What Car? says...
Unless you’re the spokesperson for a well-known brand of sweetcorn, the words ‘green’ and ‘giant’ are rarely used together. But if you regularly need to fit up to nine bottoms on seats, yet you still want to do your bit for the planet, those are exactly the qualities you’ll be looking for in your next vehicle. Unfortunately, your buying options are very limited indeed – however, don’t despair, because the Vauxhall Vivaro-e Life could be right up your street.
First off, the Vivaro-e Life is big. Really big. It’s based on the Vivaro-e van, but before you go thinking that’s a bad thing, the Vivaro-e is our Van of the Year 2021, so as the starting point for a large, electric people carrier, it couldn’t be better.
Available in either Normal or extended-wheelbase Long forms, the Vivaro-e sits alongside rivals including the Mercedes EQV and Citroën e-SpaceTourer in this very niche market. Although it can seat up to nine, most buyers will opt for having up to eight instead, plus enough luggage space left over to embarrass the cargo hold of a plane if you opted for the longer version we’re testing here.
If you’d rather have a traditional combustion engine, then the regular Vivaro Life is equally spacious, or if you can live with seven seats, similar van-based MPVs like the Citroën Berlingo or traditional MPVs such as Volkswagen Touran should also be on your shopping list. Of course, you might also choose a seven-seat SUV instead, such as the What Car? Award-winning Peugeot 5008.
Should the Vauxhall Vivaro-e Life be on your shortlist, then? In this review we’ll tell you what it’s like to drive and to live with, as well as which version we think you should choose. And don’t forget that if you want to buy a Vivaro-e Life or indeed any other new car, just use our New Car Buying Service to secure a great deal which could save you thousands.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Power in the Vauxhall Vivaro-e Life comes from a single 134bhp electric motor, which is fed by a 50kWh battery pack hidden underneath the floor. With only a couple of people on board it feels sprightly on city streets but not that quick on faster roads, while filling every seat and adding a boot-full of luggage has the potential to dampen its pace considerably and reduce its range, too.
Speaking of which, it’s capable of travelling for up to 143 miles between charges according to the official WLTP tests but that’s likely to be a lot less in real-world driving. We’re yet to test that in our Real Range tests, but motorway driving particularly zaps how far any electric vehicle will go, so if you’re looking for a car to use regularly for long journeys, a traditional petrol or diesel alternative might suit you better. You can put the Vivaro-e Life into an ‘Eco’ mode, which softens off the acceleration and limits the air conditioning, but its impact on consumption is minimal.
There’s also a ‘B’ mode, which maximises the regenerative (energy recovery system) braking. This means that you can, in effect, drive the Vivaro-e Life using one pedal, and when you do need to use the brakes you’ll find they’re reasonably progressive. Wind and road noise are not bad considering its based on a van, but there is a lot of suspension noise over ridges in the road. You won’t get as much of that if you choose an SUV or MPV such as the Peugeot 5008 or Volkswagen Touran.
Those two rivals, and many more for that matter, ride better as well. The Vivaro-e Life doesn’t feel truly settled, thumping over smaller ruts and bumps and getting really bouncy over bigger undulations in the road.
Another area in which the Vivaro-e Life loses out to rivals like the 5008 or Touran is in its handling. The steering is quite slow – it requires a lot of arm twirling in tight corners or around car parks – and is a touch heavier than we’d like, but it is at least accurate. Still, this certainly isn’t a car that you buy for its agility, with lots of body lean in fast corners and its sheer size making it quite a handful in the city.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The Vivaro-e Life’s interior is pleasant enough, but you don’t have to look far to reveal the car’s workhorse origins. Hard plastics cover most surfaces, but these are easy to keep clean if nothing else. You get sat-nav and smartphone mirroring as standard with the Elite trim, which is handy, although the 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system is a bit laggy. But at least there are shortcut buttons for most functions on either side of the screen and you can also control some functions using buttons and rotary dials on the steering wheel.
The instrument cluster includes a small driver’s information panel that shows the most vital metrics, and a head-up display, which puts things like your current speed directly in front of your eyes, is standard on Elite models.
Slide yourself up into the driver’s seat and you’ll feel like you’re in a tall car. That driving position, coupled with the Vivaro-e Life’s thin windscreen pillars, make checking the road’s clear at junctions a doddle, but parking is a little tricky because of the way the nose drops out of sight, so judging where the front is can be difficult. It’s also extremely long, but help is at hand in the form of front and rear parking sensors that come as standard on the top-spec Elite models, along with a rear-view camera, which also shows you a surround view of the car. You can add rear parking sensors as an option on the cheaper Edition trim.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
We’ve tried only a seven-seat version of the Vivaro-e Life so far, but everyone gets plenty of room to stretch out in this form. The car is wide enough that the driver and front passenger are in no danger of rubbing elbows, and there’s electric adjustment for both front seats, so finding a comfortable position is a piece of cake. It helps, too, that the pedals, steering wheel and seat are well-aligned.
Space is just as abundant everywhere else. Three adults will fit very comfortably in each of the two rows of rear seats, and getting in and out is easy, too, thanks to the Vivaro-e Life’s electric sliding doors on either side. These can be opened from the keyfob, from buttons accessible by the rear passengers or via the driver up front.
Because each of the Vivaro-e Life’s seats can be moved forwards and backwards, everyone can adjust themselves to their most comfortable position. If you want your Vivaro-e Life to function as a mobile office, you can opt for the second row to face the rear with a table in the middle – ideal for business meetings on the move.
Meanwhile, if you fancy having a mobile nursery, there are up to six Isofix mounting points for child car seats. The panoramic sunroof, which comes as standard on Elite models, lets lots of light into the rear and the Vivaro-e Life’s so tall that the reduction in headroom that comes with this is not a problem.
Whether you’re doing an airport trip or driving a sports team, school group or your family, everyone will have masses of space for their stuff. As well as numerous cubby holes dotted around on the dashboard, each front seat also has a storage net for your odds and ends and door bins which you might get lost in. If you go for the seven-seat variant, the second row gets a large central storage compartment too.
Even with all three rows in place, there’s still enough space in the Vivaro-e Life’s boot to handle a full complement of holiday luggage. Be careful to leave a large space behind the car when you park, though; the long tailgate is hinged from the top and needs plenty of room to swing open.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Vivaro-e Life is priced slightly higher than the rival Citroën e-SpaceTourer, although it’s worth noting that both also qualify for the government’s electric car grant. Next to the more luxurious but hugely expensive Mercedes EQV, meanwhile, the Vivaro-e Life looks like an absolute bargain.
You can recharge the Vivaro-e Life’s batteries pretty quickly, with 0-80% taking as little as 30 minutes if you use the kind of 100kW charging stations that are slowly getting more prolific in UK motorway services. A domestic 7kW wallbox charger will complete a full charge from empty in 7.5 hours.
There are two trim levels available. Entry-level Edition cars keep the price low but don’t come with much in the way of kit. They do get air conditioning, cruise control and a digital radio with Bluetooth connectivity, but miss out on the infotainment system we mentioned earlier, as well as alloy wheels and parking sensors. For that reason, we think that Elite trim is the better bet for most buyers, even though it costs substantially more.
Available driver assistance functionality includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and driver drowsiness monitoring.
The Vivaro-e Life wasn’t covered in our latest 2020 Reliability Survey, but Vauxhall as a brand finished well down the table in 27th place. That was one ahead of Mercedes, but below pretty much every brand with a rival to the Vivaro-e Life.
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