First Drive: Vauxhall Combo

Date: Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Combo light van is a firmly established lynchpin in Vauxhall’s commercial vehicle line-up, but having started its shift back in 2001, even the manufacturer admits the current model is becoming a bit long in the tooth. Nevertheless, Vauxhall still managed to shift 10,000 units last year, nine years after the van’s 2003 peak when sales hit 21,000.

The new Combo, which goes on sale in February, is the result of a collaboration with Fiat and is being assembled alongside the Doblo van at the Italian brand’s plant in Turkey. Therefore the differences between the products are cosmetic, confined to exterior style and interior trim, and as a consequence the new Combo has inevitably been dubbed a re-badged Doblo.
But sharing the same DNA as such a well-received van – the Doblo is What Van’s Light Van of the year for 2011 and 2012 – has obvious advantages, and customers who prefer the Griffin brand can be confident of getting a sound product with, according to Cap, stronger used value prospects.
An obvious bonus is the Combo’s inheritance of the Doblo’s  bi-link independent rear suspension system, which enhances the ride quality and handling and, being lightweight and compact, is also a boon for load capacity and fuel consumption.

Two by two

The Combo is now available in two wheelbases, two heights, two gross vehicle weights (2000kg and 2300kg), two trim levels (Combo and Sportive) and with a choice of four common-rail diesel engines ranging from 1.3-litre CDTi 90hp to 2.0-litre CDTi 135hp. All engines come with a turbocharger and diesel particulate filter.
Vauxhall claims the new Combo boasts the highest payload in the sector (up to 1000kg including the driver), the highest rear-axle capacity (1450kg) and the longest wheelbase (up to 3105mm). It also lays claim to having the largest load volume of up to 4.2m3.
On-the-road prices excluding VAT start at £14,703 and go up to £18,203 – a substantial hike of about £2000 across the range compared with the old one and giving it a higher entry price than rivals such as the Volkswagen Caddy and Ford Transit Connect. But Steve Bryant, Vauxhall’s commercial vehicle brand manager, says the addition of a second wheelbase length and higher-spec trim level to the line-up will enable the Combo to fight its rivals from a position of strength.
The 1.3-litre, 90hp engine, which also serves the Corsavan and Astravan, is likely to dominate sales, and we tested this powertrain in a standard length and height Combo L1H1 2000 Sportive Ecoflex Start/Stop model. According to Bryant, L1H1 derivatives will take 70% of sales volumes and, if the medium-sized Vivaro is anything to go by, at least 30% of customers will opt for Sportive trim.

Form and function

Vauxhall says it adopted the principle of ‘form follows function’ in the exterior design of the new Combo and the result is a workmanlike and tidy-looking van. Clear-glass wraparound headlight clusters with integrated running lights flank a prominent Griffin logo while well-defined bumpers and wheel arches enhance the robust appearance.
The steeply raked windscreen and low bonnet line aid forward visibility for the driver, and ample wing mirrors with integrated indicators give a good view behind. The rear light clusters are mounted high to help avoid damage and can be easily seen by other road users.
Our van had a payload capacity of 750kg and a reasonably cavernous loadspace of 3.4m3.
We started off with a half-load on board and this contributed towards a well grounded, relaxing drive with the cabin remaining pleasantly quiet at all but top motorway speeds. The full-height steel bulkhead with soundproofing no doubt helped to keep noise levels low.
Driver comfort is enhanced by a steering column that can be adjusted for rake and reach and a height-adjustable seat with lumbar support and an armrest. Taller drivers, however, may find they are restricted for legroom because there does not seem to be much room to shift the seat backwards.
Controls in the cabin, including those for the radio/CD on the steering wheel, are within comfortable reach and easy to use.
The 1.3-litre van comes with five-speed manual transmission, which works sweetly enough,
but when cruising on the motorway one occasionally finds oneself checking to see whether there’s a sixth gear. The 1.6- and 2.0-litre models do get a six-speed manual ’box and the 1.6-litre is also offered with Vauxhall’s five-speed Tecshift automated transmission.
Acceleration and pulling power is adequate with a load on board. Our van delivers torque of 200Nm at 1500rpm, but it lacks a turn of pace when moving into faster lanes.
The stop/start system works smoothly in urban environments, obediently shutting off the power when coming to a halt at traffic lights and junctions and firing
up again promptly when the clutch is depressed, thus doing its bit to save fuel and spare the environment a smattering of pollutants.
The Ecoflex badge seems a little superfluous, merely denoting that the 1.3-litre 90hp version with stop/start emits less than the one without it and not that the vehicle is equipped with a raft of fuel-saving features. The claimed fuel economy figures and green credentials, however, are impressive with 58.9mpg achieved on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 126g/km.
The model we tested comes with a price tag, excluding VAT, of £15,260, but with options included this is bumped up to £17,618.
A passenger storage pocket underneath the already large and lockable glove compartment comes at £25 for starters; more expensive but considerably more useful are the rear parking distance sensors that will set you back £195.
It is disappointing to see the new Combo is not launched with ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) included as standard, but our van had it fitted, together with hill-hold assist, for £375.
We also got the £255 Winter Pack, which comprises headlight washers, front fog lights, exterior temperature sensor and electrically adjustable door mirrors. The Driver Pack on our van unquestionably improves cabin ambiance, although many operators may baulk at having to fork out £660 for it.
It includes a leather-covered steering wheel and gear knob, a pre-installation dock for a TomTom navigation system set centrally on the dashboard and the aforementioned steering column-mounted audio controls.
You also get MP3 with the CD/radio stereo, Bluetooth-compatible mobile phone/aux-in socket and USB connectivity. The aux-in and USB plugs, however, are positioned low down near the handbrake
and dangerously close to a cup holder, which is itself very awkward to reach, making a spillage, affecting the electrical sockets, a distinct possibility.
It was good to see the overhead shelf included as standard, although we discovered its size limitations when a road map careered into the cab at head height when we were negotiating a roundabout. One quirky and ingenious feature in the cabin is a secret storage pocket concealed within the passenger seat.
Entry to the load bay, which swallows a Euro pallet, is through asymmetrical back doors that open to 180° and a near-side sliding door. A loading height of just 545mm should guard against back strain.
Due to its similarities to the Fiat Doblo you shouldn’t expect any surprises from the new Vauxhall Combo. Nevertheless, it is a competent all-round package with plenty of choice available, which should more than hold its own in the light van sector.



A vast improvement compared with its aged predecessor, the new Combo can now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best in the light van sector.


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