Long-term test (Introduction): Opel Combo Cargo 1,6TD Standard MT

People’s perceptions of panel vans in different countries are mixed, to say the least. In South Africa, said vans are broadly seen as anonymous slabs of load-carrying vehicles, easily disregarded when viewed alongside the far more common bakkies that ply our roads. Jet over to the UK and the panel van is more than just a ubiquitous sight compared with the bakkie, it’s at the centre of a whole societal phenomenon: the notorious White Van Man. 

The connotations are far from complimentary. This less scrupulous slice of the otherwise reputable small-business community drives with breathtaking disregard for other road users, heckling women and managing to balance the acts of eating a bacon sandwich and braying unreasonable quotes down a mobile phone. All this while leaving a trail of botched building projects in the wake of their often far-from-packed vans. 

Thankfully, the arrival of the Opel Combo Cargo in CAR’s long-termer stable hasn’t brought forth any such antics, rather keeping our hands firmly on the wheel with its standard Bluetooth-enabled audio system and its innards packed with a variety of loads, thus far including a Kawasaki Z400 ABS motorcycle and a washing machine. The Combo has shown itself to be more than just a capable pack animal, though. While it is based on PSA’s EMP2 platform, which does service in the likes of Peugeot’s 308 and 3008, its chunky frame incorporates a load box that’s 3 090 mm long and serves up a claimed 3 800 litres of load space in a fairly compact frame. It also lends the Combo a car-like demeanour with a supple ride, decent body control and a tight turning circle that’s easily accessed via variable-ratio power steering with a light rack. Visibility from the spacious and generously glazed cabin is good but the lack of glasswork aft of the B-pillar means extra caution and reliance on those sizeable wing mirrors is required when manoeuvring; a rear-view camera, or even just some parking sensors, would be welcome additions. 

Although this handy little vehicle is unlikely to supplant the bakkie as South Africans’ load-lugger of choice, the Combo has impressed upon those who’ve loaded it with valuable cargo that an enclosed load space makes appreciably more sense than a bakkie’s less secure bay. It’s certainly food for thought, and members of the CAR team are already forming an orderly queue to see what else can be thrown the Combo’s way. 

 After 1 month
Current mileage: 522 km
Average fuel consumption: 5,91 L/100 km
We like: vast load space; reasonably easy to drive
We don’t like: lack of rearward visability initially unnerving; rear PDC would be nice

Long-term test (Update 1): Opel Combo Cargo 1,6TD Standard MT

While it hasn’t been covering vast distances, the Combo has continued to warm to its task as a beast of burden to the CAR team; its keys tossed to any number of folks needing to shift a washing machine or pieces of bulky furniture as part of a house move. While there’s little to fault in terms of practicality, accessibility to the load space has come in for some criticism. Those rear clamshell doors are bulky items, requiring a fair old tug to swing open. Thankfully, the sliding side door (you get two of these on the range-topping Combo) opens wide with little effort. With this bout of round-town travel, the fuel consumption has risen but is still very respectable. 

 After 2 months
Current mileage: 1 724 km
Average fuel consumption: 6,89 L/100 km

 

Long-term test (wrap-up): Opel Combo Cargo 1,6TD Standard MT

 

It’s been six years since a commercial vehicle was in CAR’s long-term test fleet, the last load-lugger being the spacious but spartan Daihatsu Gran Max one-tonner flatbed truck. The Opel Combo Cargo’s imminent arrival was preceded by machinations among the CAR team such as house moves and white goods collection, along with a hot-potato scenario
of who would be taking the van home most nights. Despite initial misgivings, Opel’s latest LCV proved a practical and often sought-after member of our fleet and even raised questions as to a bakkie’s suitability for small-business duties. 

 

Built on the bones of the Peugeot Partner van, the Cargo is offered locally in a choice of two flavours. Our Standard model features a single sliding door on its left flank, a 600 kg payload capacity and 2 785 mm wheelbase. The LWB model adds another sliding door, 190 mm of additional space between the axles and a payload 400 kg up on that of its sibling. 

 

While it’s only 4,4 metres long, the load bay serves up to 3,8 m3 (3 800 litres) in a practical cuboid shell. With good access via rear clamshell doors, a low-sited floor and the wide sliding panel, not to mention plenty of floor-mounted 

 

tethering points, the Cargo ably swallowed pretty much anything we threw its way: washing ma- chines, a good portion of an apartment’s furniture and a hefty Kawasaki Z400 ABS motorbike, among others. If there were any criticisms levelled at the load compartment, it would be the considerable heft of the rear doors and an unsealed floor that’s prone to scratching. 

 

Despite its wide body and high centre of gravity, the Cargo is a doddle to drive. The steering is fingertip light, it has a surprisingly tight turning circle and the gearshift – while occasionally exhibiting some of its French relative’s softness of engagement and high biting point on the clutch pedal – is positive.

 

But, while the French may not have the transmission thing completely waxed, they do make a good diesel engine. The PSA- sourced 1,6-litre turbodiesel’s 68 kW may sound decidedly modest but, with a kerb weight of just under 1 300 kg and a handy 230 N.m of torque chiming in at 1 700 r/min, the engine feels surprisingly peppy and easily holds its own on the motorway. 

 

From the pleasingly bull-nosed front to its cuboid rear, the Cargo looks tidy enough to represent any small enterprise. 

 

Things are similarly smart in the cabin, with supportive seats and an ergonomically straightforward facia incorporating a high-mounted gearlever falling easily to hand. There’s also an impressive array of oddment nooks scattered about the cabin, ranging from a lidded bin atop the instrument binnacle for phones and car keys, to a ceiling-mounted shelf above the occupants’ heads capable of accommodating a briefcase. 

 

Our criticisms of the Cargo lay primarily with the impact of panel-van packaging on everyday driving. Unladen at motorway speeds, the load compartment becomes a mobile resonance chamber transmitting a good deal of road and structural noise through the naked metal bulk- head. The lack of rear-view mirror – or, indeed, anything resembling a rear view – and considerable B-pillar blind spots are obvious is- sues. On the road, you’ll eventually adjust to this; however, in tight 

 

spaces, that lack of rear visibility can be disconcerting and requires some serious neck-craning to ensure your manoeuvres don’t conclude with a crunch of bumper on brickwork. A rear-view camera would’ve been a boon, possibly in lieu of such nice but non-essential standard features like the auto lights and heated wing mirrors. 

 

Extras such as a three-year/60 000 km service plan and three- year/120 000 km warranty and roadside assistance add peace of mind to any already-stretched small business budget. 

 

TEST SUMMARY 

 

The Cargo’s ability to shoulder a variety of cargo in a compact, easy- to-drive package saw a number of the team favouring its sheltered, more secure load compartment over that of a single-cab bakkie. The Opel’s virtues should make it 

 

a popular staple among small businesses. Its departure has left an unexpected dent in our fleet and several staff members are wondering how best to manoeuvre garden furniture and the like into their hatchbacks and SUVs. 

After 3 months
Total mileage: 3 536 km
Overall fuel consumption: 5,89 L/100 km
We like: hugely practical; surprisingly easy to drive
We don’t like: compromised visibility; rowdy