Vauxhall's Combo is a panel van with the one thing operators really need: serious carrying capacity of up to 4.4m3. Jonathan Crouch drives the fourth generation version.
Ten Second Review
With their fourth generation Combo, Vauxhall fields a very class-competitive compact van, with both short and long wheelbase body styles that together should be able to satisfy almost every buyer in this segment. With frugal running costs, smart design, strong practicality and the option of all-electric drive, it's everything a small LCV should be.
When the time came to develop this fourth generation Combo van, Vauxhall grabbed the opportunity to better tackle both the LCV market's major small van sectors. Whether you want something spacious yet small (like a Fiat Fiorano). Or compact but a little bigger (like a Ford Transit Connect or a Renault Kangoo), Vauxhall hopes that this Combo will appeal.
The previous generation version used Fiat underpinnings, but this time round, the Combo features a Stellantis Group EMP2 platform as already used by four of its closest rivals, the Citroen Berlingo, the Peugeot Partner, the Fiat Doblo and the Toyota Proace City.
These days, van drivers are well used to a car-like response from LCVs, especially small ones. That doesn't necessarily mean an enjoyable driving experience though and in the old third generation Combo, you didn't get one. This fourth generation Combo uses a lighter Stellantis Group platform system clever enough to provide supple ride comfort, yet firm enough to resist body roll and support heavy loads. It's a much better compromise.
Can the same be said of the engines on offer? Well, the line-up certainly seems effective on paper. There's a 1.5-litre Turbo D diesel, developing either 100 or 130PS and offered with either five or six-speed manual transmissions. In addition, a low-friction eight-speed automatic with Quickshift technology can be ordered in combination with the top 1.5-litre 130PS diesel. Whichever wheelbase you choose - standard or long - you'll find that the driving position pretty good, with the steeply raked windscreen and low bonnet combining to give great visibility. Couple that with big panoramic door mirrors and the result is a vehicle you can be confident about driving even the most congested city streets where the light steering facilitates a tight turning circle, 11.2m in the short wheelbase version and 12.5m for the long wheelbase model. As for refinement, well, the slightly clattery note at start-up settles down quite acceptably once you get up to speed.
You won't worry about refinement with the alternative Combo Electric. This has a 50kWh battery powering a 134hp electric motor and offers a 175 mile driving range.
Design and Build
This third generation Combo has a modern look but having inspected the smart but practical shape, you're still left with the nagging feeling that there's nothing especially Vauxhall-like about this design, aside from the huge Griffin logo on the front grille. There's a choice of standard L1 or long wheelbase L2 body styles, which both have sliding doors on each side.
Avoid base trim and you get Vauxhall's 'FlexCargo' package where the passenger seat back folds down to create a desk surface. And there's an 8-inch centre touchscreen with 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. Plus a 3.5-inch multi-information display in the instrument binnacle. None of this is of Vauxhall's own design, but it's all pretty functional. There is no lack of storage space in the cab: 16 storage points according to Vauxhall, these including a 15-litre area in the centre console, a large lockable glove box, several cubbies in the dash and large door pockets with enough room for half-litre bottles and A4 clipboards. As expected, it's all very car-like and you sit very comfortably, with height and lumbar adjustment as well as a built-in armrest. A place to do business.
Market and Model
Expect to pay somewhere in the £22,000 to £25,000 bracket (ex VAT) for your Combo panel van in Turbo D diesel form, which is reasonably class-competitive. The Combo Electric costs in the £31,500-£34,000 bracket after deduction of the available government grant. There's also a Crew Van variant with a second fold-out seating row.
There are two levels of trim - 'Prime' and 'Pro' - and both include quite a lot. You can tick off twin sliding side doors, air conditioning and an 8-inch centre infotainment touchscreen with 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. You also get cruise control, a colour 3.5-inch multi-information instrument binnacle display, Bluetooth, a DAB audio system and door mirrors that are heated and power adjustable. With 'Pro' trim, Vauxhall includes its 'FlexCargo' system which allows you to push through items from the cargo bay into the cab and fold down the passenger seat to create a handy table. Across the range, there are two USB ports in the cab and your dealer will offer you accessories like rubber floor mats and ply lining for the load space.
A plethora of driver assistance technology is available too, including Forward Collision Alert with pedestrian detection and Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Keep Assist, Hill Descent Control, Intelligent Speed Adaptation, Automatic Cruise Control, Driver Drowsiness Alert and Speed Sign Recognition.
Practicalities and Costs
For potential Combo buyers, the practical facts make compulsive reading. No other rival can better this Vauxhall's maximum potential carriage capacity of up to 4.4m3. And you'll do well to better this contender when it comes to wheelbase length, potential payload, rear axle load, maximum load length or maximum load height. Short wheelbase, long wheelbase and crew van body styles are available. And this little LCV can carry a load volume of up to 4.4m3 and a payload of up to a tonne. Longer items up to 3,440mm, such as pipes and ladders, can be stored safely and securely, thanks to the rear swing doors and the useful 'FlexCargo' loading hatch that opens through to the cab. The cargo area has easily enough room to slide in the usual Euro pallet.
And running costs? Well here, there's little for operators to worry about. Returns from the two turbo-charged, direct injection diesel engines are competitive, CO2 emissions starting from 140g/km and fuel economy of up to 52.3mpg possible for the 1.5-litre 100PS diesel. The 1.5-litre 130PS diesel manages 44.1mpg and 167g/km. Both powertrains meet the stringent Euro 6d-TEMP emissions standard.
With the Combo Electric, you can charge from a 100kW public rapid charger from 0-80% in 30 minutes. When connected to a 7kW garage wallbox, you'll need seven and a half hours to fully replenish the battery; or five hours with an 11kW wallbox.
Across the range, you'll also need to know that Vauxhall includes a three-year, 60,000 mile warranty as standard, a package that can be extended up to five years and 100,000 miles at extra cost. A year's free breakdown cover is also provided, along with a six-year anti-corrosion guarantee. Service intervals are at 20,000 miles or every 12 months, depending on which comes round sooner and you can opt for a service plan that lets you pay monthly to spread the cost of regular work to your car. As part of this, Vauxhall offers discounts on wear and tear items, such as brake pads and windscreen wipers.
Vauxhall builds more vans in Britain than anyone else. More importantly, it sells more vans in Britain than anyone else. But that position in the market can't be maintained unless the brand is properly represented in the compact LCV segment. This fourth generation Combo ensures that it is, delivering impressive practicality and an impressive set of running costs.
You won't see this model making too many headlines, but the reality is that it's one of the most complete vehicles that the brand makes. Quietly concentrating on the things that really matter to operators, to many it'll be invisible, just one of those fixtures of the urban environment that blend into the background. But then, sometimes the very best designs have the very lowest impact. What's important is that this Combo does more than enough to be spotted by the people who count. People who'll find this Vauxhall difficult to ignore in their search for a compact van. Job done.