Road Test: Vauxhall Combo Life
The answer to small families’ mobility woes isn’t always SUV-shaped, explains Alex Grant.
SECTOR Medium MPV PRICE £19,610-£23,240 FUEL 51.4-67.3mpg CO2 111-125g/km
Parenthood is, to an extent, about survival. It’s taking steps to simplify a life that’s become more complicated with kids and their space-hungry paraphernalia in tow. The solution is often perceived to be SUV-shaped but, on purely pragmatic terms, that’s not necessarily true.
The Combo Life certainly isn’t SUV-shaped, but it is a good alternative. It’s a van-derived MPV, shared for the most part with Peugeot and Citroën’s sister products. That’s a good place to start; PSA accounts for around half of this segment’s 12,000 annual UK sales and, with former Zafira Tourer customers to target, Vauxhall is hoping to find homes for around 3,000 per year.
Granted, it lacks the kerb appeal of an SUV, but it’s infinitely more space-efficient. This is no bigger than a Grandland X, with which it shares a platform, but it offers a boot large and low enough for an unfolded double buggy and sliding doors to make it easier to load in tight spaces. It even has the rare talent of accommodating three booster seats across the rear bench, each with ISOFIX, and a third row of seats is optional. However, families expecting to regularly use the third row are better off in the extended XL bodystyle.
Engines are shared with the Crossland X and Grandland X; 99bhp and 128bhp 1.5-litre diesels, and 109bhp and 128bhp 1.2-litre petrols, the latter only fitted to the short-wheelbase version. Hard cabin plastics and the tall driving position give away that it’s based on a van, but it drives much like a small hatchback – ride quality is good, it’s easy to manoeuvre in town and wind noise is the only real complaint at higher speeds. The entry-level diesel is impressively quiet, too, even without the sixth gear fitted to the equivalent petrol. An eight-speed automatic gearbox is available for the two 128bhp engines.
Equipment levels are similarly car-like. UK volumes are expected to be weighted towards the higher of the two trim levels, which gets niceties such as alloy wheels, chrome dashboard inserts and the touchscreen infotainment system to stop it feeling quite so utilitarian. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, offering app-based route-planning for occasional users, but built-in navigation is a £450 option. As are the electric rear windows, which are included on Peugeot Rifter’s mid-level trim – cruder pop-outs are standard on the Vauxhall.
That comparison is symptomatic of its biggest threat. The Combo Life is exceptionally clever, but it’s a newcomer facing two established rivals and it feels the most van-like of the three, lacking either the colourful interiors and flamboyant design of the Berlingo or the faux SUV styling of the Rifter. It’s good news for pragmatic parents seeking an easier life, but likely to be a tougher sell for those who would otherwise opt into something SUV-shaped.
It’s hard to fault the Combo Life’s talent for moving people and objects, but boxy MPVs are a tough sell in a market where the fashionable SUV is king.
Key Fleet Model – Vauxhall Combo Life Energy 1.5 Turbo D.
Strengths – Good value, incredibly practical.
Weaknesses – So are Peugeot and Citroën’s rivals.