by Karl Furlong
According to several academics, our life's happiness curve is U-shaped. What this means is that our state of contentment dips in our 30s and 40s and only starts to pick up again after 50. So, despite increasingly creaky bones and a disdain for anything trendy, seniors seem to be the ones without a care in the world. This same outlook applies to the GMC Savana Cargo Van; in automotive years, it's a relic. And despite a hopelessly dated cabin, old-school tech, and a crashy ride, the Savana nonchalantly sails into 2020 as if the world around it hasn't changed at all. It does have some positive attributes, such as powerful engines providing up to 341 horsepower in the case of the V8, a towing capacity of up to 10,000 pounds, and solid payload numbers. The more youthful Ford Transit Cargo Van lacks the same towing capability as the brawny Savana, but is a much easier vehicle to live with. Apparently unperturbed by its younger competition, the powerful but distinctly senior Savana survives to see yet another decade, but how much longer can it hold on?
Unsurprisingly, GMC hasn't made any major changes to the Savana Cargo Van for 2020.
Nothing about the GMC Savana is anything less than a typical van, with blocky, slab-sided proportions. It's all completely functional and, to be honest, that's all that many shoppers in this segment want. 16-inch steel wheels are the order of the day, as are black bumpers, black exterior mirrors with manual adjustment, and halogen headlamps. A swing-out door on the passenger side is standard, but the exterior can be customized by adding rear cargo door windows, rear doors, and rear parking assistance.
Depending on whether you go for the regular 135-inch wheelbase or the extended 155-inch wheelbase, the Savana is either 224.1 or 244.1 inches long. All models have a width of 79.3 inches (excluding the side mirrors), while height varies between 84.3 and 84.8 inches. Ground clearance varies between 9.65 and 9.72 inches in front, and 8.6/8.62 inches at the back. The lightest model is the 2500 with the regular wheelbase which weighs in at 5,093 pounds, and the heaviest is the 3500 with the lengthened wheelbase with a curb weight of 5,318 lbs.
GMC's color palette for the Savana Cargo Van extends to just four shades: Summit White, Onyx Black, Cardinal Red, and Quicksilver Metallic - the latter will cost you an extra $495. The white is as basic as it gets, but none of these colors can conceal the van's obviously commercial roots.
Four different engines can power the Savana, and all provide reasonable performance for a cargo van. The base engine is a 4.3-liter V6 with 276 horsepower and 298 lb-ft of torque. A more potent 6.0-liter V8 generates 341 hp and 373 lb-ft (a CNG/LPG capable version of this V8 is also available), while the final power plant is a 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel with 181 hp and 369 lb-ft. All models power the rear wheels via either a six-speed (V8 models only) or eight-speed automatic gearbox, whereas rivals like the Ford Transit offer all-wheel drive. Not that smoky burnouts are a top priority for a cargo van, but the V8 models are capable of hitting 60 mph in just over seven seconds according to independent tests. More importantly, the Savana can tow up to 10,000 lbs with the V8, which is better than the Ford Transit and Nissan NV cargo vans can manage.
Three gas engines and one turbodiesel motivate the GMC Savana Cargo Van. At the bottom of the range is the 4.3-liter V6 with 276 hp and 298 lb-ft. This version uses an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The 6.0-liter V8 is the powerhouse in the lineup, with 341 hp and 373 lb-ft on tap, although it's paired with a dated six-speed automatic transmission. A CNG/LPG-capable version of this V8 produces exactly the same outputs. The 2.8-liter turbodiesel shares the V6's eight-speed auto 'box and it delivers 181 hp and 369 lb-ft.
Unladen, every version of the Savana has perky performance for a heavy van, with only the V6 taking some strain when fully loaded with cargo. The V8 and turbodiesel are less troubled with a heavy load thanks to their higher torque outputs, although the V8 is saddled with a slower-shifting six-speed automatic that isn't especially responsive. Although not thrifty by any means, all the engines do a good job of keeping the Savana moving and have the ability to push the van past slower traffic without too much effort.
With its old-school body-on-frame construction, the Savana is sturdy and dependable, but the setup does not lend itself to refined driving manners. This is a big van and it feels that way, whether in a straight line or when trying to contain its considerable body roll through the corners. The steering is light, which at least makes parking maneuvers easier, especially as cargo vans will typically spend lots of time pulling into and out of all manner of tight spots on the job. Unfortunately, the steering's lightness is a pain on the open road, where the van struggles to maintain its course without regular corrections from the driver. The hard suspension transmits many bumps and surface changes through to the driver and passenger, without the cushioning required to make smooth progress. Being a van, crosswinds can also affect stability. Overall, then, the rough Savana isn't exactly relaxing from behind the wheel.
