New Vauxhall Combo-e: charge of the Life brigade | CAR Magazine

New Vauxhall Combo-e: charge of the Life brigade

Published: 11 February 2021 Updated: 11 February 2021

Battery power for van-based MPV
Claimed 174-mile range between charges
In showrooms from autumn 2021

As electric cars become more ingrained into the mainstream motoring landscape, there’s a tendency for them to look less exciting, as evidenced here by Vauxhall’s Combo-e Life.

Yes, it’s a van-based clone of the Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Rifter – expect electrified versions of those imminently – but at first glance it looks just like the ICE versions. 

So, what actually is different?

Other than the drivetrain changes we’ll get onto in a moment, there’s virtually nothing outside that gives the EV game away. There’s that ‘e’ badge on the tailgate and, erm… well, bonus points for spotting no exhaust pipe and a charge port where the fuel filler normally resides.

2021 Vauxhall Combo-e Life dashboard

Inside, you’ll soon notice the electric-specific instruments and the e-Toggle direction switch that has seemingly relaced a gearlever in every PSA EV.

And that’s pretty much your lot.

Is that a bad thing?

Only if you’re an EV-angelist who wants to be a lighthouse-bright virtue signaller – and it’s safe to assume most potential electric Combo drivers are the complete opposite of that.

Copper 2021 Vauxhall Combo-e Life front three-quarter

In fact, the Combo-e Life’s so anonymous it could have a cameo role in the opening credits of Fast & Furious 27, or whatever number we’re up to now, and you wouldn’t notice.

Fair play to the Vauxhall, because what it does do well is ferry up to seven people and their stuff around in a comfy, flexibly arranged cabin – this transition from combustion engine to battery power hasn’t impinged on interior space one jot. 

Okay, it’s worthy – is it a range game-changer?

Er, no. It seems PSA has stockpiled an enormous job lot 134bhp electric motors paired with 50kWh battery packs, for what’s beneath the Combo-e also features in the diddy Corsa-e and grand-daddy Vivaro-e Life.

Copper 2021 Vauxhall Combo-e Life rear three-quarter

The claimed 174-mile range lies roughly equidistant between those models’ capabilities, too. It’s more than ample for the majority of journeys, but clearly long jaunts from one end of the country to the other are likely to demand a charge or two en route.

Find a 100kW public charger and you’ll get a full recharge in around 30 minutes, enough for a family pitstop.

Order your dedicated domestic wallbox and you’re looking at seven-and-a-half hours, ideal for overnight replenishment.

What else do I need to know?

Well, you’re unlikely to get whiplash from the Combo-e’s accelerative forces – with an 11.2-second 0-62mph time progress is going to be gentle and charge-preserving.

Copper 2021 Vauxhall Combo-e Life front three-quarter

Further assistance to prolong the batteries’ reserves come in the form of three driving modes. Eco feels particularly hair-shirt in ethos on the larger Vivaro-e, so Normal is where you’ll spend most of your time pottering around.

Brake energy recuperation is a thing in the Vauxhall, as is becoming commonplace in EVs. It’s either on high, by pressing the B button on the centre console, or low. None of that fancy five steps of lift-off retardation tweaked by paddleshifters here.

When can I get my hands on one? 

Expect order books to open in summer 2021 ahead of customer deliveries in the autumn.

There’s no word yet on pricing, but a guide of £4000 higher than a 128bhp petrol automatic Combo feels in the right ballpark.

Copper 2021 Vauxhall Combo-e Life tailgate badge

By Keith WR Jones

Former managing editor of the Bauer Automotive hub and car brochure library owner