Review: Vauxhall Combo Life

It's not been a good week for Vauxhall. The national TV news showed evidence of the Zafira MPV bursting into flames. This was first reported three years ago. Vauxhall has now recalled a further 47,000 Zafiras at risk in the latest conflagration. The Luton-based company has been criticised for its slow response to the hazards.
The Combo Life offers a surprisingly quiet and comfortable rideThe Combo Life offers a surprisingly quiet and comfortable ride
The Combo Life offers a surprisingly quiet and comfortable ride

Ironically, the cars are not made by Vauxhall. Like most “Vauxhalls” they are made by its sister company Opel – in Germany. Opel Zafira owners in Ireland have also been affected.

Now, to a happier future, one hopes. The two vehicles here illustrate Vauxhall’s past and its future. One is made by Opel. The other is made by PSA Peugeot Citroën. The apricot tiddler is the Corsa hatchback, a regular top three seller in Britain. The grey block is the Combo MPV. The Corsa has been around since 1982, built by Opel in Spain. Vauxhall called its version the Nova.

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Its last update was in 2014 and pending a few final editions this will see it out. Then it will become a Vauxhall version of a Citroën or Peugeot because Opel and Vauxhall now belong to the French.

The model here is the new GSi, a 148bhp sweet thing for cheery motoring and the feel of the road in your bones. It certainly looks the part, with its two-door body and vented snout. Sadly, it costs around £19,000, is outpaced by several rivals, can be fidgety on full power, and the tyre noise is horribly loud. After the promotional hype, the drive was a downer.

Corsa had indeed become coarser. I’d aim at a more sedate model and a decent discount.

Next, the future, seen in the multi-purpose vehicle called the Combo Life and built in France by the PSA Group, which makes the Peugeot Rifter and the Citroën Berlingo models. This gives you plenty of choice. Standard and long bodies give five or seven seats. The seats are removable on the 7-seaters, easily folded flat on the 5-door versions. The rear doors slide for easy entry and loading. The tailgate is a vertical panel giving optimum access. The load floor is wide, squared off, uncluttered. All of them are available as vans but we are told they were planned as cars. They have car suspension components and car-like fascias.

The format is popular in mainland Europe and appreciated over here. They make one of the best value-for-money, all-purpose family cars. The luggage space is immense. The large windows let passengers see the countryside.

The entry model Vauxhall costs from £19,610 for the Design. There is choice (depending on trim level chosen), from a 100hp 1.5 turbo diesel and five manual gears (67mpg and 111g) from £20,140; a 130hp version with eight automatic gears (66mpg and 113g) from £22,660; and a 110hp 1.2 petrol turbo and six manual gears (51mpg and 125g) from £19,610.

The 7-seater models begin at Energy trim from £21,710 with the 100hp diesel and five gears and just £700 more than the shorter 5-seater model. Automatic gears are not offered with the 7-seater, by the way.

My demo model was the 100hp 5-seater Energy at £21,540 plus £565 for the drab moonstone grey, two-coat metallic paint, £110 for the spare wheel and £450 for touchscreen navigation on a vertical tablet in the centre of the fascia. Smart-phone connections are in the standard kit if you want to save on navigation. The demo car had a rear camera, which costs £400.

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The format invites load-carrying and the low cargo deck makes this easy. The rear seats are on legs (like the Honda Jazz) so you can pack underneath. The interior is strewn with pockets and storage ideas including a full-width shelf above the windscreen for your maps etc. There is a large-lidded box set into the top of the dashboard. That’s where you can put the things which are inconvenient in your pockets or handbag when driving.

You’ll know by now that the Combo Life is not a racer. However, at legal speeds it keeps its place in the pack. As a guide, the 99bhp model can get from 0-60mph in 12.7 seconds and reach 111mph. Ergo, it is the car for those who protest that we don’t need cars that can reach absurd speeds.

It never felt disadvantaged in traffic. After a while I got ready for the roll on corners and learnt what the Combo Life would do without causing panic. The test car had a drop-down left armrest for me but oddly not for the passenger.

On the move there is one surprise: the ride is quiet and comfortable. Tyre noise was lower than on some conventional cars and certainly much quieter than the rather crude Corsa GSi.

Verdict: A decent compromise between a car and a light van. Cheaper than an SUV.