While the looks of small passenger vans like the Combo Life and its siblings, the Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Partner, are at best questionable, you can’t argue with the practicality of the beasts. Cars with a van-like tailgate and high roof line are becoming more and more popular, alongside the rise in pick-up trucks and vans, for those with active lifestyles, whether families or single adrenalin chasers.
I have to boys, who in turn have bikes, skateboards, and footballs. The chance to chuck stuff in the back, and stop off from the park or beach on the way home to do the weekly shop too, is a chance not to be missed, it transpired the week we had the Combo Life.
We took it to Legoland for a two-day summer holiday escape, suckers that we are, faced with the imminent promise of donuts and stomach-churning rides, my eight-year-old and five-year-old were not waiting patiently while I loaded the car, but opening and hustling the sliding van doors with increasing annoyance while I faffed around with luggage. Good news then, that you can just lift the tailgate, literally throw bags in to the cavernous boot (we had the standard wheelbase - I can’t imagine how much you can fit in with the extended wheelbase - our kayak too, perhaps) and set off.
Increasingly I’m a huge fan of vans and van-like cars. It’s not just the practicality (although sliding doors are an absolute godsend in a crowded supermarket carpark when you’re worried your kids would otherwise fling the doors open and carve up the adjacent Merc). It’s also about driver comfort – what you sacrifice in performance and handling, you are compensated for with the best ergonomics in the industry: an upturned steering wheel, a gearstick positioned high up by your wrist, pedals below your feet instead of miles away by the firewall and often at least one arm rest.
The interiors of these models are far more suited to kids, too. Big windows let the light in, plastic surfaces are harder wearing and there’s more space in the back and a better view of the road to prevent travel sickness.
On the move, it must be said, you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting rapid, or indeed much, acceleration when the car is loaded up – the 1.5 diesel delivers 100PS (99bhp). But, if you accept that you must plan your overtaking a little more in advance, it creates a relaxed character and gait for your journey which slightly mitigates the stress of the kids.
Our Vauxhall Combo Life was not all hair shirt, anyway: standard features in the higher trim of the two (Energy) include an 8in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (yay!) and front and rear parking sensors. Standard safety features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision alert, lane keep assist and speed sign recognition. In addition, we had the optional satnav for £450 but I wouldn’t bother – if you have CarPlay, Google Maps does it better. Importantly for families, the Combo Life is one of only a handful of cars to have a third set of Isofix attachments in the middle seat.
This really is a great chassis underpinning the Combo Life, which Vauxhall knows - it has launched the passenger version of this vehicle three months before the commercial van version. By 2024 every Vauxhall will be based on this platform. While we tested the standard version, an extended wheelbase will be on sale towards the end of the year and both versions offer five or seven seats, and a five-speed manual or eight-speed automatic, alongside the choice of this 1.5 diesel or a 1.2 petrol. The car in standard form offers more legroom than the outgoing Zafira Tourer MPV, and in comparable trim is about £3,000 cheaper than the Zafira Tourer.
More customers should close their eyes, forget about the looks and plump for one of these passenger vans - if nothing else, you’ll save a lot of domestic strife when loading up kids and baggage for the weekend. Save your marriage: buy a ComboLife.