New Vauxhall Combo-e van 2021 review
Electric power adds another dimension to the impressive Vauxhall Combo, one that might persuade more operators to make the switch to an all-electric van
Electric vans are developing fast and the Vauxhall Combo-e has the capability to make the technology a realistic option for compact van buyers who’d been unconvinced up to now. Its range and carrying capacity mean there’s very little sacrifice needed by diesel van drivers considering the switch. Beyond that, the Combo-e is a very well thought-out and executed small van.
The rush to get electric vans onto the market has resulted in a few somewhat half-baked efforts finding their way to showrooms in recent times. The technology is developing fast, though, and we’re now starting to see the arrival of a new generation of more cohesive and well-rounded electric light commercial vehicles.
The Vauxhall Combo-e - alongside its Stellantis sister vans, the Citroen e-Berlingo and the Peugeot e-Partner, plus the Toyota Proace City Electric that also shares the same platform - is a prime example of this new breed.
A 171-mile range claimed WLTP range, load volumes identical to those of the diesel versions, at 3.3 to 3.9 cubic meters, and a maximum payload of over 800kg mean that the Combo-e is a compact van that will instantly have more van operators thinking about making the switch to electric.
It’s all made possible by Vauxhall’s use of the Stellantis Group’s EMP2 platform, an advanced modular vehicle architecture designed with electric power in mind. EMP2 has already formed the basis of passenger cars and vans across the group and by positioning the 50kWh battery under the floor of the Combo-e it helps maintain load space while lowering the van’s centre of gravity.
Operators can charge their Vauxhall Combo-e in seven hours and 30 minutes from a 7.4kWh domestic wallbox charger. If you’re lucky enough to have access to an 11kWh three-phase supply at your home or business premises, you’re looking at five hours to go from nothing to 100 per cent - or a 100kWh rapid charger will blast the battery to 80 per cent in 30 minutes. The battery comes with an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty that guarantees the maximum capacity will not drop below 70 per cent of what it was when new.
The electric powertrain gives the Vauxhall Combo-e all the desirable characteristics of a modern electric vehicle. Simple one-gear operation, near-silent running, until the wind and road noise kick-in at higher speeds, and the instant hit of torque that brings an effortless quality to stop-start driving. A 0-62mph time of 11.7 seconds and an 81mph top speed are perfectly adequate, and the van feels quicker than the numbers suggest in the 10-30mph bursts that most drivers will make more of the time.
After the deduction of the Government grant, you’re going to pay around £4,500 more for a Combo-e than you would for an equivalent diesel model. It’s a step up in terms of investment for businesses, but running costs should be dramatically lower, even before the various advantages in tax and emission-based charges are felt. Servicing is needed after 12,500 miles or one year, then every 25,000 miles or two years after that, with the cost of a service expected to be significantly lower than for diesel versions.
The Vauxhall Combo-e range mirrors that of the Combo in that there are L1 (4.403mm long) and L2 (4.473mm long) versions, with the L1 expected to account for two thirds of sales. A five-seat Crew Van variant is also offered with the electric powertrain or you can get the Combo-e Life MPV model.
There are two trim levels, Dynamic and Sportive, with the latter commanding a £1,000 premium. Standard kit on Dynamic includes a five-inch touchscreen, cruise control, rear parking sensors and a full-height steel bulkhead. The Sportive adds the more impressive eight-inch touchscreen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), body-coloured mirrors and bumpers, front fog lights, an electronic parking brake and metallic paint.
You also get the FlexCargo Pack, which incorporates a dual-passenger seat with a middle seat back that folds flat to make a table, and an outer seat that folds to allow longer items to be poked through a hatch in the bulkhead. This increases the potential load volume by 0.5 cubic metres.
All Combo-e models get a driver’s airbag, hill start assist, remote central deadlocking and an immobiliser. More advanced safety and driver assistance features such as adaptive cruise control and a rear parking camera can be found on the options list.
The driving experience is altered depending on your selection from the Drive Mode menu. There are Eco, Normal and Power settings that adjust the electric motor to deliver 80bhp, 107bhp or 136bhp respectively, also adjusting the torque output (190Nm, 210Nm or 260Nm) and throttle response at the same time. The drive modes menu lets you choose the van’s level of regenerative braking as well. We suspect most will choose Normal or Eco to maximise range, but the Combo-e can actually tow a 750kg braked trailer and Power might be called for in that event.
In general it’s very pleasant on the move. There’s a slight whine from the motor at low speeds but cab noise levels, as you’d expect, are well down on the diesel van. The ride is very smooth as well. There’s some fidgeting on bumpy surfaces but good composure over undulations and the dampers cope well with the bigger craters.
In corners, the low-slung battery helps create a feeling of stability, but the steering is vague and doesn’t inspire confidence. Its light weight is a plus when manoeuvring in combination with the tight turning circle, but not at higher speed where the lack of feel comes to the fore.
We found the driving position comfortable and the cabin generally to be well built using robust materials. The small steering wheel feels good and other important touch points, such as the heating and ventilation controls, the drive mode selector and the central touchscreen, have a quality feel. There are a lot of storage options including shallow door pockets, a lidded space on top of the dash, a shelf for your mobile phone, an overhead storage shelf and a large space in place of a glovebox. There’s even a storage space under the passenger seat.
To access the load bay, L1 models feature a single sliding side door and unglazed side-hinged double doors at the rear. The L2 adds a second sliding side door on the off side and all models get six load lashing points. The cargo bay can take a pair of Euro pallets thanks to a void that measures 1,229mm between the wheel arches, with a maximum loading width of 1,630mm.
|Model:||Vauxhall Combo-e Sportive L1|
|Range:||171 miles (WLTP)|
|Charging:||100kW DC (0-80% 30min)|