With their third generation Combo, Vauxhall finally has a very class-competitive compact van, with both short and long wheelbase body styles that together should be able to satisfy almost every buyer in this segment. With frugal running costs, smart design and unbeaten practicality, it's everything a small LCV should be.
These days, van drivers are well used to a car-like response from LCVs, especially small ones. That doesn't necessarily mean an enjoyable driving experience though and in the second-generation Combo you didn't get one, hardly surprising given that it was based on the underpinnings of a Vauxhall Corsa designed way back in the undemanding Nineties. This third generation Combo of course is very different thanks to an independent Bi-link suspension system clever enough to provide supple ride comfort, yet firm enough to resist body roll and support heavy loads. It's a class-leading compromise.
Can the same be said of the engines on offer? Well, the all-diesel line-up certainly seems effective on paper. At entry-level, there's the 90PS 1.3-litre CDTi unit, with 200Nm of pulling power, torquey enough to work well for van buyers shopping at the small end of the spectrum. Those looking for something Berlingo or Kangoo-sized though, will be more likely to want the 105PS 1.6-litre CDTi variant. This gives you nearly 50% more torque to play with, enabling the braked trailer load capacity to rise from 1,000 to 1,300kgs. And you can access that pulling power via a six, rather than a five-speed gearbox.
Urban operators might not like the idea of having to use any kind of gearbox, so for them Vauxhall is offering a 'Tecshift' semi-automatic version of this 1.6-litre diesel Combo. The penalty for being able to rest your left foot is that the transmission has only five speeds and power drops to 90PS. But is power really an important issue in a van of this kind? If you think it is, then you'll be target market for the most powerful engine ever offered in a Combo, a 2.0-litre 135PS CDTi unit putting out a hefty 320Nm of torque from way low in the rev range, just 1,500rpm.
This third generation Combo has a very different look to its predecessors. Of course, it does you might think: it's a significantly bigger vehicle. True enough, but looking over the smart but practical shape, you're still left with the nagging feeling that there's nothing especially Vauxhall-like about this design, aside from the huge Griffin logo on the front grille. Maybe though that too is much as you would expect were you to be made aware that this is essentially a Vauxhall version of Fiat's Doblo Cargo. Like its Italian design stablemate, this model's front end is dominated by a huge pair of clear glass headlamps, here incorporating daytime running lights. It's all very smartly done. My only issue is a practical one: that placing directional indicators in these large door mirrors is going to make them much pricier to replace when, inevitably, you bash one on a tight city street.
It's certainly a practical cabin with a large lockable glove box, several cubbies in the dash and large door pockets with enough room for half-litre bottles and A4 clipboards. Go for a better trimmed or a high roof model and there's overhead storage as well. As expected, it's all very car-like. Ahead of you, there's a steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and rake. And you sit very comfortably, especially if you've got the plush Comfort seat with its height and lumbar adjustment as well as a built-in armrest. A place to do business.
Vauxhall builds more vans in Britain than anyone else. More importantly, it sells more vans in Britain than anyone else. All the more surprising given that this was the case before they were properly represented in the compact LCV segment.
This third generation Combo model ensures that they now are, effortlessly covering both the main small van segment sectors and doing so with class-leading practicality and an unbeaten set of running costs. It's the long awaited final piece of the Vauxhall van jigsaw, completing a total LCV model line-up with something to offer every UK business operator.
You won't see this model making too many headlines, but the reality is that it's one of the impressive vehicles that the brand makes. Quietly concentrating on the things that really matter to operators, to many it'll be invisible, just one of those fixtures of the urban environment that blend into the background. But then, sometimes the very best designs have the very lowest impact. What's important is that this Combo does more than enough to be spotted by the people who count. People who'll find this Vauxhall difficult to ignore in their search for a compact van. Job done.Click here to find out more about our Vauxhall Combo range