I want to vent my spleen about a few things that I’m not so keen on – although I must stress in advance that, even taking these rather meagre moans into account, I still hold this van in the highest esteem.
The lane departure system, which gently pulls on the wheel for you if it thinks you are straying off line, is my biggest gripe, although, luckily, I have worked out how to turn it off. It’s okay on main roads and motorways, but traversing some narrow country lanes near my holiday home in Devon seems to completely baffle the system, so it pulls this way and that as and when it feels like it.
I also find fault with the massive screen plonked in the middle of the dash giving out all sorts of info such as entertainment, sat-nav and rear parking camera. It works well enough, but it seems to dominate the whole cab and often I find my eyes straying to it accidentally when they should be looking at the road.
And while I’m at it, I don’t like the silly little switch you flick up to apply the electronic handbrake. Give me a good old-fashioned yank handle any day.
My final moan is of a practical nature – and it is simply that this van, with its smart metallic paint job, doesn’t have a single plastic bump strip on it.
Knowing van drivers as I do, the Combo is quite likely to come back to base with a few added adornments caused by posts, walls and other protuberances. And when it does, instead of simply replacing a bit of plastic, the van will have to have some major surgery done on it to bring it back to its former glory. And that will cost an awful lot of money.
Gripes apart, I love this van to bits and will be sad when it returns to its Luton home next month.
Smart appearance and comfy seats
There are many things I have come to admire about our test Vauxhall Combo in its first five months with us, but there are a few irritations too it must be said. Let’s start with the bouquets and I’ll save the brickbats for the next report.
For starters, the third passenger seat is a boon. It increases flexibility and usefulness for fleets that have an occasional (or frequent) need to transport three people, which isn’t possible in some smaller vehicles with only two seats.
I also love the little pop-up clear plastic slab that rises on top of the dash to tell me how fast I’m travelling and what the speed limit is at any given point. It even flagged up temporary limits in roadworks on the M4, one of the benefits of vehicle connectivity. It gives all sorts of other info and I don’t have to take my eyes off the road to see it.
As a £300 option we’d urge fleet managers to add it to the list when specifying their Combo.
The driver’s seat is a dream too, with lots of firm support across the body and even a lumbar adjustment to keep my back upright. I have undertaken several 300-mile trips lately and have yet to suffer a single back twinge.
And it’s hats off to Vauxhall for making metallic paint and alloy wheels a standard fitment. They give an incredibly smart appearance – and we all know how important that is when turning up at a client’s premises to do business.
Top marks for practicality
This month, we are going to take a peep into the business end of our long-term Vauxhall Combo – after all, that’s the main reason for readers to buy this van.
There’s a total of 3.8 cubic metres of loadspace on offer and a payload of 658kg, which is about par for the course with models in this sector.
Also usual is the single sliding side door and asymmetric ‘barn doors’ at the rear, while inside there are six load-lashing eyes in the floor and panelling halfway up the sides, which means the Combo won’t suffer any of those dreaded reverse dings made by cargo banging around in the back and causing damage from the inside out.
This kind of damage is nigh on impossible to fix cost-effectively and will see several hundred pounds knocked off the value of the vehicle when it comes to be sold.
There’s also a clever hatch in the bulkhead of the van which means longer loads such as pipes or planks of wood can be poked through into the cab when the passenger seat is folded down. The clever bit is that there is also an elongated heavy duty bag affair attached to the hole in the bulkhead so any loads in the cab will be safely tucked inside it and won’t interfere with driver.
That’s a new one on me and a neat answer to a possible problem.
My only criticism of the rear end is that the load floor is bare metal – and, sad to say, I have already accidentally added a few scrapes to the paintwork while sliding loads in and out.
My advice would be for any fleet manager to add a plastic floor to the options list at the time of purchase – it will pay for itself at selling time as the false floor can be whipped out again to reveal a pristine rear end.
Switching to spare wheel is a dirty affair
A blowout can cause untold problems for a busy van driver. Luckily, when it happened to me the other day, I was nearing home and managed to limp back to base before it flattened completely.
Given I wasn’t too busy workwise at the time, so I decided to swap wheels myself.
The wheels are very heavy and it’s a filthy job as the spare is slung underneath the chassis at the back and thus picks up all kinds of road dirt and other accumulated detritus.
But after a bit of huffing and cussing by yours truly, the job was done easily enough and it was off to the tyre depot for a replacement. I happen to have a trolley jack in my garage and it certainly beats the pathetic little items you usually find in a vehicle’s standard toolkit.
