by Morgan Carter
Well past its prime, the Chevrolet Express Cargo is kind of like the weird old uncle at the party, passed out on the lawn chair in the backyard - he isn't really worrying anyone, so nobody's bothered asking him to leave. Sure, the van gets a decent array of engines, especially the available V8 that develops 341 horsepower and 373 lb-ft of torque. This gives the Express an impressive maximum towing capacity of 10,000 pounds, and it can handle payloads of up to 4,503 lbs. But, that's where it's strengths end. Yes, hauling cargo is what vans are meant to do, but rivals like the Ford Transit can handle similar payloads, while still offering significantly more cargo space. They are also far more up-to-date with what modern buyers are looking for in a purchase, with proper infotainment suites, more standard and available safety features, and enough basic comforts that you won't have to worry about your workers wanting to exact their revenge on you in your sleep. And considering all this, Chevrolet still expects you to pay as much as you would for a class-leading van.
Unsurprisingly, the now-ancient Express Cargo Van enters yet another year with no significant changes. In fact, it may be even more basic than it has been in the past. Several optional features are no longer offered, such as the 6.5-inch touchscreen, and some changes are seen in the availability of the standard exterior paint selection, varying from dealer to dealer.
The Chevrolet Express is nothing special to look at, but it's not unattractive for a cargo van. Each model rides on 16-inch steel wheels and comes equipped with automatic halogen headlights and large turn indicators. The tall grille is bisected by a black bar hosting the golden bowtie. Daytime running lights are standard, and the taillights are positioned high on the rear fascia for optimal visibility to those behind you. Like many rivals, the Express offers variable wheelbase lengths, resulting in either a short or long body. However, it doesn't offer any additional roof heights. Regardless of how it is configured, the van comes equipped with two doors for the front passengers, two rear cargo doors, and another two doors on the passenger's side for loading cargo.
In its standard configuration, the Express comes equipped with a 135-inch wheelbase, giving it a total length of 224.1 inches. This can be increased to 244.1 inches by opting for the 155-inch wheelbase. No alternate roofs are offered, so the van always stands between 84.25 and 84.75 inches tall. Similarly, width is standard at 79.25 inches without the side mirrors. The lightest model is the 2500 regular wheelbase, weighing in at 5,093 lbs, while the 3500 extended wheelbase maxes out at 5,318 lbs. A ground clearance of 8.6 inches gives the van quite a good loading height.
The Express has access to a very reserved palette of only four colors. On the plus side, all paint options come free of additional charge. Colors available comprise Summit White, Black, Red Hot, and Silver Ice Metallic.
Despite access to a pretty powerful V8 engine, developing 341 hp and 373 lb-ft, the Chevrolet Express doesn't live up to its name. Even without a load, acceleration is lethargic. That said, it's actually pretty difficult to overtax the van. Even the base V6 engine, with 276 hp and 298 lb-ft, can handle pretty hefty payloads and tow up to 7,400 lbs. Still, the available V8 is still the strongest engine, beating out the four-cylinder turbo-diesel with a maximum towing capacity of 10,000 lbs. If you don't mind the extremely slow build-up in speed, the van actually cruises quite nicely once it gets going.
Three engines are available to the Chevy Express, with the 4.3-liter V6 being the standard. Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, this powertrain directs 276 hp and 298 lb-ft to the rear wheels only. While the cargo van may be heavy and slow, the engine actually gets the job done quite well. There is enough low-end torque to get around town easily enough, but if you max out the van's payload capacity, you can expect that to change.
The most fuel-efficient engine is the 2.8-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder, which develops 181 hp and a range-topping 369 lb-ft. What the smaller engine sacrifices in overall power, it more than makes up for in initial thrust, thanks to the high torque outputs. This allows the Express to easily handle its maximum payload of 4,503 lbs, but it actually gives the van a lower towing capacity.
For maximum power in all its forms, there is the 6.0-liter V8 engine. Available in either standard gasoline or with CNG capabilities, the engine comes mated to a six-speed heavy-duty transmission that directs the impressive 341 hp and 373 lb-ft to the rear wheels. The more balanced horsepower and torque outputs make this variant the best performer in the range.
The Express is little more than a horseless wagon and, in many ways, it handles like one. Acceleration is solid, if uninspiring, but the van's extremely limited handling dynamics mean you don't want to be moving in anything but a straight line when going fast. Try to take a corner without slowing considerably, and the van rolls heavily.
Still, steering is responsive enough for town driving, even if feedback is non-existent. The suspension is very basic, too, so the van doesn't do much to smooth over bumps in the road. Loading it up does help, though. Overall, comfort isn't that great, and the seats and upholstery don't do the Express any favors. Road noise is handled relatively well, but the engines will let you know their displeasure when forced to lug around heavy loads at any degree of speed.
