Professional Builder tries out the new Vauxhall Combo
Hands up all those that remember the Vauxhall Astra Max? Amazingly it was way back in 1986 that Professional Builder was there in Luton to celebrate its much anticipated launch within the highly popular Bedford van family. We were there again through its evolution into the Combo in the nineties, and various upgrades and facelifts through the noughties, culminating a few weeks ago in the unveiling of the brand new, fifth generation small compact van offering.
Today, of course, Vauxhall is no longer going it alone, becoming part of the massive PSA Group brand in 2017, which incorporates Peugeot and Citroen, whose Partner and Berlingo versions complete what would have once seemed an extremely unlikely threesome. (More on their launches next month).
Already named Van of the Year 2019 at the showpiece IAA exhibition in September, the general consensus is that this vehicle is a considerable improvement on its predecessor.
At is core is a switch to the PSA running gear, which innovatively combines a passenger car modular front chassis to an upgraded commercial vehicle rear chassis. A distinctive new squarer shape provides a small van with big ideas, such as the possibility to get up to one tonne of cargo in the back, loading volume of 4.4m3, loading length of 3,400mm and a cab which is one of the most spacious and storage friendly in its class. And, thanks to a van first, a sensor based load indicator offers a preliminary warning if the weight exceeds above 80 per cent of the permitted load followed by an orange exclamation signal for anything unlawful, so that the driver can rest assured that they are always operating within the designated boundaries for this type of vehicle.
In fact, the new Vauxhall Combo has a number of features which reflect the attention the PSA design boffins have given to the everyday requirements of potential customers. As well as a low floor for easy access, and wide rear doors to load two Euro pallets, tradespeople, in particular, will appreciate the Flexcargo option, a clever package which features a bench seat easily adaptable to a variety of usages. The passenger seat folds down for extended cargo length up to 3.4m, or folds up to enable safe cargo storage of 500 litres within the cabin. The system features an electric, rather than floor mounted, park brake, ensuring a wider and more comfortable middle third seat, which can again be folded down to reveal a mobile office table. A sturdy bulkhead, with or without a window, separates the load area from the cab whilst another potentially useful option is a built-in roof flap.
The Combo will be available in two lengths and one roof height, and there’s also a five seater crew van. A choice of three trims are offered, the basic Edition plus Sportive and LE NAV, which bumps up the kit for smaller business users, although there are plenty of different options, including an additional sliding door, to meet most requirements. As you would expect, safety has been prioritised and a special pack will provide lane assist, traffic sign recognition, a tiredness alert and automatic emergency braking with forward collision alert, fortunately not deployed on our 100 mile plus test drive through the rolling Bedfordshire countryside.
Engine wise, the initial launch is confined to diesel powertrains comprising a 1.6 Turbo D badged either 75ps or 100PS with the newer 1.5Turbo D 130ps also an option with five and six speed manual gearboxes and an ultra-modern eight speed auto. Various petrol derivatives will be introduced later in 2019. The IntelliGrip Pack switchable traction control will help with low grip surfaces, but naturally falls well short of a four wheel drive capability. Again, with building sites in mind, a special Construction Pack provides under ride protection thanks to a sump guard, and special mud and snow tyres for added grip. The chassis height is also increased by 30mm. Inside, the highly versatile and comfortable seating arrangements are enhanced with four- six-way adjustment, whilst three occupants can also sit comfortably abreast thanks to a two-seater bench. Both the passenger and driver can enjoy heated seats on those cold winter days and there is even the option of a heated steering wheel – there will be grizzled builders from thirty years ago turning in their graves, such is the level of modern day van refinement!
According to the manufacturers, fuel economy has been improved by around 16 per cent with the new models offering up to 67.3mpg and segment leading emissions from 109g/km. All important infotainment is provided by Apple CarPlay and Android Auto via an 8in. colour touchscreen, with rear view and passenger side door mirror cameras aiding blind spot detection.
The small van class is certainly not short of very worthy options, with around 85,000 sales in the UK alone last year, but few clearly have the potential to spec the van with as much, or as little, kit as you like utilising the special pack options. By listening to their customers, and taking those concepts fully on board, it’s fair to say that Vauxhall now has a small van offering which will surely prove a winning Combo in more ways than one in the coming years.
Prices start from around £15,630 excluding VAT rising to a top of the range £18,950, which are actually slightly lower compared with their predecessors.