Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test: fun with furniture

  • What it's like to live with a Vauxhall Combo Cargo van
  • Range-topping LE Nav tested with 130hp 1.5 Turbo D engine
  • This report: when life brings you furniture packaging, sweet-talk

Long-term test review of the Parkers Award-winning Vauxhall Combo Cargo.

Update 11: Fun with furniture

Combo helps put Mike's cancelled holiday fund to good use

Not meaning to sound like a stuck record, but by jingo its really quite handy having a handy sized van parked outside the house. Once again, it’s come into its own thanks to the buying habits of my missus.

You may recall the Combo Cargo pretty much devoured all the detritus from our recent garden adventures. Well now she’s been at it again thanks to a healthy refund that dropped into our bank account. It seems we are never likely to get away abroad this year for reasons we are all too aware of. Last year our holiday plans were well and truly Thomas Cooked and COVID has knackered this year’s Canary Island jaunt, too.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - packaging in the back

So, armed with a second holiday refund, she duly announced we were getting a new settee, dining table and chairs, cabinets and other items all tastefully done in an Indian dark wood. One by one another parcel or enormous box arrived, another lump of furniture was either unpacked or assembled and yes, you’ve guessed it, the Combo Cargo was rammed to the hilt with cardboard, polystyrene and bubble wrap.

We had to sweet talk the guys at the local tip to let us decant the load as commercial vehicles are only allowed in with a council pass or if it’s hired for a period of less than seven days.

Living by numbers

The Combo Cargo certainly has the statistics on its side when it comes to moving loads. Even in this standard-length van there is more than ample girth to accommodate two Euro pallets side by side with a maximum payload just short of 670kg.

I have mentioned before but again worthy of repeating, the ride comfort really becomes quite cossetting when you add a bit of dead weight in the back. Even when fully freighted to the maximum GVW the Combo Cargo remains stable and safe feeling when running at speed.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - in the cab

Only when right on the weight limit does the van give a visual clue by sitting down towards the suspension bump stops. The electric power steering, despite lacking in feel at the rim of the wheel remains feather light in action. Not only that but a turning circle to put an FX4 taxi to shame when spooling the wheel in tight spaces.

One small quality worry

Perhaps I put my mouth right in it when I touched upon on the seemingly excellent build quality. In a recent monsoon of a rainstorm, the passenger side wiper arm nut decided to loosen off causing the wipers to operate at a jaunty angle. Thankfully, I was not far from home on this occasion and despite becoming a drowned rat in appearance, the nut was tightened up, the drivers arm checked for good measure, and no harm was done.

To be fair, I am not going to deduct too many brownie points as this incident really is the only problem I have encountered that’s solely down to the van itself. To this day I remain generally impressed at the overall fit, finish and solidity of the Combo Cargo considering the hard use it has had to put up with during my incumbency.

A future have-a-go-hero

While checking over the levels before a haul down to Somerset, I took time to ponder over the engine bay.

Looking long term after the warranty expires, any owner who is competent at wielding a spanner rather than relying on a garage for routine servicing or repair is going to appreciate the engine bay on the diesel Combo. It looks like almost everything you are likely to need to touch during ownership is get at-able.

The space around the upper engine mount when the dreaded cambelt requires changing is more than enough to gain access – something that other vehicles cannot boast about. So long as the vehicle remains reliable in operation, you can be sure the whole life costs are bound to be among the best out there.

Current mileage: 8,148
Real world fuel economy: 50.3mpg
AdBlue consumption: 6.0 litre


Update 10: Life under lockdown

Mike Humble's found a new favourite tool for the garden

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - front top view, 2020

I can distinctly remember when the current other half first got wind that a light commercial vehicle was due to grace our driveway. Time erodes the exact words that were mumbled and grumbled into my shell-like ear’ole but they were almost certainly of the moaning kind.

Fast forward a few months and miles later and the Combo Cargo seems to be treated like one of the family. Be it a run to the tip or Waitrose, collect the ordered take-a-way or pick up a job lot of garden compost – there isn’t much that the Combo Cargo has been exempt from doing.

