Vauxhall was quick to profit from the sudden popularity, two decades ago, of the compact people-mover. Earlier this year, however, we learned that the once-popular Zafira MPV wouldn’t reach its twentieth birthday.
In a mood to rationalise under the auspices of its PSA Group ownership, Opel/Vauxhall decided not just to decline to replace the Zafira Tourer but also to idle the production lines and remove the car from sale altogether. If you’re wondering how that could make business sense, consider that PSA currently has to pay a licence fee to former brand owner General Motors for every GM platform-based Vauxhall and Opel that it sells.
That helps to explain the keenness of Vauxhall’s new French owners to replace old models with new as quickly as possible across the range – and to put up with the odd ‘continuity problem’ along the way.
This week, we’re testing what you might consider to be one of those continuity problems: the new Combo Life ‘versatile leisure vehicle’. Ten years ago Vauxhall wouldn’t have hesitated to call this car an MPV, but now that category has fallen into relative unpopularity, it’s gone for something new.
This is new territory for Vauxhall, then: a compact, utilitarian, ultra-versatile and ultra-spacious people mover which shares its mechanical architecture with one of the founders of the niche: the Citroën Berlingo. What’s particularly interesting is that the Combo Life is now the only seven-seater that Vauxhall offers, so it falls to it to at least succeed, if not directly replace, the Zafira Tourer.
For some owners it will do that, but for others, simpler expectations should make this car’s job easier. But it’ll still need to be not only capacious but also cleverly practical, as well as unpretentious, perhaps, while remaining refined, comfortable and drivable enough to replace an estate or a more car-like MPV.