In-depth reviews

Vauxhall Combo-e Life review

Vauxhall’s zero-emissions MPV is everything you’d expect it to be – practical, spacious and smooth to drive – but nothing more

Overall rating

3.5 out of 5

Pros

  • Practical
  • Spacious
  • Smooth to drive

Cons

  • Short range
  • Van-like styling
  • Only one trim level
Van typeRangeWallbox charging timeRapid charge time
Electric174 miles11hrs 45mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)30mins (0-80%, 100kW)

While SUVs have become the go-to choice for families looking for a more spacious car than your average hatchback, minibuses and MPVs remain an option for those who prioritise practicality above all else. Vauxhall’s zero-emissions entry into the MPV market is the Combo-e Life, which is available in both five and seven-seat configurations.

It’s based on the electric Combo-e version of the Vauxhall Combo compact van, and shares underpinnings with its Stellantis Group siblings the Peugeot e-Rifter and Citroen e-Berlingo. Like them, the Vauxhall features a 134bhp electric motor fed by a 50kWh battery, for a maximum range of 174 miles. The Combo-e Life will charge from flat to full in seven hours and 30 minutes from a standard 7kW home wallbox. If you use a 100kW rapid charger, you can get from 0-80% in half an hour.

Its zero-emissions status means free into the London Congestion Charge zone and other low-emissions areas for now, as well as lower running costs overall. Plus, its 1% company-car tax rate goes some way to making up for its list price being £6,000 higher than the equivalent diesel version.

Prices for the Combo-e Life in five-seater guise start from £30,610 after the government’s plug-in car grant has been deducted. The seven-seater version adds £500, while the long-wheelbase XL model adds another £1,100 on top of that.

Thanks to the batteries sitting under the floor, interior space in the Combo-e Life hasn’t taken a hit with the switch to electric power. The five-seater model has a 597-litre boot, extending to 2,126 litres when you fold the rear seats down.

The standard version is 4.4 metres long, while the XL extends to 4.75 metres. In five-seat mode, there’s plenty of head and legroom 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 does. With seven people inside, there’s still a small amount of boot space for a row of shopping bags or similar.

The cabin is also packed with storage spaces, and there's the option of extra light if you pay £840 for the panoramic sunroof. However, aside from some chrome-accented trim, the Combo-e Life’s interior features materials lifted directly from the van it’s based on. That means tough and durable surfaces rather than soft-touch plastics, but those areas the driver interacts with most frequently, like the steering wheel and the climate-control buttons, are a cut above in terms of quality. The same is true for the 10-inch driver's information display and eight-inch central touchscreen, which come as standard.

The driving position is perhaps a little narrow due to the thick door and wide centre console, but the seat is comfortable. There's a choice of three driving modes – Eco, Normal and Power – each of which adjusts the amount of power provided by the motor. Power gives you the full 136bhp for an 11.7 second 0-62mph time, but most will stick with Normal in the interests of maximising range; doing this cuts output to 107bhp. The mode selector also allows you to set the level of regenerative braking.

At the start of our test drive, the Combo-e Life indicated a range of 165 miles, which was reduced to 130 miles after 20 miles of mixed driving in Normal mode. The car is extremely quiet on the road, with just a slight electric-motor whine evident at low speeds and barely anything audible above a whisper of wind and road noise at motorway speeds.

The ride is smooth on even surfaces, but can become a little fidgety on rougher roads. The steering is very light, but becomes vague when you have to apply more lock. Thankfully for such a tall car, body lean is well contained – this is due in part to the 350kg of batteries in the floor lowering the centre of gravity. 

In the UK, the Combo-e Life is only available in mid-range SE trim, which means you get 16-inch alloy wheels along with body-coloured bumpers and side protection mouldings to improve looks – although it's still clearly based on a van. Also standard are parking sensors, a reversing camera, cruise control, speed-limit sign recognition and the eight-inch infotainment touchscreen that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

So, the Combo-e Life is by no means the most stylish or scintillating electric car on the market right now. But if practicality is your top priority, then the Vauxhall is a cheap-to-run option that may suit you. The amount of cabin space is generous, the van-derived interior should be able to withstand family use and the electric powertrain is smooth, quiet and more than strong enough for everyday driving in and out of town.

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