The What Van? Road Test: Vauxhall Combo
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
If Vauxhall’s latest Combo looks familiar somehow, then that’s because it is. It is in fact a re-badged version of Fiat’s Doblo Cargo – What Van?’s Light Van of the Year for 2012 – courtesy of a joint venture between the Italian manufacturer and Vauxhall’s parent, General Motors.
Whereas the old Combo came with just one wheelbase, one roof height, one overall length and just the one size of load area, its successor is a lot more versatile, and bigger. It is offered with the choice of two wheelbases, two roof heights, two overall lengths and three load cubes: 3.4, 4.0 or 4.2m³.
Do not be too surprised if a 5.0m³ Combo puts in an appearance soon. Fiat had a 5.0m³ Doblo Cargo on display outside the Commercial Vehicle Show, held at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre in April, and where Fiat leads, Vauxhall is likely to follow.
Gross weights extend from 2020kg to 2370kg, allowing the new Combo to boast gross payload capacities from 705kg to 1000kg. Customers can select from a 1.3 CDTi engine at 90hp, a 1.6 CDTi at 90hp or 105hp and a 2.0 CDTi with 135hp, as well as the new 95hp 1.4 petrol.
The 90hp 1.6 CDTi is married to a five-speed Tecshift automated manual gearbox while the 1.3 CDTi takes a standard five-speed manual box. Everything else comes with a six-speed manual. The Combo is also up for grabs with stop/start.
Oddment storage space is quite generous for a vehicle of this size including as it does a full-width shelf above the windscreen, a lidded and lockable glove box with a shelf above it, and bins in each of the doors. You can add several trays to that, including one on top of the dashboard that’s divided into three, plus a pair of cup-holders between the seats.
Pull up the passenger seat cushion and you will find a compartment that will easily accommodate a smartphone. This extra bit of security will set you back £25 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT).
Both the driver’s seat and the steering column are height- adjustable – the former has an armrest plus lumbar support – and the exemplary driving position offers plenty of head and shoulder room. We like the heating and ventilation system’s chunky controls, but above all we like the quality of the materials used throughout the cab as well as the high standard of fit and finish. In fact, it’s so good it’s hard believe it’s a Fiat – but don’t go running away with the idea that the Italian manufacturer has done something special for Vauxhall because the Doblo Cargo is built to the same high standard.
Our Combo came with a sliding nearside load area door plus, for an extra £125, a hatch-type rear door with a heated window and a wash/wipe system. Unglazed asymmetric twin back doors are the standard offerings.
The doors open to reveal a 3.4m³ cargo area divided from the cab by a full-height, glazed bulkhead: the glazing costs an additional £50. The bulkhead bulges into the load bay a little way and steals some space.
Sporting half-a-dozen load tie-down points, our demonstrator featured a plastic tailored floor cover plus a few panels to protect the load area’s sides. It will, though, need timbering out before it does a full day’s work.
Maximum load length is 1820mm. Maximum width is 1714mm narrowing to 1230mm between the wheel boxes while maximum height is 1305mm.
Rear loading height is 545mm while the rear door aperture is 1250mm high and 1231mm wide. Dimensions for the side door aperture are 1175mm and 700mm respectively.
Side rubbing strips protect the body’s exterior from minor scratches and scrapes. Meanwhile, the big door handles deserve a word of praise. Vertically positioned, they are designed to be easy to use when you are wearing thick working gloves.
Our Combo was capable of handling a 705kg gross payload and could tow a braked trailer grossing at 1000kg.
Turbocharged, intercooled, and fitted with common-rail fuel injection, the four-cylinder 16-valve 1.3-litre Euro5 diesel generates its peak power at 4000rpm. Top torque of 200Nm bites at 1500rpm.
Stop/start helps ensure that CO2 emissions are reduced to a modest 126g/km, winning the van its Ecoflex designation, used on Vauxhall’s lower-emitting models.
Chassis and steering
One of the most interesting aspects of the Combo/Doblo Cargo’s design is the use of independent rear suspension. Intended to improve the ride and handling while being sufficiently durable to stand up to the hammering van rear suspensions often receive, the way it is crafted means that the load area features slim wheel boxes that steal the minimum amount of cargo space.
Complete with MacPherson struts, independent suspension is installed at the front too. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and back.
Decorated with smart plastic trims, our demonstrator’s 15-inch steel wheels were shod with Goodyear Duragrip 185/65 R15 tyres. Power-assisted rack-and- pinion steering offers an 11.2m kerb-to-kerb turning circle.
Providing plenty of feedback through the steering, the Combo handled well and felt taut and well-controlled. A lively performer on the flat laden or unladen, it struggled a little when we put some weight in the back and showed it a west country hill or two. For that sort of work, the 105hp 1.6-litre might be better than the 90hp 1.3 CDTi Ecoflex model we test drove.
A reasonably smooth gear change allowed us to make the most of what the engine had to offer, but there were occasions when we bewailed the fact that we only had five speeds to play with. A sixth gear would have been more than welcome as we slogged down the motorway.
Apart from the occasional bump and thump from the suspension, the Combo rode comfortably – the rear independent suspension works well – and while wind and road noise occasionally made their presence felt at speed, they were never intrusive.
The 1.3-litre diesel has a reputation for frugality, and it would appear to be justified. We averaged a more than respectable 54mpg with the easy-to-use stop/start system making a contribution. It made sitting in what seemed to be a never-ending traffic jam on the M40 slightly more tolerable as well as a bit cheaper.
Opt for Sportive trim, as we did, and you benefit from air-con as standard. Our test van was additionally fitted with electric windows, large electrically- adjustable exterior mirrors with a separate wide-angle section and a radio/CD player, not to mention a 12V power point between the seats.
The Sportive spec comes with metallic paint, while the front and rear bumpers and exterior mirror casings are finished in the same colour as the body.
Buying and running
The new Combo is protected by a three-year/60,000-mile warranty with no mileage limit in the first year. A roadside assistance package is included for the first 12 months and a six-year anti-perforation body panel warranty forms part of the deal too. Service intervals are set at one year/21,000 miles.
At the time of writing the latest Combo was available with four years free servicing and breakdown assistance, a four-year warranty and a four-year 0% finance deal.
Frankly, we’re astonished that Vauxhall has failed to make Electronic Stability Programme a standard feature. Instead, it has elected to offer it as a £375 extra-cost option, an approach that counts strongly against it.
However, the Combo does feature ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist. Ventilated disc brakes are fitted at the front, but drums are still deployed at the back.
A driver’s airbag is included in the price and the Combo, of course, now features the ubiquitous daytime running lights. Remote central deadlocking is standard too.
An attractive package that is unlikely to disappoint, but ESP should be standard.
Origins of a fleet favourite
Using underpinnings borrowed from the Corsavan, Vauxhall’s Combo first appeared in 1997 as an heir to the widely respected Astravan-derived Astramax. Restyled in 2001, it was given a new line-up of engines in 2005. The old 1.7-litre diesels were scrapped in favour of a 70hp 1.3 CDTi engine sourced from Fiat and also found in the Corsavan, and a 1.7 CDTi lump that was good for 100hp. A 90hp 1.4-litre Twinport petrol engine was available too with a Dualfuel version that could run on either petrol or LPG.
Development of Combo faltered thereafter, but did not cease entirely. An optional Easytronic automated five-speed manual gearbox appeared that offered improved fuel returns but, like most of its ilk, did not like to be rushed. Otherwise, the Combo was sadly neglected bar one or two tweaks, and began to fall further and further behind the competition. It has remained a fleet favourite however, with operators such as the Royal Mail still running them in significant numbers.