What Car? says...
The Vauxhall Combo Cargo nameplate has been on small vans for a long time, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t kept pace with the times.
Previously based on the Fiat Doblò Cargo, the new Vauxhall Combo now shares its platform with the Citroën Berlingo Van and the Peugeot Partner. It has an all-new chassis that’s actually part-based upon some of the two French brands best passenger cars.
The Vauxhall Combo is available in two sizes, Standard and XL, as well as with a crew cab that can transport up to five people. Power comes from myriad different engines – in fact, there are so many options that the range can get a little confusing.
Initially a 1.6-litre, Euro-6.1 compliant diesel engine will be on sale, but a more powerful but smaller capacity 1.5-litre BlueHDi Euro-6.2 compliant engine with a 127bhp output following swiftly afterwards.
That smaller, newer engine will eventually supersede the 1.6-litre unit altogether, and it will also be available with 74bhp and 98bhp outputs too.
Confusing? Rest assured the options will soon settle down.
A 1.2-litre PureTech petrol engine with 108bhp and 127bhp outputs will also be offered. As well as manual units, both the highest-powered petrol and diesel engines are also available with an eight-speed automatic gearbox – quite something for a little van.
For the other models, a five-speed manual transmission is fitted as standard on both 1.6-litre models, while the 1.5-litre unit gets a six-speed manual.
Three trim levels are available: entry-level Edition, mid-range Sportive and top-spec NAV.
Competition in the city van segment is incredibly fierce, but the Combo (and Berlingo and Partner) is a robust rival to the likes of the VW Caddy Cargo, the Ford Transit Connect and the Renault Kangoo.
Once you've decided which van model is best for you, we can help you find the best leasing deals if you search the What Car? Leasing pages.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
In order to understand just how different the new Vauxhall Combo is from the old Fiat Doblò Cargo based van – or indeed from the previous generation Citroën Berlingo Van and Peugeot Partner – it’s important to know what has changed under the skin. Previously, both sets of vans were based on entirely commercial vehicle platforms. Vans designed as vans.
The new Combo, though, has been created as a hybrid, with the existing small van rear combined with the ultra-modern front end of a passenger car – more precisely the EMP2 platform used in the Peugeot 3008, the Peugeot 5008 and the Citroën C5 Aircross (to name but a few). The result is a fine handling and pleasantly riding van that still functions as a commercial vehicle.
Of the engines, the newer 1.5-litre is definitely the better of the two in terms of its refinement and overall driveability. Once they are available, though, we’d recommend the lower two power outputs rather than the full-fat 128bhp unit, as the vast majority of a compact van’s life is usually spent in urban environments.
The 1.6-litre unit is still decent though, and we wouldn’t dissuade you from it if less power was more appropriate. Unfortunately, it does come with a five-speed manual gearbox from the old Berlingo/Partner as standard, whereas the more powerful engine has a six-speed gearbox as standard.
In truth, neither manual is a stellar example of a slick and enjoyable gearbox suited for city driving. Both feel notchy and ill-matched to the overall character of the van.
Instead, it’s the automatic that is the surprise package in the range. While it might not meet the requirements of all users, it is the perfect accompaniment to a city van, and thanks to well-spaced ratios its eight gears don’t even feel excessive.
Overall, there’s little in the way of sound penetrating the cab, the ride is assured and comfortable and the handling and steering sharp. It’s a well-executed transformation that puts it on a par with the Volkswagen Caddy for overall driveability.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Most jointly developed vans have a different grille and the badges of their respective brand, but beyond that little is done to customise their model beyond a change in the specification of some of the equipment or some different colour options.
Not here. Although the Combo is allied to the Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner, it has unique exterior parts and huge differences in its interior layout too.
The Vauxhall has a smart, well put-together cabin and, considering its size, is particularly spacious. There’s a total of 15 storage compartments, including under-seat pull-out trays and narrow but decent length door pockets. Two-seat and three-seat options are available; the centre seat on a three-seater also folds down to become a table for use as a mobile office.
An eight-inch colour touchscreen dominates the centre console of the top-spec Nav versions, and it’s a fine bit of equipment for a van. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, but also integrates with the satellite-navigation and rest of the infotainment system. While it may sound like a simple thing, it is also angled towards the driver for a better viewing experience than in the Ford Transit Connect, where the screen is fitted flat.
That makes the cabin feel very driver-centric and it is all the better for it. Visibility is great, both forwards and backwards, and is aided by the option of a live rear-view mirror display (essentially a wide-angled view of the rear-parking camera) and a blindspot camera for down the sides of the van.
The quality of the interior is right at the top of the segment too, albeit with plenty of varieties of plastic on display.
Without the touchscreen, you simply get a Bluetooth enabled DAB radio integrated into the centre console. As well as the DAB radio, entry-level vans get a four-way adjustable driver seat, one-touch electric windows and electric heated mirrors. There’s also overhead storage and that under-seat storage compartment.
Sportive models get a more adjustable six-way driver seat with lumbar support, armrest and a four-way adjustable passenger seat. Air-conditioning is also included, plus rear-parking sensors, cruise control and an alarm. On the outside, it gets metallic paint and colour matched bumpers as well as 16-inch rather than 15-inch wheels.
Top spec Nav models get the large colour touchscreen, sat-nav and a host of exterior improvements, including body-colour mirrors, door handles, and side protection mouldings. There’s also 16-inch alloy wheels and a unique design to the front bumper to incorporate fog lights.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Carrying over the rear half of the existing Berlingo/Partner vans means the new Combo is an exceptionally practical working vehicle.
There are two wheelbase lengths available, Standard (L1) and XL (L2), which adds 350mm to the overall length, taking the total length of an L1 van to 4403mm and an L2 to 4753mm.
Maximum load length is 1817mm for a Standard van and 2167mm for a XL, while the width between wheel arches is 1229mm.
There’s no option of a high roof, but the Combo has a maximum loadspace height of 1243mm and a loading height for the rear of 548mm in the L1 and 620mm for the L2.
Maximum load volume is 3.3m3 for the L1 and 3.9m3 for the L2. However, with the addition of the FlexCargo folding partition bulkhead an extra 0.5m3 is possible. Twin rear doors and a side loading door are standard on all vans.
Payloads vary depending on models, and with two different gross vehicle weights it depends largely on whether you’ve opted for a 2000 (two-tonne van) or a 2300 (2.3-tonne van).
Broadly speaking the smaller weight van can transport 650kg to 670kg, while the higher weight version can transport anything from 955kg to 1020kg.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The new Vauxhall Combo has not only been improved by its engines and interior, it’s also had a massive upgrade to its technology.
Safety for city vans is becoming of paramount importance and the Combo is no exception, as it now gets emergency braking, forward-collision alert, drowsiness detection and park assist.
There’s also an all-new Flank Guard system which detects if you are going to hit an obstacle along the side of the van – such as a bollard as you turn in. Meanwhile, IntelliGrip is a switchable ESP system for standard, mud, sand or snow driving.
Perhaps the best innovation, though, is the on-board weighing system. If you’re prone to running heavy loads this is almost certainly something you shouldn’t go without as it warns you at 80% and 100% of your payload capacity.
Running costs are largely similar across all engine options, with a best claimed fuel consumption of 67.3mpg for the 98bhp 1.6-litre unit. The least economical is the newer 1.5-litre 127bhp engine, which still manages 64.2mpg.
For all the latest van reviews, news, advice, and videos visit our dedicated van section here
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.