Gareth Butterfield pokes round the cavernous new Vauxhall Combo Life XL
LOOK around any car supermarket these days and you’d be forgiven for thinking the once prolific MPV has completely disappeared from the options list.
The SUV boom appears to have killed off a generation of super-practical seven-seaters that was spawned by the likes of the Renault Espace, and dragged into the modern era by Renault’s Scenic.
Truth be told, there are still a few normal, non-4×4 seven-seaters around, but they seem to be thin on the ground.
So what should one do if one’s loins have been more fertile than most and you’ve bred beyond the usual brood of three children? Or what if a normal, car-based seven-seater simply isn’t big enough for your litter and all its belongings?
There’s certainly a lack of choice in the range of enormous family cars on offer, but Vauxhall is among the firms catering for such a need. Its latest Combo Life XL might look like a van – and that’s because it basically is one – but inside it’s furnished more like an Astra.
Cleverly, Vauxhall has used the platform from its big SUV, the Grandland X, to underpin the Combo series and that makes all the difference.
So you get all the space you would expect from tolerating such a, large, slab-sided family runabout, but more acceptable road manners. It all makes for one of the most practical and useful cars on sale right now.
There’s actually a smaller Combo available, the non-XL standard version, but the XL is longer, which means its seven-seat layout is swallowed up in a much more clever way and there’s actually a bit of boot space behind those full-sized rear seats.
Lobbing seven seats into a car is nothing new, I grant you, but its the design touches in the Life XL that really impress.
Cleverly, all the seats are individual, and each one in the middle row can fold down independently. The rear seats can also be removed entirely. If you’re feeling strong and have somewhere dry to put them, that is.
With all the seats out of the way you’ve got an almost absurd 2,693 litres of space behind the front seats.
But it’s with the seats all up, in full family mode, that it impresses most. There’s storage solutions and cubby holes just about everywhere, the gaping passenger doors slide back and forth, which makes it easy to get in and out of each row and safety provision is top notch.
Up-front there’s an impressive level of equipment, and my test car came with goodies such as a head-up display, park assist and a clever intelligent traction control system.
Of course, on the road, it’s no Zafira. Smaller will run rings around it, especially as the engines available in the Combo are built for efficiency and not speed.
But it’s surprising how well the Combo drives. It’s not as wallowy as you’d expect and you quickly grow accustomed to its size and start to love its great visibility and parking aids, which all make it easy to slot into a supermaket bay.
The genius of the Combo life is blending all the benefits of what would normally be a cumbersome, ungainly van-based SUV into a vehicle that handles (a bit) like a car. But it’s also pretty cheap to buy.
A basic seven-seat version’s list price is around £23,000 and even the top-spec Elite is less than £28,000.
You’d buy a Combo Life because you need a safe, practical way to carry around your nearest and dearest, while still leaving enough room for the dog, or a pushchair, or some luggage. And, in this sort of price bracket, I can’t think of a better way of doing it. It’s a great piece of kit.