You know you are on to a winner when the car you’re driving proves an eye-catcher and everyone wants to pass comment.

Granted not everyone wished to heap praise on ‘the big brown bus’, but then the Combo Life was never intended to appeal to everyone.

On the other hand if you are looking for a practical, spacious and versatile vehicle, then you need to take a look as this van-based space machine has a lot to offer.

Priced from £19,610 on the road, with a choice of petrol and diesel engines, five or seven seats and a choice of wheelbase, the sister model to the Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Rifter is tailor made for people with loads of stuff to move.

Slide back the rear doors and lift the tailgate and the interior can swallow just about anything you want to throw at it.

But in addition to the space, there are real surprises in store. First there is the level of comfort offered in the ride and second the safety technology on offer, which is more in line with that fitted to upmarket sports utility vehicles.

Ranging from driver drowsiness alert, rear view camera and a head-up display, to adjustable traction control and luxury extras such as heated seats and a heated steering wheel, this moves the Combo Life into a different league.

But the sheer space on offer is the Combo Life’s main selling point, particularly in the 4.75m-long, seven-seater Combo XL model driven here.

The ability to change the interior layout is key to the vehicle’s success and the second row of seats splits and folds flat 35/30/35. Each second-row seating position has its own ISOFIX child seat bracket as standard allowing three child seats to be fitted next to each other.

The third row pair of seats also fold and can be completely removed to increase carrying capacity.

A shelf above the windscreen is perfect for smaller items, while the driver, front seat passenger and those in back seats can stow their personal items in large door pockets.

Seat-back pockets and drawers offer further storage for those in the middle seats and optional folding tables are embedded in the backrests of the front seats.

The driver and front seat passenger have an upper and lower glovebox and as the airbag on the passenger side is located in the roof, the cooled upper glovebox offers a lot of space, even for large items, and is the ideal place to store drinks.

Power on the car driven here came from a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine which has much more beef than the small engine size might suggest. Developing 110 horsepower it gives sprightly acceleration and remarkably refined cruising.

For such a tall vehicle, the ride is surprisingly comfortable and quiet, making long-distance travel a real pleasure.

The technology, mentioned earlier, helps make life easier and safer and includes a forward collision alert with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking.

A front camera system operates systems such as speed sign recognition and lane keep assist and the active cruise control adapts to the speed of the vehicle in front.

An Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-compatible entertainment system can be controlled via the eight-inch colour touchscreen, steering wheel remote controls or voice command. The navigation system of the top-of-the-range Multimedia Navi Pro unit, with European maps and 3D navigation, also shows Traffic Messaging Channel updates, helping to avoid traffic jams.

And that combination of technology, practicality and value for money certainly caught the eye of journalists from 31 countries across Europe who voted it the Autobest best buy car of the year.

Auto facts

Model: Vauxhall Combo Life Energy XL

Price: £25,305 as tested

Insurance group: 8E (1-50)

Fuel consumption (combined): 42.4mpg

Top speed: 109mph

Length: 475.3cm/186.6in

Width: 184.4cm/72.4in

Luggage capacity: 912 litres/32.2 cu ft (five seats in place)

Fuel tank capacity: 13.4 gallons/61 litres

CO2 emissions: 125g/km

Warranty: Three years/ 60,000 miles