What Car? says...
If you live and work in the city and want to do your bit for the environment while also keeping running costs low, then a small electric van would seem to be an obvious choice. The Vauxhall Combo-e is ready to serve, alongside its siblings, the Citroën e-Berlingo, Peugeot e-Partner and Toyota Proace City Electric.
Why do we say siblings? Well, all four vans were engineered together as part of a deal between Toyota and the Stellantis Group, which owns Citroën, Peugeot and Vauxhall.
That means the Combo-e shares many of its oily components, plus its 134bhp electric motor and 50kWh battery pack, with the small electric vans from those brands. The range is the same too, with official figures suggesting the Combo-e can take you up to 171 miles between charges.
Now, factor in the 800kg payload and a loadspace that is completely unchanged from the diesel-engined Combo – giving up to 4.4m3 of load volume – and the Combo-e is on paper a very usable little van.
Available in two body lengths, the Combo-e also has a passenger van variant called the Vauxhall Combo-e Life, with five or seven-seat options.
The Combo-e caters for a wide audience, with entry-level Dynamic trim ideal for fleets, as well as a more upmarket Sportive option trim level for individuals.
Rivals for the Combo-e are few and far between, despite the small electric van segment being the most mature in terms of products available and market size. Aside from its siblings, the Renault Kangoo ZE is its only direct competitor, and will soon be replaced by the new Renault Kangoo E-Tech model, while slightly larger alternatives can be found in the Maxus E Deliver 3 and the Nissan e-NV200.
But is it the best electric small van? In this review we’ll tell you what it’s like to drive and to live with, and, ultimately, if you should consider one.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Electric vehicles are generally associated with quietness, because you don’t have an engine chuntering away under the bonnet. But not all electric vans deliver on that promise, because their boxy bodies and larger than life door mirrors can generate a lot of wind noise.
Fortunately, this isn’t an issue in the Vauxhall Combo-e, partly because it’s packed with a lot of sound-deadening material, and partly because its door mirrors are actually quite small.
True, you do hear a hint of whir from the electric motor, but it’s much quieter than the diesel engines in the regular Vauxhall Combo. Plus, the Combo-e feels far more responsive, because its full 192lb ft of torque is available from the moment you press the accelerator
Handling is also improved compared with the diesels, thanks to the e-Partner’s battery being positioned beneath the floor, and therefore lowering the centre of gravity.
In fact, you can forget any cliches that you might have heard about vans driving like cars, because the Combo-e is actually better to drive than many combustion-engined cars, mixing accurate steering with strong grip and a well-balanced feel.
The interior layout, fit and finish
If you were a van of the interior in the regular Vauxhall Combo then, great news, the one in the Combo-e is virtually identical. We certainly don’t think it’s a bad thing, because the inside of the Combo-e looks smart, is full of technology and is a comfortable place to spend time.
Just like its Peugeot and Citroën siblings, the Combo-e comes with an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system as standard, which offers connections for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. There’s also the option of a head-up display and Vauxhall’s Navi Pro sat-nav, should you want them.
Getting comfortable is easy with the help of a steering wheel which adjusts up and down but also in and out, plus the six-way adjustable driver’s seat. The seat is comfortable, with ample support, but the driving position it offers is quite low.
Most of the materials used in the Combo-e feel high-quality and built to last, and there’s just enough variation in colour and texture to keep things interesting.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Whereas most vans have many wheelbases, lengths and roof heights to choose from which can sometimes lead to hundreds of variations in the range, the Combo-e line-up is mercifully small. Two wheelbase lengths give two body sizes – which Vauxhall refers to as L1 and the larger L2. Smaller vans have a maximum load length of 1817mm, while the longer L2 models can transport up to 2167mm. Width across the body is 1229mm between the wheel arches, and internal height is 1243mm.
All of that measures up to a total load volume of 3.3m3 for the L1 van and 3.9m3 for the L2 model.
Sportive vans come with a load-through bulkhead with collapsing passenger seat which not only gives you a dual front passenger seat with a folding backrest that doubles up as a table, but also adds a small amount of extra cargo space.
Storage in the front is good for a small van, with plenty of space and many sensibly-sized storage points located around the driver.
Payload varies by option specification, but you’ll get between 750kg and 800kg in the rear.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
For most businesses, making an electric van practical will come down to keeping the vehicle on the road, which is where charge times are crucial.
In that vein, the Combo-e’s capacity to take a 100kW charge from a rapid charging station is crucial in making this a usable van in the real world. A rapid charging station will give up to 80% of battery capacity in just 30 minutes, compared with a 7.4kW wallbox charger which will see the entire battery charged up in 7.5 hours.
Entry-level Dynamic trim models get air conditioning, Bluetooth DAB radio, cruise control with speed limiter and keyless entry and start as standard. There’s also parking sensors, automatic headlights and a multi-function steering wheel as part of the basic equipment. It’s a fairly generous specification, above that of the basic diesel models, but the Sportive trim level adds several important features that enhance the Combo-e’s appeal, including a smidgeon more load space.
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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.