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New Vauxhall Combo-e Life 2021 review

Adding an electric powertrain to Vauxhall’s Combo Life MPV creates a fine family utility vehicle, if you don’t mind driving a van

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Verdict

Style sells in the car world and few would argue that the Vauxhall Combo-e Life is over-endowed in that department. If, however, you’re perfectly happy to be seen loading the kids, pets and assorted baggage into an electric MPV based on a van, this could prove to be a phenomenally practical and cheap-to-run option. It’s not a thrilling drive but the electric powertrain is smooth, quiet and more-than strong enough. The interior space is outstanding and the tough van-derived interior should stand up well to family use.

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SUVs may have supplanted mainstream MPVs as the do-it-all family car of choice but the cheap, cheerful and relentlessly useful van-based MPV models from the lower end of the people carrier market have hung on more successfully. The new Vauxhall Combo-e Life is one such example. It’s based on the electric Combo-e version of the Vauxhall Combo compact van and has a 134bhp pure-electric powertrain with a 50kWh battery yielding a WLTP range of 174 miles. On the face of it, this EV option seems a good fit with the low-cost, low complexity remit of these vehicles.

Admittedly, after the plug-in car grant is deducted, it’s priced from £30,610 in 5-seater guise with the 7-seater £500 more and the long wheelbase XL model another £1,100 on top of that - around £6,000 more than an equivalent diesel powered Combo Life. If your usage patterns suit though, running costs could be tiny. 

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The Combo-e Life will charge from flat to full in seven hours and 30 minutes from a standard 7kW home wallbox. At a 100kW fast charger you can get from 0 to 80 per cent in half an hour. Its zero-emissions status means free passage into congestion charge and low emissions zones. There’s even a company car tax rate of 1% that might even make up for the disparaging looks your glazed commercial vehicle may get in the golf club car park.

You certainly won’t have to take the driver out of the bag to get your golf clubs into a Combo-e Life. The five-seat models have a 597-litre boot extending up to 2,126 litres when you fold the rear seats down. These capacities are the same that you get in the petrol and diesel versions because this Vauxhall uses the Stellantis group’s purpose-designed EMP2 architecture that sites the batteries under the floor. In fact, this is the real strength of the van-based MPV and the Combo-e Life in particular: space.

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The standard models come in at 4.4 meters long, the XL variants extending to 4.75. In 5-seat mode there’s abundant head and leg room for all passengers but three adults sitting across the rear will struggle for shoulder room. In the XL model’s third row there’s a surprising amount of space even for taller adults. There’s quite a step up to access the seats, though, and they don’t fold flat to the floor as the middle row ones do. With seven people inside there’s still a small about of boot space under the huge tailgate for a row of shopping bags or similar.

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The interior is packed with storage options and can be bathed in light via the optional (£840) panoramic sunroof but, aside from a few chrome highlights, the materials are largely lifted from the van version. That means tough and durable rather than the soft touch plastics but the bits drivers interact with most, the standard 10-inch driver information display, the eight-inch central touchscreen, the steering wheel and the climate control buttons, are a cut above in terms of quality.

The driving position is perhaps a little narrow due to the thick door and the wide centre console in the Life model but the seat itself is comfortable. The Combo-e gives you a choice of Eco, Normal and Power driving modes that actually uncork progressively more power from the motor. In the Power setting there’s the full 136bhp for an 11.7s 0-60mph time but most will rein the powertrain back to Normal (107bhp) in the interests of maximising range. The mode selector also allows you to set the level of regenerative braking; crank it right up and you can drive with one pedal most of the time.

Our fully-charged test van was showing 165-miles to begin with and after 20 miles of mixed driving in Normal mode we had an indicated 130 miles left. The Combo-e Life is super quiet; there’s just a gentle whine from the electric motor low speeds and barely anything audible above the whisper of wind and road noise on the motorway.

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The ride is smooth on good surfaces but can get a little jittery on rougher roads. It’s a competent but uninspiring vehicle to drive generally with the steering very light and becoming vague in corners when you have to apply more lock. For such a tall car, body roll is well contained thanks, in part, to that 350kg of battery ballast in the floor.

Vauxhall is only offering the Combo Life’s mid-spec SE trim level with the Combo-e Life and with that you get 16” alloy wheels and body colouring for the bumpers and side protection mouldings to improve the look of the vehicle - but it’s still clearly a van. Also standard is the 8” touchscreen for the infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are parking sensors and a camera at the rear to help avoid parking knocks, while cruise control and speed limit sign recognition are also included.

In terms of rivals in the compact electric van-based MPV niche, for now it’s really just the Vauxhall Combo-e Life’s Stellantis Group cousins, the Peugeot e-Rifter and Citroen e-Berlingo. That gives customers plenty of ways to buy ostensibly the same vehicle but in all cases they’ll be getting a huge payload of practicality with the potential for very low costs, if they can square the style circle.

Model:Vauxhall Combo-e Life SE
Price: £30,610
Battery: 50kWh 
Power/torque: 134bhp/260Nm
Transmission: Single-automatic, front-wheel-drive
0-62mph: 11.7s
Top speed: 84mph
Range: 174 miles (WLTP) 
Charging: 100kW DC (0-80% 30min)
On sale:Now
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Head of digital content

Steve looks after the Auto Express website; planning new content, growing online traffic and managing the web team. He’s been a motoring journalist, road tester and editor for over 20 years, contributing to titles including MSN Cars, Auto Trader, The Scotsman and The Wall Street Journal.

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