by Gabe Beita Kiser
Cargo vans seemingly wouldn't be the kind of vehicles with any sort of cult following, but there's a surprising amount of pop culture centered around them, like the Ford Transit's European history of being a bank heist vehicle, or Bosco B.A. Baracus's iconic GMC Vandura. The 2019 GMC Savana is no A-Team-spec Vandura, though, but it is a work van that's kept to a straightforward recipe for more than two decades. Yes, the Savana has been in production and only received minor updates since way back in 1996 when it replaced the Vandura, built alongside the mechanically identical Chevrolet Express. It comes in two trims, the 2500 and the 3500, and is available with three engines: a 4.3-liter V6, a 6.0 liter V8, and a four-cylinder 2.8 diesel. The Savana is hugely outdated compared to rivals like the Ford Transit, RAM ProMaster, and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, but with a big burly V8 and history with the A-Team, there may still be a lot to like about it. Big V8s, two available wheelbases, and a big dose of old school feel.
The Savana has had a multitude of updates over the years, and it has slowly evolved with regards to features. For 2019 forward collision warning and lane departure warning are now available, while an entry theft-deterrent system has been made optional on the cargo vans. The Doeskin Tan color has been removed from the lineup, and Dark Sky added in its place. The price of the metallic colors went up from $395 to $495.
The GMC Savana has the usual box-shape associated with a work van and looks dated compared to most of its competition. The front end has the traditional GMC squarish light cluster with the dual-halogen headlights at the top and the indicators at the bottom. Some variants have the optional sliding door on the side, while the standard model has rear cargo doors and swing-out side doors too. Regardless of trim and wheelbase length, the Savana rides on 16-inch all-season tires on attractive steel wheels. Buyers can opt for a dose of chrome with chrome center caps, a chrome grille, and chrome bumpers all available as options.
Being a work van, the GMC Savana is large enough to carry goods or people, and with the extended wheelbase, it becomes even more sizable. The standard Savana has a length of 224.1 inches on a 135-inch wheelbase. It also has a width of 79.2 inches and a height of 84.6 inches, and in the base 2500 configuration, it tips the scales at a curb weight of 5,158 lbs. The extended models have a length of 244.1 inches on a 155-inch wheelbase, while the width and height remain much the same as the shorter alternative. Curb weights for the longer derivatives start at 5,349 lbs.
The GMC Savana Cargo Van is available in three standard colors, and three metallic colors, all of which are available on all trims. The three standard colors include Summit White, Onyx Black, and Cardinal Red. The three metallic colors are Quicksilver, Dark Sky, and Marine Blue, which all come at a $495 premium. All the colors carry over from the 2018 model, except Dark Sky, which was only introduced for the 2019 model year. Doeskin Tan, which as available as part of the 2018 lineup has been discontinued.
The GMC Savana comes in a total of two trims, the 2500 and 3500, of which both come standard as rear-wheel-driven vans with no option available for all-wheel-drive unlike rivals from Mercedes-Benz. They are both quite similar, with the key differentiator being the higher load capacity on the 3500. It's the shorter 3500 wheelbase that gets the highest payload capacity, too capable of hauling 4,282 lbs to the 2500's 3,323 lb capacity. But where the Savana struts its stuff is with the mammoth towing abilities it presents. Equip either the 2500 or the 3500 with correct trailering equipment and the 6.0-liter V8 and you're set to tow up to 10,000 lbs, more than any other rival is capable of.
The 0 to 60mph times between the different models range between 8.5 and ten seconds, which isn't particularly quick, but isn't bad either. Unfortunately, though, the performance on offer comes at the expense of easy driving practicality.
Three engines are available for the GMC Savana, with both the 2500 and 3500 fitted as standard with a 4.3-liter V6 developing 276 horsepower and 298 lb-ft mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Two optional engines are available, a 2.8-liter Duramax diesel four-cylinder with 181 hp and 369 lb-ft mated to the same eight-speed auto or a 6.0-liter behemoth of a V8 developing 341 hp and 373 lb-ft, capable of running on regular gasoline or flex-fuel, and paired with a heavy-duty six-speed automatic gearbox.
If you're to access the Savana's true potential, you'll want the V8, with enough torque to move a house and its adjacent properties. It's responsive to throttle inputs and easily gets up to highway speeds, even if it is fully loaded or towing the full allocation of 10,000 lbs behind it. The diesel doesn't do too badly, either, giving good torque and decent gas mileage, while the base V6 is capable enough but lacks the outright dominance when it comes to towing. Regardless of engine choice, though, you're never able to escape the lack of refinement - the Savana is a workhorse first and foremost.
Getting into the Savana feels like going back in time to the nineties, but the Savana is a workhorse and not a prized show stallion, and can still get the job done. The 6.0 liter V8 has a rumbling sound and gives the Savana a great feel on the freeway with its copious power. Unfortunately, the body-on-frame design of the Savana isn't designed for driving performance and provides the Savana with a very unstable feel when traveling at speed, with a constant shuffling sensation at play.