Four of the wheelnuts can be undone with any wheelbrace of the correct diameter, the fifth nut is an odd shape which requires a little adapter to be fitted to it before being undone. This gadget is found hidden away in the van with the other tools.
Locking wheelnuts are standard fitment on this van and a neat little way of getting round the problem of having someone pinching your nice shiny alloys.
I did wonder if the fitment of alloys might mean the new tyre would be more expensive but in the end it turned out to be the same as for steel.
This van is such a pleasure to drive it really does put me in a good mood while I’m behind the wheel.
High-specification as standard
Is our test van the best specced vehicle ever to come out of the PSA stable? We’d say yes, looking at the list of standard and extra goodies that came with our Combo.
It’s simply dripping with extras that would have been unheard of even 10 years ago and shows how quickly technology is advancing. Even in standard format the Combo is a pretty impressive package.
In addition to all the stuff that is legally needed now, such as airbags, ABS brakes and traction control, the Combo boasts an array of goodies such as metallic paint, alloy wheels, air-con, an eight-inch touchscreen which controls the music functions and sat-nav, rear parking sensors, cruise control, hill start assist and other features that would just about fill this page if I listed all.
But our van also gets parking pack (£700), sight and light pack (£225), head-up display (£300), safety pack (£570), flex cargo pack (£510), electronic climate control (£200), winter pack (£150) and wireless charger (£80), bringing the total to a hefty £22,840.
Fleet managers should be careful when choosing options as they may end up speccing things which prove unnecessary. Do your drivers really need heated seats? Probably not. We’ll be reporting later on what we think of some of these extras and whether we believe they are a good idea for fleet buyers.
Fuel consumption highly impressive
It isn’t that long ago that you were lucky to get 40mpg from a commercial vehicle.
Technology has marched on to such an extent that our long-term test Vauxhall Combo has a figure on the combined cycle of 64.2mpg – and from our fag-packet calculations so far, this van isn’t far off that figure, a fact that pleases me immensely as I have to pay for my own fuel.
Usually with test vehicles, I manage around 10% less than the official figure if I’m lucky.
The engine is question is a brand new 1.5-litre unit pumping out 132PS, which does seem rather a lot for fleet purposes. There’s still the older 1.6-litre unit available for fleet managers who want less power – 73PS or 101PS versions are on offer – and later this year there will be a 1.2-litre petrol engine for those who believe diesel is the devil’s own method of propulsion.
However, those who pick petrol believing they are helping save the planet must bear in mind that, while petrol pumps out fewer harmful sooty emissions than diesel, it has increased levels of CO2. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Our engine is certainly a slick performer. On the motorway, it thrums along at 2,000rpm at 70mph and with a full bulkhead behind, my wife and I can converse in our usual voices while still hearing each other – something not always possible in a van.
An eight-speed auto box is available which I would have liked to have tried, but our van has the six-speed manual, which offers gearchanges that snick into place smoothly and surely so I can’t complain too much.
Every time a new van is launched I marvel at how car-like commercial vehicles are becoming but this is the first van that I can truly say competes equally with the best of cars available on the road. The new Combo really is that slick and smooth – if I blindfolded a passenger and drove them a few miles, they would simply assume they were travelling in a rather upmarket car.
Vauxhall can be justly proud of this cracking little van.
Vauxhall Combo 1.5 TurboD joins our long-term test fleet
The Vauxhall Combo has had several incarnations over the years. Starting out as a van version of the old Astra in the 1980s, it metamorphosed into a commercial vehicle in its own right in 1993, based on the Corsa chassis.
Come 2011 and Vauxhall teamed up with Fiat to produce a model that was a rebadged Doblo Cargo.
Now with PSA at the helm in Luton, the doughty small van has emerged as a clone of the Citroen Berlingo/Peugeot Partner.
As the aforementioned French contenders have been among the best selling small vans in Europe since their original launch in 1996, it seems that the pedigree of the Combo is pretty much assured among Britain’s van fleet buyers.
Eager to show off its new product, Vauxhall chose Fleet News as one of the first to test out a Combo for a lengthy period – and as such we’ll be putting the van through its paces in no uncertain terms over the next six months or so.
Our test model is the short wheelbase version which turned up with just 170 miles on the clock, in a dazzling pillar box red coat of metallic paint and a snazzy set of alloys, both of which surprisingly turned out to be a standard fitment. How times have changed in the world of commercial vehicles!
Under the bonnet, our van has a brand new 1.5-litre turbodiesel powerplant pumping out a hefty 132PS. And despite all this power, the van is slated to return a tad under 65mpg on the combined cycle. Will it achieve this feat in the real world? Watch this space.