The EPA has not rated the Chevy Express for fuel economy in any of its multiple guises. However, there are enough reports of real-world mileage to get an idea of how efficient it is when it comes to consumption. The van comes with a V6 gas engine as standard, which has been reported to get around 14 mpg across the combined cycle. The stronger V8 drops mileage to 13 mpg. For optimal fuel efficiency, there is the four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. Up to 20 miles can be covered on a single gallon of diesel. Regardless of the engine you opt for, the van comes equipped with a 31-gallon fuel tank. In its most efficient guise, the Express can cover up to 620 miles before seeking out a gas station.
The interior of the van is spacious, if extremely spartan. There is only seating for two passengers as standard, with the rest of the cabin reserved for cargo. Little to no thought went into styling the cockpit of the van, and passenger comfort was only an ancillary concern. What few controls there are for the limited features, are laid out for ease of access, and the lack of anything particularly high-tech means the controls are also easy to use, mostly comprising rotary knobs. The Express might be able to hide its age from the outside, but it certainly can't from the inside.
There are seating appointments for two within the cargo van as standard, although up to five can be seated with the right options. Both front occupants are given an abundance of space. However, the large central bulge in the floor means the seats are placed quite close to the doors, which can give the impression of there being a lot less space than there actually is. The seats are manually adjustable as standard, but six-way power front seats are available. With or without this feature, the seats are well-positioned for a commanding view of the road, but rearward visibility is quite poor. Safety-conscious buyers will want to opt for the available blind-spot alert. Getting in and out of the van isn't too difficult, despite the high ground clearance.
The van certainly looks the part of a blue-collar workman, with vinyl upholstery coming standard on any trim. Available in Medium Pewter or Neutral, the textile isn't particularly high-quality or comfortable. There is the option to upgrade to cloth, though, available in the same hues. Despite the workman-quality materials, the cabin is actually well-built and shouldn't show much wear or tear after hauling loads around for a few years. As standard, the cargo area comes with a vinyl floor, but this can be traded out for a spray-on cargo liner.
While not class-leading, the Express offers up a decent-sized cargo hold for hauling your goods. In its standard configuration, the van supplies 270.4 cubic feet of cargo space, with an overall cargo length of 154.7 inches behind the front seats. Opting for the long wheelbase, and the extended body, increases cargo capacity to 319.9 cubic feet with a total length of 173.65 inches. While this does sound like a fair amount of space, it is nothing compared to leading rivals like the Ford Transit, which can supply up to 487.2 cubic feet. The lower-spec 2500 WT can handle payloads of between 3,285 and 3,507 lbs, while the sturdier 3500 WT can haul up to 4,503 lbs when properly equipped.
There's not much in the way of small-item storage within the passenger area of the van. There is a standard glove compartment, naturally, but the center armrest storage cubby is an optional add-on. A pair of cupholders come standard, though, and there are door pockets, albeit shallow ones.
The Express is rather sparsely equipped as standard, with very few additional features available. Every model gets power accessories (windows and locks), manual air conditioning, a pair of 12-volt power outlets, and a 120-volt power outlet. The cargo bay comes outfitted with six D-ring cargo tie-downs and offers LED overhead lighting. The safety suite comprises nothing more than a rearview camera as standard, although this can be expanded to include blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, forward collision alert, and lane departure warning. Cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, and rear climate control are all available within the packages or add-ons list.
One could hardly call the standard infotainment offering a suite, as it comes with no display and only two speakers. Standard listening options include AM/FM Radio, and MP3 playback via the auxiliary audio jack. However, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot does come standard. Audio streaming is available through the optional Bluetooth, and SiriusXM can be added, too. USB charging ports don't come standard but can be optioned on.
There is no accredited dependability rating for the Express, although it has received a fair number of complaints, and several recalls were issued in 2019. Reasons for the recalls included a reversed image on the rearview camera, a delay in the seatbelt-unfastened warning, and incorrect glass used in the rear-quarter window. It's somewhat disconcerting that a van this old, which gets very few updates, is still suffering from any manufacturing problems. Nevertheless, Chevrolet offers a 36,000-mile/36-month basic warranty on new purchases, while the powertrain warranty and roadside assistance plan are valid for 60,000 miles/60 months.
There have been no crash tests performed for the Chevy Express by either the NHTSA or the IIHS. The van gets the basics, but not much more.
Standard mechanical safety features include ABS, EBD, stability and traction control, and six airbags: dual front, front side, and side curtain. Naturally, a rearview camera comes standard, but if you want any of the other safety features, you need to pay up. As part of the available packages or standalone features, blind-spot alert, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and rear parking assist can be added on, although each requires a number of additional changes to be made before they become compatible.
