What Car? says...
It was inevitable that the Vauxhall Combo Life Electric would go up market with its new name change (from Combo e-Life). So this electric MPV is now available in a choice of two trims rather than just one: how profligate!
There’s also a choice when it comes to seating arrangements and body length. You can add an extra pair of chairs instead of having a boot in the regular-sized M version, or pick the extra long XL model to have seven seats plus a bit of cargo space.
That’s very similar to the size options offered by the near-identical Citroën e-Berlingo and Peugeot e-Rifter – which share the same underpinnings – but they don't allow you to combine seven seats with the shorter (and easier to park) M bodystyle.
Powering the Combo Life Electric is the same electric motor and 50kWh battery pack that can be found in the Citroën e-C4. Remarkably, the batteries don't affect practicality, so you still get a huge amount of interior space. The addition of a battery pack does cause problems for those needing a wheelchair conversion with a low floor and ramp, but Vauxhall will sell you a traditional diesel-powered alternative if you ask your dealer nicely.
But the question you want answering is whether this electric conversion has helped (or hindered) this car, and whether the Vauxhall Combo Life Electric better to live with than the original.
In this review, we'll tell you all about it, and compare it with the rivals you might be considering. We'll be covering everything you need to know, giving this MPV rating for performance, practicality, running costs and more. We'll also compare it with rivals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Vauxhall Combo Life Electric shares a 134bhp electric motor and battery pack with the Citroën e-C4 but its shape and weight mean it's not as quick. That said, the 11.7sec 0-62mph time of the five-seater version beats the non-electric used Vauxhall Combo Life. It feels faster, too, because as with all electric cars the power is available instantly and there are no gears to change, so it gets off the line swiftly.
Refinement is impressive because wind and road noise are well contained at higher speeds considering this is a big box on wheels, although a VW Touran is a little bit more refined in these respects. You’ll be able to hear a small amount of electric motor whine at 70mph, though, and at lower speeds there’s a bit of thudding from the suspension.
The Combo Life Electric is quite composed over potholes and speed bumps around town. Sharper intrusions, such as expansion joints over bridges at higher speeds are dealt with well too, but if you want maximum comfort from your MPV, you’ll need to look at a non-electric model such as the Touran.
As for handling, there’s a bit of body lean through quick corners due to the vehicle's height, even with the help of the heavy batteries keeping the weight low to the ground. The steering is accurate enough for faster B-roads, but also light in town work. Again, the traditionally powered Touran handles better.
The interior layout, fit and finish
If you like sitting high up, we have some good news: the Vauxhall Combo Life Electric’s driving position places you much higher than in, for example, the VW Touran. The upright position and huge windows do make it feel like a van, but also mean it’s easy to see out in all directions. The seats are very flat and offer little in the way of side support to hold you in place through corners.
Vauxhall gives you a 10.0in digital instrument cluster instead of the analogue dials found in base versions of the Citroen e-Berlingo and Peugeot e-Rifter. The digital display provides a couple of electric car specific energy read-outs that are easy to read and understand. The gear selector and the major controls are within easy reach, and the dashboard controls are relatively easy to follow, although the air-con dials are a bit small.
Rear parking sensors are provided as standard, with top-spec Ultimate getting a reversing camera. One minus point is that the bodywork’s design slices a corner off each of the front side windows.
The infotainment is relatively straightforward to use, although the Touran's is easier and has faster response times. The screen is on top of the dashboard so you don’t need to divert your eyes too far from the road to see it, and you can specify a head-up display that puts your speed in your line of sight on the windscreen.
The most disappointing aspect of the Combo Life Electric’s interior is the quality of the materials used to construct it. The dashboard, for example, is a sea of hard, grey plastic and ill-fitting panels. That's perhaps the biggest reason you might turn your nose up and look instead at conventional MPVs (such as the Touran) or posher versions of the e-Berlingo and e-Rifter with fancier finishes to lift things.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
First, you need to choose whether you want five or seven seats in your Vauxhall Combo Life Electric. Then you need to decide if you want the regular-length (M) car or the stretched XL version.