Not only the aforementioned but there’s also the actual commercial delivery side too that the van has endured. After a number of rapid runs delivering medical and IT supplies for the NHS, it all went very quiet on the work front and I ended up being furloughed.

All was not lost as we decided while things were slow on the work front, the plucky red Vauxhall could carry on earning its corn as we proceeded to get the garden into order. Firstly, there was the laborious chopping down of shrubs and bushes.

Red van, green fingers

Then came all the new self-assembly garden furniture and its associated cardboard packaging. The new chairs, a new gazebo that covers the hot-tub to replace the old one that blew off towards Surrey during a storm, an arty-farty trellis, not to mention a huge selection of bark chippings and compost.

Mike's garden

The Combo Cargo not only had to transport a great deal of the above, but also double as a storeroom for all the cardboard and packaging, of which there was lots, while we waited for the local tip to re-open.

Getting the van back into a habitable state required little more than a brush-out, a wipe down with a damp cloth and a quick hoovering. Now that my furloughing has ended and social restrictions are steadily easing, the Combo Cargo has returned to its usual activities as a van and daily driver.

It’s been getting attention, too, from drivers of other similarly sized vehicles. Filling station forecourts and supermarket car parks find these drivers asking what’s it really like. I simply tell them the truth – its ok.

Even though some folk cannot seem to fathom the extensive and impressive level of equipment on board, they seem to understand when you tell them that some owners with small businesses use it not only as a tool but as a daily hack too.

Clearly a fleet buyer isn’t going to want alloy wheels, front fogs lamps and heated seats / steering wheel to name but some. But for the sole trader, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, they are going to want to make their vehicle as accommodating and palatable as possible if their van is to double up as a car as well.

Well-equipped and well thought out

Some serious thought has gone into the packaging of the Combo Cargo, too. The multi-function lifting and tipping passenger seats offer you a myriad of hidden storage areas not to mention a writing tray that doubles up as a dining table for the packed lunch.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - storage space under the passenger seat

The steel bulkhead features a fold down part for long loads to intrude into the cab area after folding down the passenger seat backrest. There’s also a waterproof sleeve to avoid getting the seatbacks or carpets wet with dirty lengths of timber or what have you. Six lashing rings in the load bay, though at first glance look a bit lightweight, do a sterling job of holding down awkward, unstable or a heavy palletised load.

The slightly choppy ride soon smooths out with just a little bit of weight but at the moment I have the tyre pressures set for carrying maximum capacity weights. The phrase ‘drives just like a car’ may seem a bit cliche in the sector but the Combo Cargo really does just that.

Despite some hard working it still refuses to squeak or rattle from anywhere and it’s just as happy cruising the M25 as it is threading its way through Central London. I find the large infotainment screen a bit overbearing and the dashboard drinks holders too small for comfort, but even in full critic mode, I am still struggling to find anything serious enough to beat the Combo Cargo with a stick over.

Current mileage: 6,784
Real world fuel economy: 50.4mpg
AdBlue consumption: 5.0 litres
Other faults or costs: None

 


 

 

Update 9: The hardwork keeps on coming, but some little irritations won't go away

Mike Humble gets our combo van loaded up...

As the rest of the world battens down the hatches thanks to COVID-19, life with the Combo Cargo remains as busy as ever thanks to last minute printing jobs from local businesses. From one heavy single pallet load to a loose lot of boxes the Combo Cargo hasn’t missed a beat after the incident with the rear tyre we reported on previously.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - pallet-load of printing

On one hand it’s a daily driver and on the other it’s a very useful and enjoyable working tool. The initially cumbersome gearchange has now loosened up to degree that I now seldom look down at the lever to give a disapproving tut.

One thing I have noticed recently is the amazingly good turning circle, good enough to almost put a London taxt to shame. Just how this will affect the outer CV joints is a matter that only time will tell but one thing is certain – it’s extremely agile in close quarters.

It’s not quite perfect

My list of moans and groans remains pleasingly few, though one or two may be viewed as particularly irritating.

