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Even smaller MPVs offer EV options these days. Jonathan Crouch looks at Vauxhall's Combo-e Life
Because current Vauxhall vans must all have fully electric powertrain options these days, MPV customers also get offered BEV technology. We've seen this first with the large Vivaro e-Life model and now with this smaller Combo-e Life, which shares its design with two French counterparts, the Citroen e-Berlingo and the Peugeot e-Rifter. Like those two in-house rivals, this one gets the 50kWh battery that Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall seem to fit to every EV they make, even the biggest MPVs. Here of course, a battery of that size is far more appropriate and it's been built into the car in a way that doesn't compromise cabin space. Sounds interesting.
There's not too much to adjust to at the wheel if this is your first experience of an EV. The Combo-e Life offers three driving modes - 'ECO', 'Normal' and 'Power'. You won't want to spend too long in 'ECO', unless you really are eeking out battery capacity because it reduces the powertrain's normal 134bhp output to just 80bhp and also restricts the climate system to conserve power. Vauxhall recommends that you do most of your driving in the 'Normal' setting, which increases the motor output to 107bhp. The top 'Power' mode isn't really intended for sporty driving but for situations when you're carrying heavy loads. The powertrain also has a 'B' setting which increases the level of regenerative braking to a point where the car slows so much when you come off throttle that you'll very rarely need to use the brake, unless you're coming to a complete stop. You will want to know about driving range, which is claimed at 174 miles, around 30 miles less than the full-electric Vauxhall Corsa and Peugeot 208 superminis that also use this battery. Like all electric vehicles, this one has a bit of a weight problem - that drivetrain adds over 300kgs of bulk, but that arguably helps the Combo-e Life when it comes to ride quality; you'll feel things like speed humps keenly, but at speed on the open road, it handles tarmac tears a little better than its combustion cousins.
The practical, squarical shape makes this Combo-e Life model's remit pretty clear. Its two design stablemates, Citroen's e-Berlingo and Peugeot's e-Rifter, try in different ways to add a bit of visual spice to this sensible, versatile LCV-like package. That's far less the case with this Vauxhall, though the Griffin brand is keen to point out the way that this model's high bonnet and short front overhangs deliver what the brand hopes is a 'balanced, robust and confident' demeanour. There's plenty of Vauxhall brand identity at the front and two crisp lines flow down the raised bonnet to the grille with its familiar Griffin badging in an effort to impart a feeling of stability. As with this model's French brand counterparts - and as with a normal combustion-powered Combo - you get a choice of wheelbases. There's the 4.4-metre-long 'M' (for 'Medium') body shape, which can be specified with either five or seven seats. And the 4.75-metre-long 'XL' body style, which comes in seven seat form only. Medium variants with five seats feature up to 597-litres of boot space, extending up to 2,126-litres of space with the rear row folded. While 'XL' variants come with 850-litres of space, and up to 2,693-litres with the rear rows folded. The second row features a 60/40 split-folding seats, while the front passenger seat can be fully folded extending the length of the load area so that even large items, such as flat-pack furniture or ladders, can be carried inside.
Pricing starts at just under £30,000 after deduction of the £1,500 government Plug-in car Grant; that gets you the base five-seat Medium length version, which can also be had with a third seating row for £500 more. If you want to seat seven though, you're better off specifying the longer wheelbase 'XL' body shape, which costs just over £30,000. Whatever your choice of Combo-e Life model, there's a single 'SE' level of trim on offer. That gets you 16-inch alloy wheels, nearside and offside sliding side-access doors, LED daytime running lights with high-beam assist, a panoramic rear-view camera and automatic windscreen wipers. 'SE' models also get body-coloured bumpers and side protection mouldings as well as electrically adjustable and foldable door mirrors. Inside, all models come standard with Vauxhall's Multimedia system with an eight-inch colour touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also included is Vauxhall Connect, which allows drivers to access vehicle information and charge status and live traffic updates when on the move. Vauxhall Connect also comes with Vauxhall's e-Call and b-Call technology, where in the event of an emergency or breakdown drivers are put in touch with a trained advisor with just the touch of a button. The Combo-e Life comes as standard with a reasonably high level of safety and driver assist features, including rear parking sensors and a panoramic rear-view camera. Plus automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, cruise control with a speed limiter and speed sign recognition.
We mentioned the WLTP-rated range in our Driving Experience section - 174 miles. To optimise range, you'll need to make full use of the car's regenerative braking system, regularly activating the provided 'B' mode via the central console to maximise energy recovery during braking. As you'd want, the Combo-e Life supports up to 100kW rapid (DC) charging, with an 80% re-charge taking less than 30 minutes, while a full charge from a 7.4 kW single-phase wallbox takes 7.5 hours thanks to the 7.4kW on-board charger. Customers with access to three-phase power can specify an optional 11kW on-board charger that will charge this Vauxhall in 4 hours 45 minutes, when using a wallbox that also supports this faster home-charging solution. As usual with a compact zero emissions EV model, there's a Benefit-in-Kind first year tax rate of just 1%. And exemption from London congestion and ultra-low emissions charges. Maintenance intervals are much as they would be for a combustion model, but there'll be less for the workshop to do, so costs should be lower. There are plenty of Vauxhall outlets to choose from, so you should never be too far from one. So you can budget ahead, the brand offers various servicing pre-payment schemes that let you pay either a one-off fee or monthly instalments to cover the cost of the routine upkeep of your car.
The Combo-e Life probably won't be the family car you promised yourself but it could well be the one you really need. Assuming that your Vauxhall dealer has delivered a sharper asking price quote than you could have got for this car's virtually identical Citroen e-Berlingo and Peugeot e-Rifter design stablemates. This Vauxhall's probably ideal for family folk who want a spacious compact electric vehicle - maybe as a second car - but don't want an SUV. Something that's realistically priced - on a lease deal anyway - and has an acceptable driving range. Plus this Combo-e Life can be a van if you need it to be. Everything you really need then. And nothing you don't.
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