Though ostensibly anachronistic in today's world of SUVs, minivans
and crossovers, the GMC Savana full-size passenger van still has its
place for those who need to transport really large groups or lots of
cargo. With maximum capacities that are double that of even the most
commodious minivan, vans like the Savana are the vehicles of choice for
large families, small-business owners and fleet operators.
Like every GMC product, the Savana is related to another General
Motors product; in this case, it's the more well known and popular
Chevrolet Express van. Both vans are a rolling testament to the "If it
ain't broke, don't fix it" school of vehicle design, as they have been
soldiering on for decades with only occasional updates.
Originally known as the "Rally wagon," GMC's full-size passenger van
was renamed the Savanna in the mid-1990s. Interested shoppers will
find that the current model's numerous wheelbase, powertrain and
passenger configurations allow an appealing amount of customization.
If you're looking for a new or used van that's rugged, spacious and
competent, the GMC Savana is a very good choice. However, those looking
at new or late-model vans should also consider the
Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter as it offers several advantages
over traditional American full-size vans.
Current GMC Savana
The standard-wheelbase GMC Savana passenger van is available in
half-ton (1500) and 1-ton (3500) configurations. The extended-wheelbase
version (155-inch) is available only on the 3500. There are two trim
levels: LS and LT. LS models are geared toward fleet service, while LT
models come with more features to make them a little more livable.
Passenger capacities range from eight to 15 people, depending on the
For motivation, the 1500 series comes with a 5.3-liter V8 (310
horsepower and 334 pound-feet of torque) matched to a four-speed
automatic transmission. The 2500 series comes with a 4.8-liter V8 (280
hp and 295 lb-ft) but offers a 6.0-liter V8 (324 hp and 373 lb-ft) as
an option. Both engines come with a six-speed automatic. The 3500
series boasts the 6.0-liter V8 as standard, with a 6.6-liter
turbodiesel V8 (260 hp and 525 lb-ft) as an option. The six-speed
automatic is again standard. All Savana are rear-wheel drive except the
1500, which also offers the option of all-wheel drive. Stability
control is standard across the board.
The Savana's cabin won't win any beauty contests, but it does offer
efficiency. Ergonomics are good, with controls that are intuitive and
easy to access. Despite the overall spaciousness of these vans, though,
footwells are rather tight. Rear access can be enhanced with a sliding
passenger-side door or a 60/40-split driver-side rear door. In
editorial reviews, we've found the GMC Savana's big V8 engines provide
ample power, and its ride and handling characteristics are superior to
its main Blue Oval rival, but inferior to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
and Nissan NV.
Used GMC Savana Models
The GMC Savana is a single-generation vehicle, but current models
have evolved relative to earlier versions. The last major update
occurred in 1996, but there have been notable, mostly
powertrain-related changes since. The biggest happened in 2003, when an
enhanced lineup of powerhouse engines debuted (a 200-hp V6, 295-hp
5.3-liter V8 and 300-horse 6.0-liter V8) and all-wheel drive was
offered for the first time. The standard transmission was a four-speed
automatic. During this time, there was also a 3/4-ton 2500 version
offered, as well as a luxury-themed Savana SLT trim.
For 2007, the V6 was dropped, while the V8s were upgraded to 301 hp
and 323 hp, respectively. Used van shoppers should know that 2008
brought significant upgrades in the form of a refreshed interior and
the standard fitment of stability control and side curtain airbags. For
2010 the 5.3-liter was bumped up to its current output and the
6.0-liter V8 got its current six-speed auto. The following year GMC
introduced the 4.8-liter V8 engine for the 2500 series van and the
optional 6.6-liter V8 turbodiesel for the 3500.
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