Exploring West Wight with the Vauxhall Combo Life XL

Exploring West Wight with the Vauxhall Combo Life XL

#Sponsored post: I was gifted the Vauxhall Combo Life XL in this post for a week.

We are a family who love camping. We love pitching next to the beach, letting the girls run wild, and waking up to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the kid in the tent next door demanding loudly to go for a wee. What we don’t love is the grim divorce-inducing process of packing our slightly too small car, and then squeezing into it to trek in hideous discomfort down the motorway. We always argue over who gets to drive, as the other person has to squash inbetween the two big car seats in the back into a space that isn’t big enough for an adult’s shoulders, please may I.

I was offered the opportunity to test-drive the Vauxhall Combo Life XL seven-seater for a week, and take it to the Isle of Wight for our annual camping trip on the island. Well - what a majestic beast it turned out to be. Is this the most beautiful vehicle in the world? Does it provide an incredible edge-of-the-seat driving experience? Is it so intensely practical and spacious that for the first time ever in the history of our family, we actually had a relaxing experience packing up for camping and driving leisurely down south in palatial comfort? No, no and HELL YES.

Our van admiring the view in west Wight.

Our van admiring the view in west Wight.

The Vauxhall Combo Life is a van that drives and feels like a car, and as such is pretty unique on the market. The seven-seater version starts at £22k, which is extremely well priced for what you get. We had the XL version which is slightly longer than the standard model.

We have been to Totland Bay multiple times and have never managed to catch the place when it wasn’t grey and grisly. Nice wheels, though :-) You can really see here how much it looks like a car rather than a van.

We have been to Totland Bay multiple times and have never managed to catch the place when it wasn’t grey and grisly. Nice wheels, though :-) You can really see here how much it looks like a car rather than a van.

My lovely old lady braving the elements at Totland Bay.

My lovely old lady braving the elements at Totland Bay.

Allow me to talk through some of the key features.

Three full size seats on the second row, all with Isofix. Why other car manufacturers haven’t cottoned onto offering this I have no idea. Plus two full sized seats in the third row, making seven comfortable adult sized seats in total. The seats move around and you can fold down or remove the two in the boot, and fold down the second row, to create a huge van-like-space for transporting furniture or DIY equipment or pianos, whatever you fancy fitting in there.

A couple of Jack Rusells hanging out in the two seats in the boot.

A couple of Jack Rusells hanging out in the two seats in the boot.

Sliding doors. Oh praise be, with small children - sliding doors. I loved these doors with a passion.

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A comprehensive number of cubby holes, compartments and holders.

The passenger’s coffee cup holder was the perfect size for a red pepper purchased from the local store in Brighstone. The lemon fitted neatly into a random small holder on the dash, which was also the perfect fit for a Starbucks espresso cup. And of course the courgette holders, just what every vehicle needs :-)

The passenger’s coffee cup holder was the perfect size for a red pepper purchased from the local store in Brighstone. The lemon fitted neatly into a random small holder on the dash, which was also the perfect fit for a Starbucks espresso cup. And of course the courgette holders, just what every vehicle needs :-)

Various fancy technology packs including the heads-up display that projects your speed and navigation onto the wind screen, parking cameras, driver anti-drowsiness system, and the ability to connect your smartphone to the display to play music or navigate or send messages via voice command. A child pack with trays and window blinds.

Road-tripping along the west Wight coast with the sat nav doing the heavy lifting.

Road-tripping along the west Wight coast with the sat nav doing the heavy lifting.

The boot window opens separately, which makes it very easy to load. The boot space with the two extra seats in isn’t huge, but it’s big enough to fit coats, wellies, rucksacks, buckets and spades, snacks, shopping etc.

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The boot also opens canopy style, which is great for sheltering under.

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We did over 500 miles on a single tank, which is insane. The Vauxhall Combo Life comes in a petrol as well as a diesel version, which is helpful for those who prefer to have the choice.

I loved driving the van - it felt the same as driving a large car. Reversing was fine thanks to the mirrors, cameras, and large windows in the back making for good visibility. I had to gear down to get enough power to go up some of the steeper hills on west Wight, but I’m quite happy to do that if the trade-off is driving in palatial comfort with my three precious children all neatly in a row behind me in their car seats.

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The marketing slogan for the Vauxhall Combo Life is ‘gets you from A to Banging Tunes at Glastonbury’, or in our case, ‘from A to Beach Views From Your Bell Tent’. It’s all about enabling a lifestyle. Fancy chucking your camping kit in the car entirely stress-free and heading towards the coast? No problem. Want to take your kids and a couple of their friends to the cinema? Sure. Heading into the Peak District for the day with kids and dogs and a picnic and wet weather gear in case it rains and warm weather gear in case it’s sunny and a few camping chairs in case you feel like having a little sit down in the heather? Easy. That’s the main thing, really - the Vauxhall Combo Life makes all of this EASY.