For example, owing to the head-up display, you forfeit the neat paperwork storage area above the instruments. There is also no illumination in the passenger side glovebox, which due to its incredible depth becomes a black hole when driving at night. Oh, and why have they opted to fit the 12v power socket virtually down on the floor? Answers on a postcard please.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - gardening supplies

And yet none of the above detracts from the fact that the Combo (gripes aside) is a well thought-out little van that genuinely feels and drives like a family sized MPV. And despite there being no sound-absorbing soft materials over your shoulder, there is absolutely no noise from the load area when empty – only the roughest of roads surfaces blots the copybook here.

Keeping cool

As the weather gets hotter, I can report that the air-conditioning works extremely well, although the controls are a bit small and fiddly to work on the move and the higher vents require the most delicate of adjustments to aim a cool breeze at the face.

Worthy of note is the barely noticeable rise in fuel consumption or drop in engine performance when the AC is in use – such is the efficiency of modern systems.

Miles so far: 5,507
Real world fuel economy: 50.3mpg

 


 

 

Update 8: Minor trials and tribulations - and our heaviest NHS load yet

Mike experiences a blown bulb and a not-quite blown tyre, and then puts the Combo to the test with 600kg of medicine in the back

It’s certainly been all-go in Comboland and as you may have noted from the last report, it's certainly been put to the test. Regardless of it barrelling down the motorway on one-hit destinations or door-to-door courier type work, I genuinely have found little to moan or tut about.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - front view, low, blown bulb now replaced

There are of course some little things I have noted such as the really dark and sombre cockpit; despite the equipment and tech levels being astonishingly high, the materials used make you think otherwise – it just lacks a little interior wow appeal.

The only padding and soft touches are the seats, steering wheel, carpet and roof lining. Some of the interior can feel hard and cold – almost utilitarian to the touch.

Hard, dark, cold plastic in abundance there may be, but it's screwed together impressively well. Not a squeak, rattle or anything wobbly can be heard or felt as the van steadily starts to loosen up and settle down.

In fact, it’s the refinement that really gets your attention. The silence at cruising speed is wonderful – so long as the road is smooth and rut free.

An illuminating experience

It has needed attention though – twice in fact, but neither has been an issue with the vehicle's build or reliability.

It recently blew a dip beam bulb (Osram to blame) that gave me an ideal situation to sample some uprated extra-white ‘GE’ branded items that were originally destined to be fitted in my Volvo. Night driving is now even more of a pleasure thanks to a vastly improved spread of beam pattern.

The driving pleasure then became curtailed once again. As with the headlamp bulb, it wasn’t the van at fault as I suffered a slow puncture on the off-side-rear tyre caused by a rather angry looking bent nail or screw.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - puncture means a new rear tyre

Finding a tyre centre open at the moment isn’t exactly easy but I succeeded. The chaps put in a sterling effort and after the second attempt the pressure held – only for it to lose a quarter of its air overnight.

Back it went the following day to be told it must have a new tyre – that they failed to have in stock.

Feeling the pressure? Not likely

So a call was put in to Vauxhall for advice, and because we are using the van for key-worker business they got their own in-house fleet department to source a matching tyre in Guildford, on a Saturday too, and cover the cost at their expense – well done, guys.

So, after two minor blameless glitches the Combo carries on once more – and carry on it certainly has. The weightiest load so far involved a 600kg pallet of raw medicine powder that I had to take off the top three layers of boxes to fit in the back.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - 600kg of medicine powder in the back being carried for the NHS

With boxes stacked here there and one in the cab for good luck, I wasn’t looking forward to the return run back to the depot that involves two lengthy hills with switchback bends.

The worry was all for nothing, as the fully freighted Combo Cargo just whistled a happy tune and cracked on with it without fuss.

In fact, the term ‘happy’ best sums the Vauxhall Combo Cargo up, it’s a happy thing to look at as well as drive. As I have said before, forget the daft puppy looks – it’s got the strength and determination of a husky.