So far, we’ve only tried the regular five-seater, and even that’s really spacious. There’s so much head room in the front and back that you could almost be in a townhouse. Rear leg room is generous too, and both outer rear seats have Isofix mounting points for child seats.
The car's sliding rear doors are very convenient when you’re parked up next to a wall or another vehicle. They’re operated manually by pulling the door left or right in the same way as you might the side door of a van.
There’s loads of stowage space, especially in the front, and the cupholder on top of the dashboard is a nice touch – it’s easy to reach and doesn’t obstruct your view of the road.
When it comes to clever seating tricks, the Combo Life Electric has three rear seating positions which each fold down flush with the floor of the boot. You can’t slide the seats back and forth, recline them or tumble them forwards as you can in most conventional MPVs. If you want second-row seats that can slide back and forth, you’ll need to go for a seven-seat model.
Although we haven’t tried the seven-seater, it’s pretty obvious that head room won’t be in short supply for third-row occupants. The extra two seats can be folded down out of the way or even be removed from the car completely.
As for boot space, there’s loads of it. Even the regular five-seater has nearly 600 litres below the parcel shelf, which is more than the VW Touran and some much pricier large SUVs. The boot is square, the aperture matches the width of the boot floor and there’s no lip at the entrance.
The only annoyance is the huge tailgate, which can only be opened when there’s plenty of clearance behind the car and is quite awkward to pull shut (there's no powered opening option). The saving grace is that you can open the glass instead of the whole tailgate when you want to load in smaller items.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Vauxhall Combo Life Electric is priced above entry-level versions of Citroën e-Berlingo and Peugeot e-Rifter. It also has worse residuals than those two rivals, so PCP finance deals aren’t as affordable (residuals are used to calculate monthly payments). Another thing to consider is that traditionally powered alternatives like the Ford Tourneo Connect and Dacia Jogger are far more affordable again.
Fortunately, it should be quite cheap to run a Combo Life Electric because there’s no annual VED road tax to pay. Home charging on an electric car specific electricity tariff should cost less than filling up with petrol or diesel, too.
Standard equipment with Design trim is generous, with 16in alloys, air-con, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control, the 8.0in infotainment system, and rear parking sensors. Ultimate adds a heated steering wheel (which you have on the e-Berlingo or e-Rifter), dual-zone climate and a reversing camera.
As with those rivals, you get lots of active safety kit including automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, a driver fatigue detector, speed-limit sign recognition and lane-departure warning.
The Combo Life Electric has been certified by Euro NCAP with a four-star rating, missing out on five stars partly due to its poor pedestrian protection score. If you want an alarm, you have to pay extra for it.
Vauxhall didn’t do particularly well in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, finishing in joint 23rd place out of 32 manufacturers. That’s well below Citroën, but well ahead of Peugeot. You get a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, plus eight years/100,000 miles for the main battery.
Charging the Combo-e Life will take a little over seven hours from a wall charger, or roughly 30 mins from 15-80% on a 100kWh rapid charger.
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Yes. In fact, an automatic is the only option. Due to the way electric motors work, there’s only one forward gear, so there are no interruptions during acceleration, benefitting refinement. Read more here
The rocker switch close to the gear selector provides three modes: Power, Normal and Eco. Power allows you to reach top speed (where legally allowed) and get the quickest acceleration times. Normal maintains comfort features such as the air-con and the car’s normal performance characteristics. It’s also the mode the official range test was conducted in. Eco mode cuts all unnecessary energy use and reduces top speed and performance to maximise the remaining range. Read more here
It's one of the most practical electric cars you can buy, and one of the cheapest seven-seaters (if equipped), so it will appeal to a lot of people buying a car for rational reasons. However, if you need long-distance range, there might be better options out there. Read more here
|RRP price range||£21,390 - £36,695|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||diesel, electric|
|MPG range across all versions||53.3 - 57.6|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£68 / £1,724|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£137 / £3,448|