Residing in the commercial sector, EPA figures aren't available for the GMC Savana Cargo Van. However, real-world reports from owners indicate a combined consumption figure of around 16.7 mpg for the V8 model in lighter 2500 guise. Other owners indicated consumption of 12.2 mpg for the V6 3500 and as poor as 10.3 mpg for the V8 3500. The latest owner figures we could find for the turbodiesel was a mixed consumption of 12.3 mpg, but this was for a 2017 2500 model. Based on these numbers and the Savana's 31-gallon gas tank, a range of between 319 and 518 miles should be achievable. Either way, expect a considerable fuel bill. Notable is that the 6.0-liter V8 is also available in a version that can run on propane and compressed natural gas.
It's best to think of the Savana Cargo Van's interior as a means to get the van moving and a place to store lots of stuff. Very little attempt has been made to modernize the cabin or provide nice-to-have comforts for the driver and passenger. A cliff-like fascia features acres of uninspiring plastic, and the most basic AM/FM stereo system. Air conditioning is standard, as is an auto-dimming rearview mirror, electric windows, and the obligatory rearview camera. A swing-out passenger-side door enables access to the vast cargo area, but for the most practical configuration, a swing-out rear side door is available. While airbags and hill-start assist are standard, you'll need to pay extra for the likes of lane departure warning and forward collision alert.
By default, the Savana seats two passengers in high-back bucket seats. However, a five-passenger seating arrangement is available as an option in a 2-3 configuration. The seats are large and headroom is good thanks to the van's sheer size, but a massive central storage area/cupholder arrangement below the center console does impinge a bit on legroom - this, of course, is a result of the engine's positioning, another sign of the van's age. The upright, bus-like driving position isn't a surprise, although comfort can be improved by the optional fitment of six-way power-adjustable front seats. An optional Driver Convenience Package adds a tilt-adjustable steering wheel; by default, the steering wheel is fixed. For maximum cargo capacity, the passenger seat can be deleted.
As standard, the seats are finished in vinyl upholstery in either Medium Pewter or Neutral. Cloth seats will add a further $70 to the base price. The dashboard plastics are nothing special, although they should prove durable, and the rudimentary setup is completed by a urethane-trimmed steering wheel. Optionally, leather wrapping can be applied to the steering wheel. Other than this, the basic cabin doesn't do much to pamper its occupants.
In isolation, the Savana's 239.4 cubic feet of cargo space (with the regular wheelbase) and 283.6 cubes (with the long wheelbase) appear impressive, but rivals like the Ram ProMaster offer over 450 cubes of space at the back. Also hampering the Savana's practicality is the absence of a high roof variant, so getting into the van to load larger items requires one to stoop down awkwardly. The cargo area length (up to the seat) is either 126.8 or 146.8 inches depending on the wheelbase length, with a width at the wheel housings of 52.5 inches. The cargo area height works out to 55.1 inches. Maximum payload capacity is 4,282 lbs for the 3500 version with the extended wheelbase and the diesel engine.
Don't expect any surprise creature comforts here. The Savana only comes stocked with what's absolutely essential. Out of the box, the cargo van gets air conditioning, 12-volt power outlets, a 120-volt power outlet, cargo tie-downs, an auto-dimming interior rearview mirror, and power-operated windows. Surprisingly, a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot is standard. The safety spec comprises a rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring, hill-start assist, and front/side airbags, but an extra outlay is required for lane departure warning, rear park assist, blind-spot monitoring, and forward collision alert. Six-way power-adjustable front seats can be optionally equipped, as can a second row of seats (along with rear air conditioning), remote start, cruise control, and remote keyless entry.
The infotainment offering is as barebones as the rest of the Savana's cabin, with no color display that is standard in virtually every other modern vehicle. A basic AM/FM stereo with MP3 compatibility also includes an auxiliary input jack and two speakers for the simplistic audio system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available at all, but a USB port, Bluetooth, and SiriusXM satellite radio can be equipped as options. OnStar capability provides vehicle insights on your device and is a useful way for owners to keep track of their vehicles. Overall, the Savana Cargo Van's infotainment system is a clear sign of the GMC's age.
The 2020 Savana Cargo Van hasn't been affected by any recalls yet, but three recalls affected the 2019 model range. The first issue was for rear-quarter glass windows that could be tempered instead of laminated, which does not align with safety requirements. Another issue was for a backup camera image that is reversed, increasing the chances of a crash, and finally, there was a problem with the seatbelt warning system. However, the GMC's mechanicals are generally highly regarded and should be able to withstand years of hard work.
GMC's limited warranty runs for three years or 36,000 miles and one scheduled maintenance visit is offered for the first year. Corrosion protection is for three years/36,000 miles, and rust-through protection is for six years/100,000 miles. The basic powertrain warranty is for five years/60,000 miles, increasing to a five-year/100,000-mile warranty for qualified fleet purchases. Finally, GMC offers five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance, with the mileage limitation increasing to 100,000 miles for qualified fleet purchases.
Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA have evaluated the GMC Savana Cargo Van for crashworthiness.
As standard, the Savana Cargo Van is equipped with six airbags (front, side, and head-curtain airbags), daytime running lamps, hill-start assist, a rearview camera, electronic stability control, and tire pressure monitoring. All other safety features are offered only as options, including rear park assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning.