Miles so far: 5,088
Real world fuel economy: 51.3mpg


 

Update 7: Delivering for the NHS

Mike Humble puts the Combo to the work in the current crisis

Well, aren’t these the most surreal times most of us have ever experienced? The coronavirus has pretty much ground the country, nay the world, to an almost standstill. Bring back Brexit, all is forgiven, is what many people I know are crying. The roads are astonishingly quiet, most shops are closed and the DFS Sale has finally ended – it’s all very weird.

If your neck of the woods are the same as mine right now, the words 'ghost town' have never been bandied about as much since 1981 when The Specials had the number one spot for three weeks.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - loading via the side door

And yet for some of us, work never stops and in some cases, seems to get busier. When I am not compiling the used car guides and other motoring-related matters, you’ll find me behind the wheel of something bigger. You see, I also work in the transport and logistics sector spending a great deal of time in a rather large truck with its Globetrotter cab. Our company not only deals with groupage and air freight, we also have a busy courier-based operation too.

That was always the plan when I was handed the keys to the Vauxhall Combo Cargo, get it out there grafting – doing what a van is meant to do. Well that’s certainly been the case recently with the larger freight starting to quieten down as more businesses battenn down the hatches.

Over the last couple of weeks so far, my little red van has shifted printed material to London as well as being the daily driver. As the virus situation has become even more serious, the role of a dependable small van becomes critical too.

Carry on Combo

I have opted to carry on working for as long as it's feasible and safe as possible to do so.

A large chunk of courier work these days is getting IT-related goods to the accountants and admin staff of the NHS who are now working at home so they can do all they can to keep the hospitals and surgeries efficiently. Even raw pharmaceutical ingredients must be moved around too and not only am I quietly proud of playing my part, the Combo is doing the business also.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - loading with a forklift via the rear doors

From small packets to Euro-pallets, the Vauxhall Combo Cargo has done it all in such a short space of time. Despite some frantic door-to-door work in East Sussex the fuel consumption has only dipped a fraction.

Be it just around the corner or a long-legged haul to Bristol, it doesn’t seem to matter what’s thrown at it – the happy red van cracks on with unswerving ability. The sat-nav hasn’t let me down while the comfort levels are boosted even further thanks to niceties like its steering wheel and seat both being heated.

Gripes for the moment are few and far between and I’ll mention some as we go along, but for now it’ll be interesting to see how it performs in these times of worry while at the same time I’ll keep washing my hands.

Self-isolating in the cab of the Combo so far, doesn’t seem that bad!

Miles so far: 3,854
Real-world fuel economy: 49.5mpg


 

 

Update 6: Putting the Combo Cargo to proper work

It’s all-change for the Combo Cargo, as Mike Humble takes control of the keys and puts it straight to work.

When you’re running an LCV on a long-term test basis, it makes sense to try and put it in real world commercial situations if you see my meaning. So, here at Parkers, it’s all change for the Vauxhall Combo Cargo as I take over the reins – or rather the keys, for this award-winning van.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - Mike Humble driving in the rain

When I’m not driving, writing or testing vehicles, you’ll find me in the cab of a rather large Volvo FM Globetrotter HGV. The company I work with also operates a courier-type business too, so I’ll bet you can see where this is going can’t you? When I’m not thundering about in the truck, I’ll be using the van on logistical missions.

Forget the cutsie-pie looks – this van means business

Being rather cubic in shape and a shade of GPO red, I’ve already succumbed to a fair bit of gentle ribbing and joshing. In little over a week I’ve heard `em all from ‘hello Pat’ through to ‘send my love to Mrs Goggins will ya?’ – bloody kids. To be fair though, it’s been favourable attention so far and it makes me smile.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - in the West Country

In terms of looks, I rather like the little Vauxhall – it’s almost cute and welcoming while appearing notably different from the PSA offerings it’s based on. Looks aside it’s done some commuting and domestic graft already. Very early signs are most encouraging, and whatever your views are on the styling I’ll tell you this – it’s alarmingly efficient.

