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It's always easier for a vehicle manufacturer to aim at an existing market than to shoot for a new one—and Vauxhall has targeted its new high-cube van very precisely. The latest Combo car-derived van is going straight for the Ford Courier's jugular.
The Combo takes over from the Astramax—in recent years Vauxhall's best-selling van—but it aims to be better-looking, roomier, more comfortable and safer.
The most obvious change is a gamble for Vauxhall: the Combo uses the front end (powertrain, suspension and cabin) of its new Corsa supermini—its predecessor was based on the larger Astra. The apparent reduction in size may not appeal to some seri
ous big van users, but it signals that the new vehicle is designed to compete head to head with Fiesta-based Courier.
The Combo's load space is derived from the Astramax but it has been given jazzier "jellymould" outer panels in keeping with the stylish Corsa front end. The main change is the adoption of a streamlined Luton section, which smoothes the transition between the rounded cab and the boxy load area.
It also provides extra space for lengthy items and contributes to the healthy increase in load volume to 2.72m3, from the 2.32m3 of the Astramax.
The Combo is available as the catalysed, petrol-engined 1.4i with a 545kg payload, or as a 1.7
litre diesel in either 516kg or 700kg form. Two trim levels are available: the higher LS specification includes luxuries such as central door locking
CM tested the Combo 1.7D at the lighter weight and in LS trim, at a GVW of 1,650kg.
The 1.7-litre engine is a departure from the Astramax. It's a smooth-revving Isuzu unit that puts out 44kW (59hp), slightly more than the previous Vauxhall-built diesel of the same size.
The Combo is relaxed and stable on the motorway with little wind roar, but road rumble is quite prominent.
So, what has the change to the Corsa cab meant? It's an attractive design inside and out, full of detail touches that should make it a success. The interior mouldings are in the curvaceous style that's all the rage, but they don't seem overdesigned: the instruments are clear, the controls are pleasant to use and there is plenty of storage space. The IS's seats have a tilting base, and the seatbelt mountings are adjustable for height. Overall, the driving position is one of the best in its class.
The loadspace is thoughtfully designed, with plenty of load eyes and a sturdy bulkhead— and that central locking is a boon when it comes to opening the rear doors.
The MacPherson struts of the Corsa front end are matched to a leaf-sprung rear axle, and give a surprisingly good unladen ride. Handling is predictable—roll is
particularly well controlled and
the steering is pleasantly direct. However, it can be heavy at parking speeds; a trait it shares with the Courier. Can the Combo crush the Courier? It outpoints Ford's champion in several areas, it's as cute as a button for a start, but it will take a full road test to see if the Vauxhall has as much substance as style.
Vauxhall has clearly declared all-out war on the all-important bottom line: the Combo 1,7D LS is a lot of van for a list price of £8,025. Viva Vauxhall!
Li by Toby Clark
's full test of the Combo 1.7D will appear in a fortnight's time