The Opel Combo Life may draw heavily from its PSA counterparts, the Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Rifter, but it feels less like a van with seats and more like an MPV through higher levels of refinement.
In the metal
There is more than a little similarity between the Opel Combo and the models mentioned above that share its underpinnings. But the Opel does get its family face grafted onto the front. This trio of vehicles (or sextet if you count the commercial vehicle variants) is part of the broader co-development of models that began before Opel's acquisition by the French car group.
The standard-length Combo model has five seats, but you can have the Combo as a seven-seater should you need the extra seating capacity. There is the choice of a bench or individual seats for the rear (or middle row in the case of the seven-seater). Either way, you get three ISOFIX points in the back. The sliding doors improve access and make life easier in car parks in particular. A little less practical is the large tailgate that is hinged from the top. However, if you need just to drop a bag in the boot, you can open the rear window section instead.
Inside, there's a raised seating position much like you would find in an SUV, and throughout there are numerous storage compartments. These include two in the glovebox area thanks to the front passenger airbag's relocation to the roof and a deep storage bin between the front seats. Higher grade models also feature an eight-inch colour touchscreen display and wireless charging pad for mobile devices. Fold-out tables are affixed to the rear of the front seats and large window areas allow for plenty of light to flood in. A panoramic glass roof is available, as is an illuminated central storage section affixed to its inside. Rearmost is another roof-mounted storage bin providing room for lighter items such as clothing.
In this higher spec model, there are several driver assistance features such as a head-up display. On the comfort end of things are heated front seats and a heated steering wheel for those winter morning starts. The controls for the heating are on the base of them, as per Citroen models, rather than on the dash. Rear passengers don't get forgotten about either, where there are adequate levels of head- and legroom. If you're veering towards the seven-seat model, it is worth opting for the longer wheelbase, as even the third row of seats get plenty of space.
There is no lack of choice when it comes to the Opel Combo Life, and for this test drive, we're behind the wheel of the shorter wheelbase version powered by the 1.2-litre petrol engine. It features a six-speed manual transmission, with plans to offer an eight-speed automatic option later on. We did try that with the diesel engine and found it to work very well. The manual isn't quite as slick in its operation.
If you've driven any Citroen or Peugeot in the last number of years, then you'll sense some familiarity in how the manual gearbox feels. Shifts can have a vague feel to them, leaving you likely to second-guess if you've engaged the gear properly when sitting at traffic lights, for example. With less torque from the petrol engine getting away from the line can sometimes require more revs than you'd expect, too. But we do like that the gear selector sits high up, putting it in easy reach. Overall, the driving position is quite good.
The Combo Life is easily manoeuvrable and features a decent turning circle.
A new system, which Opel calls Flank Guard, helps drivers when turning at low speeds. Using twelve sensors around the car, it works like a blind spot detection system and alerts the driver audibly and visually to the risk of colliding with an obstacle such as a pillar or low wall. Helpful systems, though the all-round visibility from the driver's seat is generous as is.
Away from slower town driving the 1.2-litre petrol engine gets the Opel up to speed in a reasonable fashion, though with passengers occupying all seats plus some luggage it may soon start to feel less spritely in comparison to the extra shove on offer from the diesel. Nevertheless, road and tyre noise at higher speed is kept low considering how the sound could amplify in such a sizeable boxy interior. Ultimately it is for practical reasons more than driving dynamics that many will be looking to the Opel Combo Life, but in both respects, it delivers a robust package.
What you get for your money
We haven't awarded a score in this section as Opel Ireland has not yet confirmed pricing and specifications. Once we have this, we will update the review.
The Opel Combo Life will be available in both wheelbase lengths, in five- or seven-seat guises. Opel plans to only offer one specification grade, 'Energy', for the Combo Life, but it will feature a choice of engines. These will start with a 130hp 1.2-litre petrol with manual transmission, with an automatic version to follow. Two variants of the 1.5-litre diesel will also be on offer, with 100- and 130hp outputs. The lesser powered engine will come with just a manual gearbox, while the more powerful gets a choice of automatic or manual.
Most of the differences between the Opel Combo Life and its two close relations, the Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Rifter, boil down to aesthetics and some minor specification grade variance. It's never going to overtake the popularity of most SUVs, but if you prioritise function and practicality over the popular mainstream image, then the Opel will be an appealing prospect to you.