Early signs are positive

The Combo seems to have the minerals, too. On a recent weekend away down to the West Country, both myself and the missus found it excellent to drive despite the stormy weather. My only worry so far is the load space floor, so I’ve put in a call to Vauxhall to get a load-liner to keep it looking as good inside as out.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - magnetic signage

The company magnetic signs have arrived so who knows where this van will take us. One thing is for certain, the Combo is certainly going to be thrown in at the deep end – let’s see how it fares!

Miles so far: 3,247
Real-world fuel economy: 50.0mpg


Update 5: Why working life won't trouble the Combo

Tom Wiltshire reports on driving the Combo to save his left leg, and how one of its sister vans is fairing as it endures a hard life under the cosh at the Highways Agency...

As we came into the new year I realised it had been a month, possibly two, since I’d driven anything with a manual gearbox. With my own long-term tester being an automatic Lexus that I’d spent all of the festive period in, I wondered when my left leg would begin to atrophy.

I was only too pleased, then, to jump into our cherry red Combo Cargo for a few evenings and remind myself how it felt to select my own ratios.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - at the post office

It only took a few minutes behind the wheel to remind myself why I’d been such a staunch advocate of this van taking our most recent Small Van of the Year award. The refinement this van offers is genuinely exceptional – I’ve been in hatchbacks with more wind and road noise, and the muted thrum of the 1.5-litre diesel engine is no more vocal than in any equivalent Peugeot, Citroen, or Vauxhall model using the same powerplant.

The gearshift I’d been so coveting isn’t exactly top of the class, being a step down in both fluidity and lightness from the Ford Transit Connect, but it’s perfectly pleasant and doesn’t have any of the vagueness you’d find in vans just a few years ago.

When you consider that this Combo occupies the same part of the market as dinosaurs like the Renault Kangoo, its car-like abilities are even more impressive.

Of course, anything we say about the driving dynamics of the Combo also applies to its sister models, the mechanically identical Peugeot Partner and Citroen Berlingo. A recent experience of the former confirmed this – my sister borrowed a hardworking Highways Agency Partner from her own job, to fill in for a few weeks while her even more hardworking Skoda Superb received some long-overdue maintenance.

Despite many thousand very hard miles under its belt, rock-hard budget tyres designed for puncture resistance rather than grip and a thin veneer of aggregate dust over every interior surface, it still rode and handled with comfort and refinement at great odds with its roughty-toughty career transporting burly road workers up and down unmade surfaces at the side of the road.

It’s a great sign that these vans appear to wear their miles quite well – after all, if it’s to be used for business, minimal downtime and maximum longevity are some of the most important factors a van can offer.

And if, like us here at Parkers, you’re using it as an occasional load-lugger for when the goods are too bulky or too dirty to trouble the cosseted carpet of our own coddled cars, the Combo Cargo’s cracking comfort is a clear crutch to our coccyxes.

By Tom Wiltshire

Miles so far: 2,284
Real-world fuel economy: 49.0mpg


 

 

Update 4: What's the Combo like to drive if you've never driven a van before?

Our Combo has been busy being useful of late – not least with Elaine, who asked to borrow it so she could collect some plants for a charity event.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - collecting flowers

Elaine is also one of the building receptionists, and had never driven a van prior to taking possession of the Vauxhall’s keys. Fair to say, she was more nervous about this than I was – it’s all very well knowing that this van drives just like a car, convincing other people that it really does isn’t always so straightforward.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - Elaine loading flowers

Here’s what Elaine made of her experience.

Driving the van was great, very easy to use and manoeuvre. At first, I found having no rear view mirror a little daunting but I soon got used to it. Not having this facility didn't bother me when reversing into a parking space as I always use my wing mirrors and did so with the van. The dashboard was clear and easy to read and understand.

I enjoyed being higher in the cab than a traditional car. The ride was very comfortably and smooth. Great vision through the windscreen.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - Elaine in the back

The cab passenger bench seat was very comfortable and useful as I was able to carry a few extra flowers on there.

