Sunday 25 August 2019

All is not quite as it seems with Opel’s Combo Life people carrier

Behind new arrival's closed (sliding) doors lie comparisons and contradictions

Van roots: Opel’s new Combo Life seven-seater
Van roots: Opel’s new Combo Life seven-seater
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

The old adage of concluding that something that looks like a duck, walks and quacks like a duck is most likely a duck comes to mind with this week's review car. It could be argued, with some justification I think, that it's a 'duck' which has genealogically mutated a little.

Opel's Combo Life seven-seater people carrier is based on a modular platform on which vans are also built. It shares this with Peugeot and Citroën as they all belong to the PSA Group now.

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And let's be honest, despite attempts to garnish it with car-like characteristics, it retains the outline and profile of a van.

Yet this compact motor has seven seats (okay, two of them are only suitable for toddlers) and a fair degree of luggage in a cabin that was not just deceptively spacious but robustly comfortable.

I spent the few days in it tipping around with loads of stuff (and passengers), mindful only of how it worked for me and not how it looked to others.

The small-farmer's son syndrome broke out in me a few times. It's not the prettiest of cars, as I say, but it appealed to me with the sheer practicality of uses to which it can be, and was, put.

It is not alone in doing so, of course, (Volkswagen's Caddy Life, Citroën's Berlingo, etc) have been doing it for years.

But this is new from Opel (and its PSA siblings) and shows how closely aligned Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs) and their passenger cousins have become.

That's not just in looks but in equipment, comfort and driving among other things.

The one I had, for example, boasted no fewer than 47 different storage compartments (wonderful overhead space allowed for some copious stowage), a rear net to keep stuff secure and hooks in the cabin for clothes. Nifty.

It also had heated front seats (and heated steering wheel would you believe?) as well a 'child monitor' rear-view mirror in tandem with the conventional one. All of which emphasise the 'family' aspects, I think you'll agree.

The two sliding doors might be a bit of a giveaway of its van roots but they were a godsend for me; not just for ease of access and egress, but for having space to get out in tight parking spots, too.

Just to recap, my car had seven seats, the third row of which can be removed or folded. There is also a larger version Combo with seven proper (if that's the word) seats.

A small detail, but worth mentioning, is the presence of three power outlets - something that puts many a mainstream motor in the shade. However, two of them require mini feats of gymnastics to reach; a pity because the first thing nearly everyone I have on board these days looks for is somewhere to boost reserves. (So many people let their phones dip to 5pc).

I'm not going to insult your intelligence and tell you this Combo Life went like the clappers and was the epitome of handling and ride.

It wasn't. It was sturdy and easily driven. I found my seat-position view was excellent and there was loads of head, leg and elbow room. The same applied to front and rear passengers; I did not attempt to fill the third row.

The 1.5-litre diesel was okay. I wasn't expecting sparkling performance - not with 100PS - but even so I was a bit disappointed with its lack of half-decent puff most noticeably between fourth and fifth (there are five gears in total).

I think for someone carrying fuller, heavier loads, a bit more power would be warranted.

At the same time, I can see the reasoning behind having such a frugal engine in the first place.

This is a car for the family or business who need a workhorse (albeit a fairly comfortable one) to get the practical things done: such as getting the children to school, hockey, football or whatever, and still having room for the everyday chores of household, small business or farm.

Cars like this can take a pounding from the comings and goings of a family - or from passengers (plenty of application for taxi drivers, too). The upholstery looked hard-wearing and the car felt well built.

Would I buy it? The small-farmer's son in me would say 'yes'. I liked the mix of practicality and, hopefully, frugality.

Ideally I'd like something with just a bit more poke for the bigger loads and longer journeys.

But I wouldn't care if people thought Cunningham was after buying a 'van'. Sometimes all is not quite as it seems.

Facts & Figures

Opel Combo Life 7-seater MPV:

1.5-litre diesel, 100PS, 5spd. Price (inc VAT): €23,800 (excl €4,890 options). Range from €21,800. 1.2l/100km, €200 tax. Spec includes: sliding side doors, air con, cruise control, 60/40 second-row seats, 8ins screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 16ins alloys, auto wipers/lights, front fogs, forward collision alert, front/rear sensors. Options included: winter/parking/child packs, spare wheel.

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