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Car review: Vauxhall Vivaro Life – bred to be a van extraordinaire

Sean O'Grady
Pictures by Vauxhall

I read the other day that the inventor – if that’s the right word – of the so-called labradoodle wishes he had never bothered. With a rare gift for the mixed metaphor, he confesses: “I opened a Pandora’s box and released a Frankenstein monster.” Apparently, despite being crossbreeds of poodles and labradors, at least originally, the dogs suffer from various hereditary defects, including behavioural problems.

Which brings us neatly to the Vauxhall Vivaro Life. On the outside it is pretty much a Vauxhall Vivaro van, only the darkened side windows giving the game away about its capacity to carry humans rather than goods. On the inside, though, the Vivaro Life offers limousine-style luxury, with sumptuous leather armchairs and a cabin that can convert into a sort of makeshift coffee bar. A cross between a van and a limo, then: a Vimo, or Lan or Lano, perhaps. Well, it might catch on.

Vauxhall prefer just to stick the word “Life” to the Vivaro nameplate, and this crossbreed in fact works very well indeed – with few if any behavioural issues.

For a van, it looks good. The grille and headlamps have an almost sports car look about them, and you can specify some very non-van shades of paintwork – such as the nicely bronzed metallic “amber red” of my test car, looking like it has just spent a week in Morocco getting its tan topped up.

The spec

Vauxhall Vivaro Life Elite

Price: £44,800 (as tested, range starts at £27,760
Engine: 2 litre 4-cylinder diesel; 8-speed auto
Power output (PS@rpm): 180@3,500
Top speed (mph): 105
0 to 60 (secs): 10.4
Fuel economy (mpg): 41.7 ​
CO2 emissions (g/km): 151

Available in five-, seven- or eight-seat configurations, depending on taste and wheelbase size, the occupants are spread out across two or three rows, according to taste – VIP transport, eccentric family car, or airport taxi, say. More room than a Rolls-Royce Phantom or Bentley Mulsanne; how about that?

For the posher and larger versions the seats can swivel round, and coffee tables sprout out of the floor, so those aboard can enjoy a game of chess, a picnic or draw up a plan for Brexit, say (they might as well, given that no one else has bothered). There’s some airy skylights in the roof. It is all air conditioned, and extremely roomy. You can make yourself quite at home, and, for something that has its origins as a commercial vehicle, it is surprisingly quiet and refined. You want for little and sit high, higher than SUVs even, and so you can make the most of the view, even if it’s just the motorway from the airport.

It is fun to drive. The basic design is a joint venture between PSA group (the company that owns Peugeot, Citroen and now Vauxhall) and Toyota, which means the van/limo/Vimo/Lan has had decades of experience put into its development. So it is built for the professional driver, and for a hard life. Thus, it is extremely manoeuvrable in town, it has electric and remote sliding side doors for passenger access, and a choice of lively and willing diesel units – the larger (2-litre) version being the ideal choice.

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The excellent torque – low down pulling power – and smooth 8-speed authentic box add to the car-like quality. Only the giant steering wheel raked towards the horizontal gives away the humble origins.

The touchscreen, “heads up” instrument display, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning system, satnav and blind spot alert complete the suite of driver aids. Should you need them, the cabin is peppered with stowage spaces and cubby holes, and the fuel tank and excellent economy will give your Vivaro a 400-mile-plus range. The longer wheel base versions are so big that you can fit eight adults and all of their clobber in quite easily.

The only real “behavioural problem” for our van-limo crossbreed in real-world use is in getting in and out of the thing. The steps are a little high and shallow, and someone forgot to fit grab handles around the door frames, so people with mobility issues, in particular, will find their Vivaro experience a little disappointing; and that is of course a shame, given its other formidable qualities.

Being a joint venture, there are minor variations on the theme, so if you like you can see if the marginally different Peugeot Traveller, Citroen Spacetourer or Toyota ProAce Verso might suit you better than the basically identical Vivaro Life, or you can get a better deal on one or the other. For more choice, there are also similarly van-based people carriers available from Hyundai (i800), Ford (Tourneo Custom) and, for that premium touch, Mercedes-Benz Viano. Like the labradoodle, someone opened a Pandora’s box and released quite a few of these four-wheeled multi-seated Frankenstein monsters.

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