Loading the back was very easy and the extra height gave more room for two rows of boxes. The doors opened wide enough to be able to load easily and comfortable. It wasn't too high to be able to step into.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - flower boxes stacked in the back

As ever, this page is not intended to give you an in-depth review of the Combo Cargo – we’ve got a main review page for that – but to share what it’s like to live with and use one of these little vans. And what the above tells me is that the Combo really is as easy going and sensibly designed as I think it is – an ideal first van for your business, perhaps.

Miles so far: 1,963
Real-world fuel economy: 46.8mpg


Update 3: Getting to know you

So, we’ve had the Combo a little while now, and given this means I’ve spent a lot of time driving it on my 70-mile commute, things that I like and dislike about the cab are beginning to make themselves clear.

Ways in which the Combo’s cab can be a pain in the… elbow

Let’s start with the bad news – and to be honest, there isn’t much of it. The square gearknob is simply weird, and my bugbear with the position of the ventilation controls continues, but I have to admit that over time you do get used to them not being illuminated and I can now generally operate them by feel.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - climate control buttons, 2020

It’s still not a very good solution for dark winter evenings, however, because as soon as you’ve spent some time driving different vehicles you lose that muscle memory and you once again find yourself flailing about in the dark little recess where the air-conditioning lurks, trying to find the buttons that adjust the fan speed. A little bit of light here would go a long way.

I’ve also grown used to the seating position, which is quite a way in-board from the sides of the van. Might seem like a little thing (and at least the steering wheel is dead ahead, unlike in the Combo’s big brother, the Vivaro), but this can make this small van seem wider than it is. I’m over it now.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - no padding for your elbow on the door trim arm rest

I most definitely am not over this horrible hard plastic door trim, though. On longer journeys it would become natural to rest your elbow on the side here, but the plastic is so hard it actually starts to make the joint hurt over a not very long period of time. Even a small amount of padding would go a long way. Seems tight-fisted on Vauxhall’s part (or rather that of parent company Groupe PSA).

Those little bits of luxury

As for the good stuff, well, there’s plenty to praise here. All of the cubby holes and storage solutions work well (which, again, is more than you can say for the Vivaro), and I never find I’m short of places to put stuff. The tiny round cup holder (?) by the gear lever is a touch odd – I have no idea what you’re supposed to keep in there – but otherwise it’s very well thought out inside in this respect.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - cab interior, infotainment, cubby holes

The radio sounds reasonably powerful, and because the engine and wind noise are well suppressed, you’ll never struggle to hear your favourite tunes.

The Android Auto integration mostly works very well, too, with Amazon Music coming through loud and clear and Google Maps a far superior solution to the built-in sat-nav. It’s a shame Waze has refused to work since I got the van, but I gather this is a Waze / Android Auto compatibility issue related to a recent update, and not a fault of Vauxhall’s at all. Such is modern life.

Vauxhall Combo long-term test review - head-up display, 2020

Also excellent is the head-up display, which helps you keep your eyes focused on the road ahead at all times, though I wouldn’t describe this as a must have compared to the blindspot monitors, which are a brilliant addition to any van. I’ve certainly never been sad that I don’t have the optional Surround Rear Vision camera system.

Finally, a very happy word for the heating seats and steering wheel. Both made cold winter mornings much more bearable, but I’m particularly surprised at just what a difference the heated wheel made. This option is unique to the Combo, I believe – so you can’t get it on the equivalent Berlingo or Partner.

I’d still trade almost any of the above for some extra padding on the door, though…

Miles so far: 1,509
Real-world fuel economy: 49.4mpg


Update 2: Dinosaur on board

Christmas has meant I’ve been a little lax on the updates for our long-term Vauxhall Combo test van – it tends to come second best when you’ve got the family to transport. However, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been pressed into service with some occasionally weird load combinations during the festive period.

For example, when I was informed that my 10-month-old niece would very enjoy receiving a roaring triceratops rocking, er, dinosaur from Santa Claus, the bearded wonder was so taken aback by the size of it that the Combo was tasked with collection duties.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - load area with rocking dinosaur and car ramps

However, it wasn’t so big that the by now traditional long-termer task of collecting stupid accessories for my MX-5 couldn’t be catered for in the same journey. In this instance a sturdy set of car ramps, bought locally via eBay.

