering wheel.
Running cost returns from the various turbo-charged, direct injection petrol and diesel engines are competitive, CO2 emissions starting from 111g/km and fuel economy of up to 67.3mpg possible for the 1.5-litre 100PS diesel. The 1.5-litre 130PS diesel manages 65.7mpg and 113g/km. And the 1.2-litre 110PS petrol variant delivers 51.4mpg and 125g/km. All powertrains meet the stringent Euro 6d-TEMP emissions standard. You'll also need to know that Vauxhall includes a three-year, 60,000 mile warranty as standard, a package that can be extended up to five years and 100,000 miles at extra cost. A year's free breakdown cover is also provided, along with a six-year anti-corrosion guarantee. Service intervals are at 20,000 miles or every 12 months, depending on which comes round sooner and you can opt for a service plan that lets you pay monthly to spread the cost of regular work to your car. As part of this, Vauxhall offers discounts on wear and tear items, such as brake pads and windscreen wipers.
Vauxhall builds more vans in Britain than anyone else, so why can't one of them be diverted towards the passenger market? It's taken some time for the brand to come around to that conclusion, but the Combo Life shows that when done well - as here - this kind of van-based MPV can be quite appealing. This one is more sophisticated than you might expect, yet it's as big - for people and for packages - as you'd expect an LCV-derived People Carrier to be. In short, it does enough to be spotted by the people who count. People who'll find this Vauxhall difficult to ignore in their search for a compact MPV unafflicted by style pretention or attempts at badge equity. Job done.
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