Over two decades later, it's remarkable that the GMC Savana Cargo Van has been able to stick around despite its obvious shortcomings. Both inside and out, the Savana can't hide its age and, disappointingly, it lags behind key contenders in this segment for overall cargo capacity. The absence of a high-roof option also limits its usability. And, while undeniably tough, it isn't a pleasant vehicle to drive in town or on the highway. On the plus side, the available V8 and turbodiesel engines are powerful and responsive, towing capacity is excellent, and the mechanicals are proven. These characteristics have been enough for the manufacturer to resist releasing an all-new model, but it's not enough for the Savana to compete with the Ford Transit, Nissan NV, and Mercedes-Benz Metris - all are much more modern cargo haulers and reminders that a van can be more than just a box on wheels.
GMC's Savana Cargo Van is available in two trims: the 2500 or the 3500. Each trim is offered with the choice of a regular or extended wheelbase. The range begins with the 2500 with the base V6 engine and the standard wheelbase at $32,000, a price that excludes taxes, licensing, registration, and a destination freight charge of $1,295. With the extended wheelbase, the 2500 costs $33,900. Moving up to the 3500 costs $35,100, and the 3500 with the extended wheelbase goes for $35,900.
Adding the 6.0-liter V8 engine adds $995 to the base price, while the flex-fuel V8 engine adds another $300 over and above this. Opting for the turbodiesel will cost $4,070. The most expensive version is, therefore, the 3500 with the long wheelbase and the turbodiesel engine which will cost $39,970.
GMC sells the Savana Cargo Van in two trims: 2500 or 3500.
Regardless of the trim you choose, both are available with four engine options: a 4.3-liter V6, a 6.0-liter V8, a 6.0-liter V8 flex-fuel, and a 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel. The V6 and the turbodiesel use an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the V8s get a six-speed automatic. Rear-wheel-drive is standard and buyers can choose between short- and long-wheelbase guises.
On the 2500, 16-inch steel wheels and black bumpers are signs of the cargo van's utilitarian nature, while inside, there is air conditioning, an AM/FM/MP3 sound system with two speakers, a rearview camera, six airbags, and manually adjustable seats. The upgrades include seating for five, six-way power-adjustable front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a bulkhead divider.
The 3500 shares the 2500's specification but, due to its upgraded suspension, its payload capacity is increased.
A couple of packages are available to make the Savana feel just a bit less basic. At $2,405, the Safety Package (only available on the 2500) adds heated and power-adjustable outside mirrors, cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and rear park assist. It automatically includes the V8 engine as well. The Communications Package costs $2,180 and comprises a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth streaming audio, cruise control, SiriusXM radio, and the V8 engine. A bit pricier is the $2,355 Enhanced Convenience Package with the V8, remote keyless entry, remote start, heavy-duty trailering equipment, cruise control and more. The final major upgrade is the $1,330 Hotel Package with swing-out rear cargo door windows, a swing-out rear side door, cruise control, chrome bumpers, and more. Notably, the Communications/Enhanced Convenience packages aren't available for the 3500. However, the 3500 with the long wheelbase is exclusively available with an Ambulance Package for $1,520, an upgrade that adds a dual-note horn, dual batteries, fixed rear door window glass, and more.
Depending on the specific needs of a typical business, the Savana Cargo Van's capability can be improved with standalone add-ons like heavy-duty trailering equipment ($280), an automatic locking rear differential ($325), a removable roof rack ($385), and a variety of cargo storage solutions. Five-passenger seating is $1,965 and a power-adjustable driver's seat is $275.
Your specific needs will dictate whether the extra hauling capability of the 3500 is necessary. For many shoppers, the 4.3-liter V6 will be enough for most needs, but it's always good to have some power and capability in reserve, so for that reason we'd recommend the 3500 with the V8 engine. The Safety Package is a worthwhile upgrade, adding key features like rear park assist and blind-spot monitoring, while cruise control at least takes some of the effort out of longer trips on the highway.
These corporate twins have much in common, for better - and mostly - for worse. Like the Savana, the Chevy Express has V6, V8, and turbodiesel engine options. It boasts the same maximum towing capacity of 10,000 lbs, but suffers from the same disappointing cargo area and the lack of a high-roof option. The two vans also share a stark interior with few luxuries available to conceal their ages. Both vans even have an identical starting price of $32,000. At the end of the day, if your choice has come down to one of these, pick the badge on the nose that appeals to you most. But if you want the best cargo van, neither of these is it.
The Ford Transit Cargo Van demonstrates just how far the segment has progressed since the GMC Savana was first launched. The Transit gets off to a great start by offering more options, with the availability of a high roof, RWD or AWD, and three body lengths. The Ford also drives with far more composure and both of its engines are powerful and smooth. The interior of the Transit isn't exactly luxurious, but it's far better than the Savana's, with a modern infotainment system and a superior specification. Overall cargo volume is also much better in the Ford, but the GMC wins back some points by offering greater towing capacities. In fact, towing capacity and a lower starting price are the only two areas where the Savana comes out on top. In all other aspects, the Ford Transit is a vastly superior cargo van.