In-depth reviews

Vauxhall Combo-e Cargo review

The Vauxhall Combo small van benefits greatly from an electric drivetrain – this is a compelling option for those wanting a zero-emissions work vehicle

Vauxhall Combo-e Cargo
Overall rating

4.5 out of 5

Pros

  • Drives well
  • Identical cargo volumes to diesel
  • Good quality and well equipped interior

Cons

  • Overly light steering
  • More expensive to buy than diesel
  • Not really a long-distance machine
Van typeRangeWallbox charge timeRapid charge time
Electric171 miles7hrs 30mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)30mins (10-80%, 100kW)

As of late 2021, there are already many electric vans on the market in the UK, however it's fair to say some are more polished and accomplished than others. A few are effectively third-party conversions, simply slotting in a battery pack and electric motor where you would normally find the engine and fuel tank.

A new generation of electric vans is now starting to arrive, however, and while most of them continue to sit alongside combustion-engined variants of the same model, the battery-powered versions were part of the plan from the outset, rather than being an afterthought. This Vauxhall Combo-e Life – along with its Peugeot e-Partner, Citroen e-Berlingo and Toyota Proace City Electric sister models – is a perfect example.

It offers those looking for a zero-emissions small van a 171-mile driving range, the same load volumes as its diesel equivalent (3.3 to 3.9 cubic metres) and a maximum payload of more than 800kg. Power comes for a 50kWh battery, installed under the floor so as not to intrude on occupant or cargo space in any way.

Charging it fully will take seven-and-half hours from a typical domestic wallbox, although if the van is parked at a commercial premises with a three-phase/11kW electricity supply while not being used, that time drops to five hours. Out and about during the working day, the van can be topped up from near-empty to 80% in 30 minutes from a 100kW public rapid charger. The battery itself gets an eight-year/100,000-mile guarantee, so if you find that it can no longer charge to more than 70% of its as-new capacity, Vauxhall will replace it for free.

The technology underpinning the Combo-e is not just shared with the other vans mentioned above – it's also found in passenger cars like Vauxhall's Corsa-e and the Peugeot e-208. That  translates to a pleasant driving experience, with all the typical upsides that come with electric power: no gearchanges, not much noise (especially at slower speeds) and instant torque from a standstill making it feel very nippy around town.

As the 0-62mph time of 11.7 seconds and limited top speed of 81mph suggest, however, the Combo-e does run out of puff a bit at higher speeds, so it's definitely more at home hopping from job to job in an urban or suburban environment than it is doing a cross-country motorway run.

When it comes to body sizes, the same options available to buyers of the diesel-engined Combo are on offer, namely the 4.4-metre-long L1 and 4.47-metre long L2. You can also get a five-seat Crew Van variant, while there's a Combo-e Life passenger-car model, too, with seating for either five or seven.

While the Life version has only a single trim level, the Combo van is available in either Dynamic or Sportive spec, with the latter costing £1,000 more. The entry-level model gives you a five-inch touchscreen, cruise control, rear parking sensors and a full-height steel bulkhead. Upgrading to Sportive brings a larger eight-inch touchscreen with Apple and Android smartphone connectivity, along with body-coloured mirrors and bumpers, an electronic parking brake, metallic paint and front foglights. It's expected the former will appeal mainly to fleet buyers and the latter to sole traders.

The Sportive also incorporates something called the FlexCargo Pack: this gives you two passenger seats up front, with the middle one folding down to make a table and the outer one folding down to allow for the carrying of longer items (in combination with a hatch in the bulkhead).

On the safety and security front, no matter which spec you choose you get a driver’s airbag, hill-start assistance, remote central deadlocking and an immobiliser. Head to the options list and you can add things like adaptive cruise control and a rear parking camera.

Like all the models it shares technology with, the Combo-e lets you choose from Eco, Normal and Power driving modes. These give you a maximum power output of 80, 107 or 136bhp respectively, as well as 190, 210 or 260Nm of torque. As the names suggest, Eco is for maximising range, Normal suits most everyday driving and Power is for when you need a bit more oomph for overtaking, carrying a heavy payload or pulling a trailer – the Combo-e can tow up to 750kg.

On the move, you can hear a slight whine from the motor at low speeds, but overall things are much quieter than in a typical diesel van. The ride is generally smooth, save for some fidgeting on poorer surfaces, but the Combo-e remains composed over undulations and deals with larger potholes well.

It remains stable in corners, thanks in part to a low centre of gravity arising from its low-mounted battery pack. Less impressive is the vague-feeling steering, which doesn't inspire much confidence at higher speeds, even if its light weight makes short work of low-speed manoeuvres in tight spaces.

The driving position is good and cabin quality is a cut above many other small vans: the steering wheel, ventilation controls, drive mode selector and touchscreen all add a touch of class to the cabin with upmarket materials and design. There's plenty of storage space for your odds and ends, too, including door pockets, a lidded dash-top cubby, a box under the passenger seat, a mobile-phone shelf, an overhead shelf and another large space in place of a glovebox.

The L1 body size has a single sliding side door and side-hinged double doors with no glass at the rear, while L2 adds a second sliding door on the other side. Both versions have six load lashing points and can take two Euro pallets: measurement between the wheelarches is 1,229mm, while maximum loading width is 1,630mm.

Overall, the Combo-e feels like it will be a useful and realistic option for many compact van operators, especially those who may have been unconvinced by the electric options available until now. Range and carrying capacity are both decent for the class, and when greatly reduced running costs compared to a diesel version are taken into account, the Combo-e may well make the most financial sense as well.

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