What Car? says...
The Vauxhall Combo Cargo 4x4 is special. Unique, in fact. Not words you’d expect to be associated with a Vauxhall van, but it’s true, because it’s the only four-wheel-drive small van you can buy at the moment.
Yes, there are bigger alternatives, such as the Ford Transit All-Wheel-Drive, Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 and Volkswagen Caddy 4Motion, but if you need a small van that's capable in the rough stuff right now, the Vauxhall’s your lot.
The Combo Cargo 4x4 is actually built by 4x4 specialists Dangel, but it is fully backed by Vauxhall and you can order it from a dealership just as easily as you would a regular model.
It uses Vauxhall’s 128bhp 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine and Dangel’s own traction control system, and can be switched between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive in an instant, using a rotary control on the dashboard.
There are two body-length options, giving you up to 3.9m3 of loadspace and a maximum payload of 892kg.
The suspension has also been raised by 90mm over that of the standard Combo Cargo van. A 4x4 Plus Pack further increases the Combo Cargo’s off-roading potential with a rear differential, mud-and-snow tyres, and a ride height raised by a further 20mm.
Keep reading the next few pages of this review to find out if the Combo Cargo 4x4 should be on you or your company's shopping list. And remember, we can help you find the best leasing deals through the free What Car? Leasing section, where you can get a quote for whichever make and model of car or van fits your personal or business needs.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Being able to take the Vauxhall Combo Cargo 4x4 off-road undeniably gives it an extra string to its bow, but this advantage would be negated if it were unable to master life on the road.
That’s why it has selectable two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, so the driver can choose to keep the van in front-wheel drive, saving fuel and money, until more traction is needed.
On the road, set to front-wheel-drive only, you’ll be hard-pressed to notice any difference between the Combo Cargo 4x4 and a regular Combo Cargo. Both vans steer and ride in much the same manner. And engaging four-wheel drive in the 4x4 doesn’t automatically mean that all four wheels are driven; the system only ever calls the rear wheels into action when it detects that the fronts are starting to slip.
The system employs a viscous-coupling to transfer as much torque as necessary to the rear, but will deftly shift it back to the front so that four-wheel-drive isn’t engaged longer than necessary. It works quietly and effectively, and in most scenarios you won’t notice it doing its work.
However, the fact that the system only ever sends drive to the rear wheels if the fronts lose traction occasionally means that you need to be aggressive with the accelerator off-road, particularly when you encounter boggy ground or steep slopes. Power and momentum are key to maintaining progress, so you’ll likely end up leaving the van in first gear for trickier terrain. It does mean a lot of noise, but it’s surprisingly effective. Beware though – if you fail to keep the revs high, the engine is quite easy to stall.
Its off-road ride quality is not as good as a pick-up truck’s, though, and there’s considerably more noise when debris ricochets off the underside of its body. However, on terrain where ground clearance isn’t an issue, the Combo Cargo 4x4 could take you almost as far off the beaten track as most other 4x4s, thanks to its approach angle of 26.6 degrees and departure angle of 38.3 degrees, as well as its break-over angle of 26 degrees. Vauxhall also claims it can climb 41-degree gradients, though we haven't put that to the test.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Alterations to the standard Vauxhall Combo Cargo are limited to its mechanicals, so the interior of the 4x4 is the same as it is in front-wheel-drive models. It is based on the entry-level Edition trim level, which means it’s modestly equipped, with a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, electrically adjustable heated door mirrors and automatic headlights.
The full range of Vauxhall options are also available to be added to the van, allowing items like air-conditioning, cruise control and parking sensors to be specified.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Pick-up trucks have some inherent disadvantages, from the height of the load bay, through to its depth and the difficulty securing it. None of these, though, are true of a van.
However, consequently it's worth noting that the four-wheel-drive system in the Combo Cargo 4x4 brings with it a 110kg weight penalty over the front-wheel-drive model, and this affects the van’s maximum payload – 892kg for the short-wheelbase (L1) model and 848kg for the long-wheelbase (L2). However, the load volume is unchanged: 3.3m3 in L1 and 3.9m3 in L2 vans.
Vehicles used off-road are often required to tow, be it a trailer for equipment or even livestock. The Combo Cargo 4x4's 1.2-tonne towing capacity should be enough for a small trailer, although it’s considerably less than the 3.5 tonnes that most pick-up trucks can pull.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
An obvious drawback to the Vauxhall Combo Cargo 4x4 is its price, which approaches that of many a more capable and well-equipped pick-up truck. That said, it fulfils a different role to a pick-up, and businesses that buy this van will probably also have 4x4s on call as well. For a sole trader, though, it is an expensive option.
Like the standard city van, the Combo Cargo 4x4 has a range of safety equipment, including ESP, driver’s airbag, hill-start assist and hill-descent control. However, it’s a shame that Vauxhall’s Safety Pack is not available because it means the Combo Cargo 4x4 does without lane-keeping assistance, automatic emergency braking and forward-collision alert.
Another downside is that you will have to service the Combo Cargo 4x4 van more regularly than the standard van because of its transfer case and rear axle. Service intervals are 16,000 miles or every two years. The van also has three-year/60,000-mile warranty.
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About the author
George Barrow is one of the leading van and truck reviewers, and is the UK’s only representative on the prestigious International Van of the Year jury. He has written about vans and commercial vehicles for the past 15 years, and can be found in titles including The Sun and What Van?, alongside What Car?.
Barrow is well regarded in the commercial vehicle industry, securing access to the latest models – and the people who made them – long before other titles.