If you’ve ever tried squeezing seven people into a so-called seven-seater SUV or MPV you’ll know that the third row is often best suited to agile, small children.
We tested Vauxhall’s new Vivaro Life people carrier to see whether it’s more than just a van with windows and extra seats…
The Vauxhall Vivaro Life battles it out in a specialised segment which appeals to big families and taxi drivers, plus businesses transporting staff and clients.
Up against everything from the Mercedes-Benz V-Series to the Volkswagen Caravelle and Ford Tourneo Custom, it’s also in direct competition with its close relatives, the Citroen Space Tourer, Peugeot Traveller and Toyota Proace Verso (they were all developed together).
The Vivaro Life is the patriotic choice though. Owners PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) have invested some £100 million converting an underground car park into a state-of-the-art production line for the third-generation Vivaro (van version) and Vivaro Life at Vauxhall’s historic Luton plant – the company’s spiritual home since 1905.
Safeguarding some 1,250 jobs, the new Vivaro is a big step-up compared to its successful predecessor which went into production in 2014 and celebrated its 250,000th model in October 2018.
You don’t have to be a genius to see that the Vivaro Life bears more than a passing resemblance to the latest generation Vivaro van on which it is based. And to be honest, that’s not such a bad thing because it’s one of the best looking mid-sized vans on the market.
It’s hard for vans to look handsome, but the Vivaro is as good as it gets. From a practical point of view, there are wide, sliding doors on each side, plus large tinted windows and a huge rear hatch for easy access.
Inside, its van origins are rather more obvious, especially up front, though Vauxhall’s done its best to make the dashboard looks as much like a car as possible with everything within easy reach. There’s also a modest 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment screen in the centre console, plus heating controls.
Obviously there’s a high driving position, offering a commanding view of the road, plus plenty of storage spaces dotted around the cabin.
The Vivaro Life is available in two sizes – ‘Medium’ (4.95m long) or ‘Large’ (5.3m long) – and two trim levels (Edition and Elite).
Entry-level Edition (from £28,610), is geared towards business customers and comes as standard with DAB, USB and Bluetooth radio with Vauxhall Connect, heated exterior mirrors and cruise control.
Elite (from £42,105) is plusher, featuring leather seats, 180-degree rear parking camera, hands-free sliding doors, head-up display, massage function and heated front seats and a panoramic glass roof.
The latest safety technology, including autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and drowsiness alert, high beam assist and Vauxhall’s Intelligrip traction control system, is also available, but not as standard.
The seating is flexible so that you can have three rows or even two rows facing each other. All the seats are removable (though they are on the heavy side), so it’s even possible to use it as a van if you’re in need of a load-lugger.
Depending on the length chosen and the number of seats, luggage capacity is up to 4,500 litres.
The Vivaro Life is available with a choice of four diesel engines. A 99bhp and 118bhp 1.5-litre and a 2.0-litre with either 148bhp or 178bhp (a pure-electric version is due to follow in 2021).
I tested the top-of-the-range Elite, complete with the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine and a six-speed manual gearbox. I also sampled the larger 178bhp engine in the Vivaro van, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The two 1.5-litre engines are the most frugal, returning up to 47.1mpg with CO2 emissions as low as 128g/km. However, the larger 2.0-litre units are swifter, with the 178bhp version managing a 0-62mph time of 10.4 seconds and a top speed of 105mpg.
On the road, there’s no getting away from the Vivaro Life’s van origins. The driving position is familiar, the ride surprisingly good, if a little bouncy on rougher roads, while cabin noise levels are pretty good, though not as refined as smaller car-like MPVs.
The diesel engines have plenty of torque and they settle down nicely at cruising speeds, though obviously the 2.0-litre engines are the ones to go for if you regularly carry a full complement of passengers and luggage, or you just want to make haste.
The automatic gearbox was smooth and I particularly liked the dinky little gear selector dial low down on the centre console. However, I wasn’t quite so impressed with the six-speed manual transmission. I’d try before you buy, because it was slightly notchy and imprecise on my test van.
Visibility is good, the steering is light and reversing into tight spots is helped no end by the excellent split-screen 180-degree reversing camera.
The marketing may claim that it’s more of a van than a car to drive, but the reality is that it’s not quite as sophisticated. It will lean into corners more than the equivalent car-derived people carrier. It’s also noisier and heavier. That said, it’s impressive for a van.
The sliding doors make access to the second row of seats especially easy. You can also open one or both doors by simply pressing a button on the key fob, while the rear door opens with a simple movement of the foot under the corner of the rear bumper.
Verdict: Frankly, the Vauxhall Vivaro Life is as good as super-sized MPVs gets. Yes, the ride could be softer and infotainment screen bigger, but overall, it does what it says on the tin. Stylish, safe, spacious, versatile, comfortable and easy to drive, it would definitely be on my shortlist if I was in the market for a big people carrier.