Kerr & Smith, the Cumnock-based Vauxhall commercial vehicle dealer, were kind enough to invite us to take one of their electric vans for a spin, so naturally we jumped at the chance.
The vehicle we drove was a Vauxhall Combo Electric, a small panel van with three seats, sliding side doors, and a 134 bhp electric motor mated to a 50 kWh battery.
As you’d expect, the Combo is easy to get into and out of. And once you’re inside its cabin, you’ll be pleased to discover that there’s ample legroom and headroom. The driver sits in quite an upright position in a Combo but even taller people should have no difficulty in finding an agreeable driving position, aided and abetted by the Combo’s comfortable seats.
The instruments and controls are well laid out. Wipers and indicators are controlled by steering column-mounted stalks, with the lights also being operated by conventional switchgear. Most of the other controls (radio and, on this higher-specification Pro model, satnav) are operated by means of an eight-inch touchscreen which is mounted high on the dashboard and angled towards the driver. The touchscreen also serves as a display for the very useful reversing camera fitted to the example we tested.
Unlike some electric vehicles, the Combo is started by turning a key in a conventional ignition barrel. It doesn’t, of course, burst into life like a petrol or diesel vehicle; instead, the word ‘ready’ is illuminated on the instrument panel, notifying the driver that it’s ready to go.
None of the electrically-powered Combo models have a conventional gear selector. Instead, gear selection is by means of a finger-operated switch located on the dashboard. It sits at the correct height for ease of operation but, in our opinion, is a bit too close to the power mode selection switch. The model we tested had an electronically powered handbrake which operates automatically.
Setting off in the Combo Electric is simplicity itself. Just flick the gear selector into drive or reverse, apply some pressure to the throttle and you’re off. A quiet hum from the motor tells you that its under load, and that’s it. No drama, no fuss, just smooth, quiet motion. We tested the Combo on a variety of roads – urban, rural, and dual carriageway – and found it to be a very easy and user-friendly vehicle to drive. It’s nippy enough when it needs to be and grips the road well.
The Combo doesn’t have gears as such. Instead, it offers three different power modes: Eco, Normal and Power. These modes work by regulating how the motor responds to the throttle. In Power mode, throttle response is very crisp indeed, enabling the Combo to accelerate quickly at the cost of increased power consumption. In Eco mode, throttle response is heavily damped and, in order to further conserve energy, output from the vehicle’s heater is restricted. It’s a mode best used for very low-speed work. Combo drivers will probably use Normal mode, which offers the best balance between throttle response and power consumption, most of the time.
Vauxhall say that the Combo’s maximum range between charges is 171 miles. In reality, its range depends on a number of factors, including how fast its driven, what power modes are used, the ambient temperature (the colder it is, the shorter the range), and how much power is being drawn from the battery to operate the lights, heater, wipers, radio, satnav etc.
Two dials, one showing how much power the motor is delivering and the other showing battery charge, plus a digital display of remaining range in miles, help drivers to manage the Combo’s power consumption and thus its range. The Combo can be charged from home or business premises using a standard three-point plug, using which it takes circa 22 hours to charge fully. Alternatively, a dedicated wallbox can be used, which offers a considerably reduced (about 7.5 hours from empty to 100%) charging time. It can also be charged using one of the rapid-charging systems that are becoming more commonplace. Using a 100kW rapid charger, the Combo’s battery can be charged from 0% to 80% charge in about 30 minutes – time enough for its driver to grab a quick cuppa and a bite to eat.
As a fully electric vehicle, the Combo is exempt from vehicle excise duty, and Vauxhall claim that its servicing costs are about 30% lower than those of an equivalent petrol or diesel van. The Combo Electric’s battery is covered by an 8 year/100,000 mile (whichever comes first) warranty in addition to Vauxhall’s standard 3 year/60,000 mile vehicle warranty.
Further details about the Combo Electric (and the rest of the Vauxhall commercial range) can be obtained from: Kerr & Smith, Riverside Garage, Ayr Road, Cumnock, KA18 1BJ.
Tel: 01290 422440