From £19,2108
New shared platform makes Vauxhall’s Van-based practical people carrier an assured performer and sensible SUV alternative

Our Verdict

Vauxhall Combo Life 2018 road test review - hero front

New shared platform means Luton’s latest seven-seat MPV isn’t anything like its last. Can it still succeed against more in-demand SUVs?

Tom Morgan, deputy digital editor
27 August 2018

What is it?

With our ever-growing appetite for SUVs having left a big dent in the demand for traditional people carriers, van-based MPVs are some of the last bastions of practicality.

The recipe (five or seven spacious seats, sliding doors for easy access, ample room in the back for almost anything you’d care to transport) was established almost two decades ago by the Citroen Berlingo, and now Vauxhall is following suit with the Combo Life.

Unlike the last-generation Combo, which only ever made it to the UK in van form, the Combo Life was designed from the ground up as a car first. That’s important, because it also needs to appeal to Zafira tourer customers, now that model has been retired.

It follows the Grandland X SUV as only the second Vauxhall to be based on new owner PSA Group’s EMP2 architecture, and shares its platform with the new Berlingo and Peugeot’s crossover-inspired Rifter.

The Combo shares many of its underpinnings with the Grandland X, including a MacPherson strut and torsion beam rear suspension setup. It will be offered in 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol and 1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel forms, but only the highest-powered 128bhp diesel can be optioned with an 8-speed automatic gearbox.

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This most practical of MPVs will also arrive as a long wheelbase variant, and with space for an extra two passengers in the rear. A hybrid version should follow at some point, too.

The Combo is tested here in short wheelbase, five-seater guise, with power from the entry-level 99bhp diesel sent through a five-speed manual gearbox.

Our car’s top-spec Energy trim includes 16in alloy wheels, body-coloured exterior trim, front and rear parking sensors, and an 8in touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

What's it like?

There’s only so much the design department could do with the Combo’s appearance, which eschews any semblance of sporty styling for a focus on practicality.

Even so, the clean lines and oversized grille up front give it a refined (if utilitarian) look. Short front and rear overhangs and a higher bonnet make it look less boxy than rivals, too.

It’s from within the cabin you begin to see where the Combo started life as a car first, rather than a van: it is roomy, with ample space for every passenger and a general fit and finish that’s very good considering the price.

There are a few telltale signs, like the abundance of hard plastics and the in-dash gear stick, but it’s an otherwise pleasant enough place to be.

Practical, too. Throw those sliding doors open and there’s both space and the required ISOFIX mounts to install a child seat in every one of the back row seats. This tester was still finding cargo bins and hidden storage after three days behind the wheel.

There’s 597 litres of boot space with those seats in place (not quite as much as the new Berlingo) but fold them down and you’ll have a cavernous 2126 litres of storage.

Overall cabin refinement is very good, with little road noise creeping into the spacious interior. Driver and front passenger are well catered for by the responsive 8in touchscreen, and while navigation is a £450 option, anyone with a modern smartphone can probably forego it seeing how Android and Apple CarPlay are included as standard. The £400 parking pack add a panoramic reversing camera, which is well worth ticking on the options list.

By making few concessions in the name of dynamism, the Combo Life has a rather comfortable ride. Only the most craterous of road imperfections are enough to unsettle the car, which is quiet, refined and suitably un-van-like at a cruise.

Large wing mirrors and an upright windscreen mean wind noise is more noticable, and a six-speed gearbox may be better suited to motorway speeds than the five-speed of our test model, but longer journeys shouldn’t leave you exhausted. As it is, the gear stick has a long throw and feels a little vague.

It hardly delivers and engaging driving experience, but steering is assured and accurate. Body roll is to expected from the boxy shape, but it can still surprise with decent levels of grip.

Progress is made leisurely but confidently, with smooth pull at lower revs and a respectable degree of responsiveness when called upon to overtake. The more potent diesel engine may be more suited to running with a full brace of passengers and luggage, mind.

Should I buy one?

If you’re committed to practicality over design flair, this van-derived people carrier makes a strong case for itself. The Combo has styling more restrained than Citroen’s Berlingo, and gives off less of a crossover vibe than the Peugeot Rifter.

Anyone considering an MPV is largely doing so because they need the space they provide, and as such can expect to be driving with a full load a lot of the time. That may be asking a lot from the entry-level engine, suggesting another model is probably the highlight of the range.

You do sacrifice the kind of driver engagement and kerb appeal you might find in a similarly-sized SUV, but the Vauxhall beats almost all of them on price. It also looks to be better value than its PSA cousins - even if it doesn’t have quite the same presence on the road.