So far the ad-hoc sheetery has done the trick protecting the unlined load floor from unwanted damage, too. Long may this continue.

This sort of thing aside, the Combo has also done a few airport runs since the first report, which has done nothing to diminish the initial impressions regarding its refinement and comfort potential. Even the stereo sounds pretty good – and though I’m disappointed to discover that Waze has stopped working via Android Auto, I gather this is a Waze problem rather than a Vauxhall one.

More soon.

Miles so far: 1,002
Real-world fuel economy: 48.4mpg


 

Update 1: Welcoming our award-winner to the fleet

As you might have noticed, the latest Vauxhall Combo Cargo – alongside its Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner cousins – has just won our inaugural Small Van of the Year Award. Proving that we stand by that decision 100%, this bright red example of the breed has now joined our long-term test fleet for the next few months.

Aside from the inevitable Postman Pat gags (the Ruby Red perhaps wasn’t the sharpest choice), so far, we’re getting along famously.

What’s the spec?

Since we had the opportunity, we’ve gone for the top trim level and the most powerful diesel engine: LE Nav with the 130hp 1.5-litre Turbo D, which comes with a six-speed manual gearbox.

The standard equipment list is, frankly, huge. The 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system features sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, there’s cruise control, twin USB sockets, Bluetooth, air-conditioning, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat, remote locking and an all-important alarm – and these are just the highlights.

Yet we’ve still managed to end up with a bunch of actually quite intriguing extras as well.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - rear view, driving round corner

While the build pre-dates Vauxhall’s introduction of the Surround Rear Vision camera system – which gives you a permanent rear-view camera and a passenger-side blindspot camera – we have got the Parking Pack with reversing camera and all-round sensors, the Sight and Light Pack that adds automatic wipers and high-beam adjustment and the Safety Pack with lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition and autonomous emergency braking.

Add in the also optional Head-up Display so there’s less need to look away from the road, and it feels like we’d have to actively try in order to crash this thing – which is probably famous last words, but we’ll do our best to avoid any accidents anyway.

Creature comforts haven’t been forgotten either, with a Winter Pack adding not only heated seats but a heated steering wheel, fancy dual-zone electronic climate control replacing the standard air-con, and a wireless smartphone charging pad.

Even the standard single passenger seat is upgraded to a two-seater bench with FlexCargo load-through facility.

All crammed in to the shorter L1 bodysize, this is a little van that’s ready for apparently anything.

Sounds… expensive

Er, yes. It probably is a bit. A standard LE Nav with 130hp already clocks in at £20,405 – with options ours is £23,622 (both figures exclude VAT).

To be fair, though, the basic price is exactly on par with a 120hp Ford Transit Connect Sport (by curious coincidence one of those is also about to join our long-term test fleet…), and though the same money will buy you a Volkswagen Caddy Trendline with a six-speed DSG automatic transmission the VW’s 2.0-litre diesel engine only makes 102hp.

Put it this way: we certainly don’t feel immediately short-changed, given the Combo’s standard equipment.

First impressions are good, then?

They are. Postman Pat jokes aside, this is a fine-looking little van outside and in. The driving position takes a bit of getting used to – all of these vans tend to feel rather wide, initially, and you have no definite sense of where the front is from the driving seat – but the ride is comfortable and it feels nimble on its feet.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - front view, driving round corner

Most impressive of all, however, is just how quiet it is. The Combo arrived with delivery mileage only, but even before it’s been properly run in the 1.5-litre diesel is just incredibly subdued – you practically have to make an effort to hear it. An outstanding achievement for a small van.

Anything already doing your nut in?

We’ve remarked in the main review that the ventilation controls are poorly positioned – set back in the dashboard below the touchscreen, it’s like reaching into a well to adjust them.

A dark well, in fact, as even the fancy electronic climate control fitted here doesn’t get illuminated switches. So if you’re driving in the dark you're basically guessing at where to find the flipper to change the temperature or fan speed, while leaning forward against the seat belt and still trying to look down the road.