As a cargo van, the Chevy Express performs its function just fine. But when considered as part of a larger market, it's hardly adequate. Sure, it gets some decent powertrains, and it actually has pretty impressive towing capacity, but most cargo haulers aren't looking for a van that can tow well - that's what pickups are for. What buyers want is a van that can get the most cargo from one place to another as quickly and safely as possible.
With a maximum cargo capacity of just 319.9 cubic feet, the Express is barely competitive against leading rivals like the Ford Transit or Ram Promaster Cargo, which each beat it by over 100 cubic feet. Both vans are also far more up-to-date, with more refined powertrains, more modern styling, and a boatload of better standard features.
Chevrolet seems to have abandoned the Express Cargo Van, with no truly significant updates made over the last two decades. If the manufacturer puts so little effort into the van, then why should you, as a consumer, give it any consideration, either? So, no, the Chevy Express simply isn't a good vehicle for the segment it competes in, and it certainly isn't worth the asking price. There are better options out there for the same price, or less.
You'd expect a van well into its second decade to have a more vintage price tag, but the Chevrolet Express is still moderately pricey for a work van. The base model 2500, in its regular-wheelbase guise and equipped with the standard V6 engine, will cost you $32,000. The extended wheelbase adds $1,900 to the bill, while the V8 engine adds $995 and the diesel engine $4,070. With the same body and engine options available, the 3500 WT starts at $35,100. These prices don't include tax, registration, licensing, or Chevrolet's $1,295 destination charge.
Two models, in two possible configurations, make up the Chevy Express Cargo Van range. Both the 2500 and 3500 come standard with the V6 engine, developing 276 hp and 298 lb-ft, mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The same transmission handles the gear shifts for the four-cylinder diesel engine, which develops 181 hp and 369 lb-ft. The V8 engine comes mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, developing 341 hp and 373 lb-ft. Rear-wheel-drive is standard across the range, with no available all-wheel drivetrain.
Both models ride on the same 16-inch steel wheels and come outfitted with automatic halogen headlights. Standard features include manual air conditioning, power accessories, a pair of 12-volt power outlets, and a 120-volt outlet. The basic infotainment system is no more than a two-speaker sound system paired with AM/FM Radio and MP3 playback. However, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot does come equipped as standard.
With so few standard features, it's no surprise that the Express Cargo Van offers numerous ways to upgrade its list of features. Strangely enough, the Safety Package ($2,405) is only available to the 2500 WT, adding cruise control, a tilting steering wheel, blind-spot alert, and rear parking assist, along with the V8 engine. Similarly limited to the 2500 WT, the Enhanced Convenience Package ($2,335) adds remote keyless entry and remote start, along with cruise control, the tilting steering wheel, and heavy-duty trailering equipment with the Vortec V8 engine. The Communications Package ($2,180), once again for the 2500 WT, adds cruise control, the V8 engine, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth audio streaming, and SiriusXM. Notable standalone features include cloth upholstery ($70), forward collision alert ($295), and six-way power front seats ($275 each).
In terms of standard features, there is no difference between the 2500 and the 3500. However, the 2500 does offer more available packages to make up for this weakness. Still, if you don't really care about anything more than hauling cargo around town, you'll probably want the more capable 3500 WT. With its extended wheelbase, the van can load up to 319.9 cubic feet of cargo, and pull 10,000 lbs if you equip the powerful V8 engine. However, if you want to haul smaller, heavier items, you may want to opt for the lighter regular-wheelbase model with its maximum payload capacity of 4,503 lbs.
While there doesn't appear to be much difference between the Ford Transit and Chevy Express when you look at their base engines, that's where the similarities end. The Ford van is significantly more modern than the Express, and it just underwent a mid-cycle refresh, too. While the Transit's new base engine isn't any more powerful than the Chevrolet's, it's far more refined. However, even with its most capable twin-turbo V6, the Transit can't tow as much as the Express, maxing out at 6,900 lbs. Similarly, its maximum payload is no better at 4,530 lbs. However, correctly configured, the Ford can pack a whole lot more in the back, with a maximum cargo capacity of 487.2 cubic feet. With more features, more variety, more cargo space, and a barely higher price tag of $34,510, the Ford Transit doesn't even consider the Chevy Express to be competition.
Sharing a parent company means that the GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express have many things in common, for better or worse. They each get the same engine options, which means their performance figures are nearly identical, including the impressive maximum towing capacity of 10,000 lbs. However, they share the same weaknesses, such as subpar cargo capacity, limited body options, as well as a shamefully sparse list of standard features and horribly outdated styling. With neither van making a particularly good case for itself, your choice will likely come down to brand loyalty.