Vauxhall Combo Life Energy 1.5 Turbo D specification

Where Surrey, UK Price £22,500 On sale Now Engine 1,499cc, 4-cylinder, turbocharged, diesel Power 99bhp at 3500rpm Torque 184lb ft at 1750rpm Gearbox 5-speed manual Kerb weight 1398kg Top speed 107mph 0-62mph 12.7sec Fuel economy 67.3mpg CO2 111g/km Rivals Peugeot Rifter, Citroen Berlingo

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Comments
11

27 August 2018
Was part of the deal with Citroen and Peugeot that Vauxhall's design had to be hideous? The front lights and grill are terrible and when compared to the Citroen and Peugeot versions it's amazing that Vauxhall got this so badly wrong.
Can't imagine anyone choosing this unless they want it as a cheap minicab.

27 August 2018
Soufriere wrote:

Was part of the deal with Citroen and Peugeot that Vauxhall's design had to be hideous? The front lights and grill are terrible and when compared to the Citroen and Peugeot versions it's amazing that Vauxhall got this so badly wrong.
Can't imagine anyone choosing this unless they want it as a cheap minicab.

Styling is possibly not a high priority for those in the market for a 99 HP diesel 5 seater people carrier.

27 August 2018
jason_recliner wrote:
Soufriere wrote:

Was part of the deal with Citroen and Peugeot that Vauxhall's design had to be hideous? The front lights and grill are terrible and when compared to the Citroen and Peugeot versions it's amazing that Vauxhall got this so badly wrong.
Can't imagine anyone choosing this unless they want it as a cheap minicab.

Styling is possibly not a high priority for those in the market for a 99 HP diesel 5 seater people carrier.

Styling is definitely subjective. But both the Peugeot and Citroen versions look, in my opinion, a lot better than this and show that van based MPVs don't have to look so dull.

27 August 2018
Soufriere wrote:

Was part of the deal with Citroen and Peugeot that Vauxhall's design had to be hideous? The front lights and grill are terrible and when compared to the Citroen and Peugeot versions it's amazing that Vauxhall got this so badly wrong. Can't imagine anyone choosing this unless they want it as a cheap minicab.

But the previous model was a similarly awkward looking nose on the front of a Fiat Doblo, so I don't think this is any worse. At least basing it on the PSA twins should hopefully result in a decent vehicle, the last model Combos just werent very nice at all.

27 August 2018

It’s a shame this is the first model since the takeover, it will only confirm to those that have already decided that Vauxhall models will just be a bad nose job on PSA models, whereas in reality that’s all that ever distinguishes vans (which is what this is) from one another. 

Next to the Berlingo and Partner, the combo is interminably dull, I hope the concept last week will prove more indicative of the next generation models. 

27 August 2018

 A bit boring, anonymous looks like any other Van in this sector including delivery versions!, this is a must try harder attempt.....

Peter Cavellini.

27 August 2018
Peter Cavellini wrote:

 A bit boring, anonymous looks like any other Van in this sector including delivery versions!, this is a must try harder attempt.....

 

On the contrary, its perfect for you.

28 August 2018

 Luap@, really?, comments are supposed to be about Cars, and we are all entitled to our opinions, if you don’t agree, then say so in a civil and sensible way.The Car in question is just another Box on Wheels, see just an opinion....

Peter Cavellini.

28 August 2018

This rather quirky-looking van would be entirely forgiveable were they not replacing such an iconic and well refined/revered model as the Zafira. Vauxhall had refined the Zafira to such a degree, the very latest iteration looked good, was a pleasure to drive and didnt feel like you were making a compromise to own a people mover. This thing is just a van with extra seats and some pointless toys to lure the 'young folk' who (we're lead to believe) presumably only buy a car if it has at least one screen and a collection of pointless driving aids fitted. Its a shame that Vauxhall will only now continue as a badge-engineering exercise for PSA group but I guess one has to accept this; they're keeping people employed and offering a choice to folk who simply dont want a French badge on their drive.Personally, were I rich/daft enough to go out and buy a vehicle brand new I'd go for the new Berlingo which frankly knocks this ugly duckling back into the river. The wise buy of course would be a top-spec 12 month old Zafira - although it remains to be seen if the very latest ones now go up in price due to forced demand!

28 August 2018

The previous Vauxhall Combo MPV was available in the UK,it was known as the Fiat Doblo and was built for Fiat and GM by Tofas in Turkey.  So now instead we've got a rebadged Berlingo/Rifter built in France, not looking that good for Vauxhall or building vans in Luton is it?

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