Not… cool.

Also, despite the astounding amount of kit included on this van, for some crazy reason it doesn’t have a lining on the load floor. While this saves a bit of weight, I’m now fully expecting the that shining paintwork to end up scratched.

We’ll have to look for an aftermarket solution.

Vauxhall Combo Cargo long-term test review - load view with MX-5 Blink Stage One cylinder head for... reasons

Those minor blips aside, we’re very much looking forward to the next few months behind the wheel. More soon on our new Combo soon.

Miles so far: 481

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>> Vauxhall Combo Cargo full review

I can distinctly remember when the current other half first got wind that a light commercial vehicle was due to grace our driveway. Time erodes the exact words that were mumbled and grumbled into my shell-like ear’ole but they were almost certainly of the moaning kind.

Fast forward a few months and miles later and the Combo Cargo seems to be treated like one of the family. Be it a run to the tip or Waitrose, collect the ordered take-a-way or pick up a job lot of garden compost – there isn’t much that the Combo Cargo has been exempt from doing.

Not only the aforementioned but there’s also the actual commercial delivery side too that the van has endured. After a number of rapid runs delivering medical and IT supplies for the NHS, it all went very quiet on the work front and I ended up being furloughed.

All was not lost as we decided while things were slow on the work front, the plucky red Vauxhall could carry on earning its corn as we proceeded to get the garden into order. Firstly, there was the laborious chopping down of shrubs and bushes.

*Red van, green fingers

Then came all the new self-assembly garden furniture and its associated cardboard packaging. The new chairs, a new gazebo that covers the hot-tub to replace the old one that blew off towards Surrey during a storm, an arty-farty trellis, not to mention a huge selection of bark chippings and compost.

The Combo Cargo not only had to transport a great deal of the above, but also double as a storeroom for all the cardboard and packaging, of which there was lots, while we waited for the local tip to re-open.

Getting the van back into a habitable state required little more than a brush-out, a wipe down with a damp cloth and a quick hoovering. Now that my furloughing has ended and social restrictions are steadily easing, the Combo Cargo has returned to its usual activities as a van and daily driver.

It’s been getting attention, too, from drivers of other similarly sized vehicles. Filling station forecourts and supermarket car parks find these drivers asking what’s it really like. I simply tell them the truth – its ok.

Even though some folk cannot seem to fathom the extensive and impressive level of equipment on board, they seem to understand when you tell them that some owners with small businesses use it not only as a tool but as a daily hack too.

Clearly a fleet buyer isn’t going to want alloy wheels, front fogs lamps and heated seats / steering wheel to name but some. But for the sole trader, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, they are going to want to make their vehicle as accommodating and palatable as possible if their van is to double up as a car as well.

*Well-equipped and well thought out

Some serious thought has gone into the packaging of the Combo Cargo, too. The multi-function lifting and tipping passenger seats offer you a myriad of hidden storage areas not to mention a writing tray that doubles up as a dining table for the packed lunch.

The steel bulkhead features a fold down part for long loads to intrude into the cab area after folding down the passenger seat backrest. There’s also a waterproof sleeve to avoid getting the seatbacks or carpets wet with dirty lengths of timber or what have you. Six lashing rings in the load bay, though at first glance look a bit lightweight, do a sterling job of holding down awkward, unstable or a heavy palletised load.

The slightly choppy ride soon smooths out with just a little bit of weight but at the moment I have the tyre pressures set for carrying maximum capacity weights. The phrase ‘drives just like a car’ may seem a bit cliche in the sector but the Combo Cargo really does just that.

Despite some hard working it still refuses to squeak or rattle from anywhere and it’s just as happy cruising the M25 as it is threading its way through Central London. I find the large infotainment screen a bit overbearing and the dashboard drinks holders too small for comfort, but even in full critic mode, I am still struggling to find anything serious enough to beat the Combo Cargo with a stick over.

Current mileage: 6784
Current mpg: 50.4
AdBlue consumption: 5 litres
Other faults or costs: None