First Drive: Vauxhall Combo

The new Vauxhall Combo van arrives on the market promising the biggest payload in the segment along with class leading capacity, with a range of engines running from a 1.3 litre diesel producing 89 bhp to a powerful 133 bhp 2.0 litre CDTi, all more frugal than the previous generation.

It’s certainly distinctive. Unlike the outgoing Corsa-based model, the new Combo shares its underpinnings with the Fiat Doblo and you can tell. Gone is the identifiably Vauxhall look replaced with a bulbous front end that certainly has character. Vauxhall have worked hard to stamp their own identity on it though, with the bright red model we tested standing out from the crowd.

Inside things are a little more conventional, with a cabin that provides plenty of space. However, it’s oddly utilised; the driver and passengers elbows end up about 10 cm from each other, but there’s a 30cm gap between your outer elbow and the window – a single tanned right arm could be a thing of the past! There are plenty of small storage spaces, but a large two litre bottle could be tricky to place and there’s nowhere obvious to keep loose A4 paper, even if they’re attached to a clipboard. Frustratingly, there’s not even sign of a cupholder in the cabin either, which is a massive oversight for what is effectively somebody’s office.

At least it’s a relatively attractive office, with massive windows. A huge front windscreen and large side windows meant visibility was superb, really allowing the driver to position the vehicle precisely and making manoeuvring easy. That makes negotiating the urban environment easier, where the independent MacPherson strut suspension up front, complemented by the bi-link rear suspension at the rear, creates a very car-like ride. At speed the Combo was compliant and smooth when empty; sadly we didn’t get an opportunity to test the vehicle fully loaded.

That car-like handling is a key part of the safety package, helping drivers avoid the accident in the first place. Anti-lock brakes come with electronic brake distribution that helps to maximise braking capabilities in the event of an emergency. Disappointingly, electronic stability control, side airbags and a passenger airbag are all extra cost options. Goods in the back of the van can be secured to the sides and roof, with lots of options for ladders, tools, and so on. There’s also remote central locking with deadlocks to keep the doors secure and a dashboard indicator also lets you know if any doors have been inadvertently left open.

Behind those doors is where the Combo plays its trump card. There’s a massive 4.2 cubic metres (4,200 litres) of capacity, with a maximum load length of 2,170 mm and a load height of 1,550 mm. It’s positively cavernous, with large rear doors making access easy. Fully loaded, the Combo can take a one tonne payload (including the driver), with the highest rear axle capacity (1,450 kg) and longest wheelbase in the class.

There’s plenty of power to shift those loads, but it’s torque that really matters and the Combo stands up well; the range topping 2.0 litre produces an impressive 236 lb/ft, while even our entry-level 1.3 CDTi 16v ecoFLEX common-rail diesel test model produces a healthy 148 lb/ft. With a kerb weight of just 1,355 kg, that’s enough to navigate around Cambridge city centre without any problems, nipping down narrow lanes and out of tight junctions like a moped. It’s on the motorway that it surprises though, with the small engine more than happy to cruise smoothly at the legal speed limit without any undue stress, vibration or noise.

The five-speed manual gearbox shifts smoothly and there’s a gear indicator showing you what gear you’re in (which you really shouldn’t need) and whether it’s the optimum time to shift up or down, although it veers towards economy and often leaves you without a spinning turbo and therefore little torque. Combined with Start/Stop technology, Vauxhall claim the 1.3 model will return up to 58.9 mpg with CO2 emissions of 126 g/km.

Service intervals have been set at 21,000 miles so visits to the Vauxhall dealer should be reasonably few and far between. A three year warranty is also standard, with unlimited mileage for the first year but limited to just 60,000 miles for years two and three. The Combo certainly feels well bolted together with doors that slam and slide shut with reassuring thunks, although some of the plastics in the cabin are a little hard and shiny.

With its eager engines and relatively large load bay, the Cargo seems like an obvious choice, while long service intervals should keep costs down. The improvements made to the engines have improved economy and further reduce running costs. A nimble chassis and reasonably refined interior make it a van that would suit the urban jungle well, but it’s comfortable on the motorway. With prices starting at just £14,703 excluding VAT (our test model came in at £17,618 including various extras such as rear parking sensors, stability control with hill start assist, uprated stereo and leather steering wheel and gear knob) it’s good value for money.

Vauxhall used to dominate the market in this segment, but slipped to second place a few years ago. The new Combo could just help them regain that top slot.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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