So where did we take our borrowed blue beast? To Grange Farm on the Isle of Wight. We normally hang out in Bembridge on the east of the island, but decided to check out the west side for a change. It was absolutely gorgeous - wild, rural, remote and unspoiled with rolling hills dotted with sheep, white cliffs towering over shingled beaches, and little villages filled with thatched cottages. And spectacular sunsets, of course.

Grange Farm is set in an amazing location on a cliff, overlooking a lovely pebbly beach. I’ll blog more about the campsite in a separate post.

If you squint, you can see our bell tent on the right behind a pole.

If you squint, you can see our bell tent on the right behind a pole.

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We took the van to admire Compton Bay…

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…and to West Wight Alpaca Farm, where we fed a variety of greedy sheep and goats, and took a couple of extremely fluffy and cheeky alpacas for a walk.

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We had a most delicious lunch at the Piano Cafe in Freshwater…

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…and drove into Yarmouth to buy a 40th birthday present for myself from Rust Jewellery (I chose a golden fox necklace).

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Then back to the campsite for fish and chips, and a beautiful sunset on the beach.

The perfect pitch, right next to the food van. We also had a pizza truck parked here a couple of times.

The perfect pitch, right next to the food van. We also had a pizza truck parked here a couple of times.

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One of my favourite camping hacks - a 5m LED ribbon light (for electric hook-up). Makes the tent so cosy at night.

One of my favourite camping hacks - a 5m LED ribbon light (for electric hook-up). Makes the tent so cosy at night.

One of my main reasons for staying in west Wight was to visit the Needles. It’s about an hour’s drive from the eastern side of the island where we normally stay, so we’ve never managed to make it over.

We parked at the main Needles attraction, and then walked down to Alum Bay. The ‘attraction’ part seemed to me to be a good example of what happens when an incredible natural landmark isn’t run solely by the National Trust - the set-up encourages you to spend cash on rides, shopping and food without venturing any further. Grim! And such a waste of money considering a spectacular beach is just a short walk down the hill (head towards the chair lifts and follow the path down).

We decided to take a boat trip on the Ramblin’ Rose to admire the Needles from closer quarters. They even welcomed our pack of doggies on board.

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Incredible Alum Bay viewed from aboard the Ramblin’ Rose.

Incredible Alum Bay viewed from aboard the Ramblin’ Rose.

The Needles lighthouse.

The Needles lighthouse.

How extraordinary are these cliffs? Like Neapolitan ice cream.

How extraordinary are these cliffs? Like Neapolitan ice cream.

A trio of sea dogs.

A trio of sea dogs.

After regaining our land legs, we headed up the coast to visit Colwell Bay, which had been recommended to me as a great family beach with lovely stretches of sand.

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Then back to the campsite for a final braai and play on the beach.

How lucky were we with the weather? Apparently it was pouring in Manchester.

How lucky were we with the weather? Apparently it was pouring in Manchester.

On Monday morning, it was time to pack up and head to the ferry. This was the easiest pack up we’ve ever done - no stress, no sweat, no tears, no arguments - just tuck everything neatly into the van, and away we went.

Is all of this really going to fit in?!

Is all of this really going to fit in?!

First layer in - all the squashy pillows. We folded the two extra seats down and stuffed coats and anoraks around them to maximise the space.

First layer in - all the squashy pillows. We folded the two extra seats down and stuffed coats and anoraks around them to maximise the space.

Rolling up the tent - we put this on top of the pillows to weight them down. Everything else then packs in around the tent.

Rolling up the tent - we put this on top of the pillows to weight them down. Everything else then packs in around the tent.

And we’re done.

And we’re done.

Two adults, 3 kids in car seats, 3 dogs, 5 sleeping mats, 5 sleeping bags, 7 pillows, 5 sacks of clothes, 5 sets of outdoor gear, 1 dog crate, 1 dog basket, 5 camping chairs, 1 table, about 50m of bunting, fairy lights and fake flower garlands, 1 stove, 6 large plastic tubs, 2 belly baskets, 1 wicker hamper, 1 Our Generation doll, 1 swing ball set, 1 beach tent, 1 coolbox, 1 awning, various footballs, bats and balls, 1 antique gilt mirror, 2 rag rugs, 3 blankets, 1 faux fur electric blanket, about 20 pairs of shoes, 1 frying pan and 1 saucepan… all neatly stowed into the van with no roof box, no stuff packed around the kids, and no fuss whatsoever. And that’s with two extra car seats in the boot (folded down). If we had taken the seats out, we could probably have packed our piano for good measure.

The verdict? We absolutely loved loved loved this van- so much so that we’ve already started shopping for our own. We want the shiny scarlet version though - we’re going to call her Big Red :-)