Vauxhall Combo Life long-term review

Could Vauxhall’s van-based people carrier be the perfect lifestyle vehicle? We’ve got three months to find out...

Combo Life Road

The car: Vauxhall Combo Life 1.5 (100PS) Turbo D S/S Energy XL 7-Seater Run by: Alan Taylor-Jones, new cars editor

Why it’s here: To see if the Combo Life is a sensible alternative to a modern SUV

Needs to: Offer plenty of space, provide a comfortable ride on long journeys and have a raft of equipment and modern safety tech

Price £23,765 Price as tested £26,735 Miles covered 797 Official economy 42.2-50.8mpg (WLTP combined) Test economy 40.8mpg Options fitted Multimedia Navi Pro (£450); Parking Pack (£400); Winter Pack (£200); Child Pack (£250); Dark-tinted rear windows (£110); Opening tailgate with tints (£305); Roof rails (£150); Spare wheel (£110); Head-up display (£355); Electronic climate control (£200); 230V socket (£50); Wireless charging (£105); Brilliant Paint (£285)

25 April 2019 – An adventure begins

The Combo Life is Vauxhall’s latest foray into the ‘van with windows’ market, sharing its underpinnings with sister models the Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Rifter – the former of which is our reigning MPV of the Year. That makes it one of the most practical cars on the market on paper, but also one of the most controversial, because much like Marmite, the Combo Life really is a love it or hate it proposition.

We’ll start with the hate, shall we? Put simply, some people think that the Combo Life isn’t the most fashionable thing to ferry your children around in. And let’s face it, who can blame them? It is, after all, based on a vehicle more likely to be seen with ‘Smith & Sons’ or similar plastered on the side.

And it’s not like the Combo Life gets car-like performance either. With a centre of gravity to rival a camel, and the highest-powered Combo only packing 128bhp, it’s hardly going to set your hair on fire on a country B-road.

You might think that such discernment is a bit childish, but car buyers are a fickle bunch. After all, the success of the SUV is down to the fact that the majority of buyers found estate cars a little too bland and wanted to mix chunky looks with high-set driving positions. So trying to convince families that a car based on a van is an enticing proposition isn’t going to be an easy sell.

Vauxhall Combo Life 2019 RHD rear seats

However, if you think about it, the Combo Life actually makes a great deal of sense.

For less than £25,000 you can have a practical seven-seater with acres of space, an impressive equipment list and a frugal diesel engine. It’s why you’ll see scores of MPVs when you visit family-friendly holiday destinations both in the UK and abroad. No other type of vehicle on sale today can carry you, your friends and all your adventure gear with such ease.

And it’s for that reason I’ve decided to run one as my new long-term test car – to prove that there is a well-priced alternative to the current ‘lifestyle’ SUV and, frankly, that there’s life in the MPV market yet. I’ve gone for a seven-seat variant, while the impressive standard spec of Energy trim should keep me entertained on a long journey.

There’s an 8in colour touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, Bluetooth, DAB radio, air conditioning, automatic windscreen wipers, high beam assist, front and rear parking sensors – the list goes on and on. However, because I plan on spending a great deal of time in the car on longer trips, I have also decided to spec some essential options.

So there’s a Multimedia Navi Pro pack (£450) to ensure I don’t get lost, a winter pack (£200) for those chilly mornings on early morning photoshoots, a head-up display (£355) so I don’t have to take my eyes off the road and a 230V power socket (£50) so I can charge my laptop on the move. All in, the Combo Life should make a perfect long-distance companion.

Vauxhall Combo Life Cornering Rear

Indeed, my only concern comes in terms of straight-line performance. Strangely, if you spec the seven-seat version of the Combo Life, you can’t have the more powerful 1.5-litre 128bhp diesel engine. That means you’re restricted to the entry-level 99bhp 1.5-litre diesel and that doesn’t seem like an awful lot of power in a vehicle designed to carry seven fully grown adults. Especially when you consider its official 0-60mph time is a leisurely 13 seconds.

So that’s going to be our first investigation – a small road trip with the whole road test team on board (that’s Becky, John, Doug, Will and our two photographers, plus their gear, and myself) to find out if the Combo Life is truly up to the task.

Beyond that, I’ll be taking the Combo Life on my holidays to see how it copes with a long motorway journey. More on that next time.

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