VAUXHALL is breathing new Life into its people carrier range with the arrival of new five and seven-seaters which will eventually replace the current Zafira Tourer.
The new Combo Life is available in short or long wheelbase form - the latter badged as Combo Life XL -which can be specified with either five or seven seats. Two trim levels are on offer - Design and Energy - but standard spec is high and there are plenty of options to choose from.
Initially the only engine and transmission options are a 1.5 litre turbodiesel with either 100 or 130ps mated to either five or six speed manual gearboxes, but 110 and 130ps, three cylinder, 1.2 litre turbocharged petrol engines will follow along with an eight speed auto for the 130ps diesel.
The Combo Life certainly won't win any design awards - it's a trifle plain and awkward looking with its chunky styling and upright front grille - but in terms of practicality and family-friendliness it takes the gold medal.
There are up to 28 storage compartment scattered around the spacious interior. There's a ‘hatbox' above the windscreen, two large glove compartments - one of them cooled - large door pockets plus seat-back pockets and drawers in the back where fold-down tray-tables are also available as an option.
Models fitted with the optional panoramic roof come with overhead storage and a large storage box in the boot which can be loaded from the rear via the optional opening tailgate window and accessed from inside via sliding doors at the front of the box.
It's all very well thought out, but the Combo Life's versatility and practicality doesn't end there. Two, large, sliding rear doors make for easy access, there are isofix child safety seat mounts on all three second row seats - a boon for larger families - and the available boot space is simply huge.
The five-seat, standard length version has a minimum luggage volume of 597 litres, while the long wheelbase model will take at least 850 litres.
With the rear seats folded down, the boot volume of the standard version more than triples to 2,126 litres with a maximum load length of 2,700mm while the LWB model can carry up to a whopping 2,693 litres with a 3,050mm maximum load length. Not quite a van - but not far off!
However, unlike earlier competitors in this sector of the market, the Combo Life is not van based - it sits on the same platform as the Vauxhall Grandland X, and that means passenger car comfort and civility.
Perhaps more importantly, out on the road the Combo Life boasts the same capabilities and technology as your average MPV - and with all that space and versatility it's far from average.
The Â£21,540, five-seat, 100ps, 1.5-litre diesel Energy model which we've just driven is a capable-enough performer and comes with plenty of tech, including auto wipers and lights with high beam assist, front and rear parking sensors, forward collision alert, emergency brake assist, lane departure warning and assistance and speed sign recognition.
This lower-powered engine is quiet and refined and provides a useful acceleration boost when the turbocharger kicks in, but runs out of breath fairly quickly, necessitating downshifts when exiting corners and on steeper gradients. The 130ps version of the diesel, with considerably more torque - 200Nm at 1750rpm, compared with 150 - should be much better in this respect.
Performance won't set your pulses racing with a 0-62mph time of 12.7 seconds and a top speed of 107mph but with a claimed combined fuel consumption of 67.3mpg it will be easy on your pocket.
The suspension is forgiving and provides a smooth ride even on poor surfaces and, for such a high vehicle, body roll is surprisingly well-controlled. Mechanical noise levels are generally low, but there's considerable rumble from the tyres on less-than-perfect surfaces.
At the wheel you get a splendid view of the road ahead and all around you thanks to the large expanse of glass - although the angled intrusion of the bodywork into the bottom-edge of the front door windows is something of an irritant. The optional, Â£400, parking pack which includes parking assistance and a panoramic rear view camera system is a boon when it comes to reversing what is, at 4.4 metres, a pretty long vehicle.
A wide range of manual seat adjustments - including for height - makes it easy to achieve your ideal driving position and the high mounted gearlever falls readily to hand. Instrumentation is clear and controls are generally well laid out, with many on the steering wheel. The one exception is the air conditioning controls which are fiddly and partly obscured by the air vents above them.
The Energy model comes with an eight inch touchscreen which is one of the best in the business - but if you want satnav too, that's a Â£450 extra.
Access through the easy-sliding rear doors is good and knee and leg room in the five seater is more than adequate. If you want to extend boot space, the second row of seats - split 60/40 in this version - fold down to the same level as the boot floor.
The one downside to all this versatility is the huge tailgate door which is heavy to close and requires plenty of clearance behind the vehicle when opening - not ideal in crowded supermarket car parks.
All told, however, the Combo Life is a welcome and practical addition to Vauxhall's people-moving fleet - particularly for large families with active lifestyles - which, with prices from Â£19,610, comes in cheaper than many rival MPVs and costs less than the equivalent Zafira Tourer which it will replace by the end of the year.