Most work vans aren't bought for their phenomenal driving dynamics and excellent handling, and the Savana is no different. The ride is bouncy and unpredictable, and thanks to its high stance, it has excessive body roll when cornering. Turning into tight spaces and parking is also hindered by the unnecessarily large turning circle, made worse by heavy, vague steering that takes an eon to respond.
Overall the Savana feels like the big van that it is and it takes some practice getting used to the length and dimensions when trying to maneuver it through traffic. It doesn't offer up the minivan-like ride some competitors do, but who needs comfort when you have capability?
As with any work van, gas mileage can play an important part when selecting an engine because most companies want to get the best performance for the lowest price, while still being able to fulfill their needs. But there are no EPA estimates for the Savana, and neither GMC or Chevrolet has released claims for the Savana and Express. Don't expect miracles, though, it's big and the engineering is old, and we expect 13/18 mpg city/highway from the standard V6 engine. Regardless of engine choice, the Savana is equipped with a 31-gallon fuel tank.
Old and utilitarian, dominated by harsh plastics and with limited space due to the large engines intruding into the footwells, the Savana is not a particularly comfortable environment for the driver and single passenger. Fortunately, it should be durable, though, and there's some level of customization available with touchscreen infotainment to be found on the options list. Many buyers won't care for the cabin, though, as long as the cargo bay gets the job done. But with only one roof height and just two two wheelbase options, the dimensions are limiting too, while a below-average cargo area might be a deal-breaker for those in the market for a cargo van.
In cargo van guise, there's just seating for two up front, and despite chunky proportions, space is somewhat limited by the giant bulge between the two occupants - am old school trait of yesteryear as a result of the engine protruding into the cabin. It's not particularly comfortable in the cabin - space constraints aside, and the seats aren't particularly comfortable for long-distance trips. At least the controls are laid out logically, even if the chunky dash makes every attempt to convince you that the Savana really is 23 years old. The steering wheel is fixed by default, with tilt adjustment only optionally available through the $395 Driver Convenience Package. The Savana Cargo can be optionally equipped with a second row of three seats, but accommodation on the rear bench isn't very comfortable either.
The dashboard features matt black hard plastic as its dominant theme. The dated design has lots of cheap-feeling black plastic buttons, with only a tiny bit of chrome accents on some of the knobs. The multifunction steering has fake chrome accents, which is a pleasant distraction from the dull black, and also has the option to be leather-covered. In standard configuration, the drab appearance is compounded by the lack of a color screen infotainment unit with an old-style dot matrix unit. The only two upholstery colors for the vinyl seating are Medium Pewter and Neutral, but the seats can be upgraded to cloth for an extra $70.
The cargo bay is the make or break aspect for many buyers, however, and in this regard, the Savana is disappointing at best. With only one roof height, those climbing in or out will need to stoop, and with only two wheelbases, there isn't much configurability here either. The Savana has only 239.7 cubic feet of space in the regular wheelbase derivative, while the extended model has 284.4 cubic feet of space, which is well below what more versatile rivals are offering. It's easy enough to load, though, with a load floor height of only 27.8 inches. Swing doors are practical and durable, too, while the side cargo door is available as a sliding item. The inside of the cargo bay is rubberized as standard and six D-ring tie-downs help tether loads in place.
In addition to the main cargo area, the Savana also has a glove box, as well as front door pockets and front cupholders, which are large and practical.
The Savana is very sparse when it comes to features, with very few standard features, and the rest as optional extras. The standard features include air conditioning, 12-volt power outlets, a 120-volt outlet, 4G WiFi hotspot capability, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power windows, and a rearview camera. Optional features aren't exactly spectacular but do include a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a six-way power-adjustable passenger seat, remote start, keyless entry, cruise control, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and blind-spot detection.
Infotainment is another area where the Savana falls short. The standard infotainment unit is an AM/FM stereo with and MP3 Player and two speakers only. A USB port is available for $100, and added CD capability costs $100. A 6.5-inch display with navigation is also available for the price of $1,025, and even Bluetooth comes at a $50 premium. SiriusXM Satellite Radio and Sirius XM NavTraffic are also extras. Needless to say, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't available.
Most work vans don't excel in cutting edge technology, but the Savana lags behind competitors like the Nissan NV cargo, which at least comes with a seven-inch color display, Bluetooth, and a USB port as standard, while the Ford Transit gives buyers the option of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The 2019 GMC Savana hasn't received any complaints, but a recall was issued for 2019 models for the rear-quarter glass being made out of tempered glass instead of laminated glass, thereby increasing the risk of injury in an accident. The Savana comes with a three-year/36,000 mile basic warranty, a drivetrain warranty of five years/60,000 miles, and a rust and corrosion warranty of six-years/100,000 miles. It also has roadside assistance for five-years/60,000 miles.
The Savana is generally regarded as a robust and reliable work van that's proved itself over the years.
There is currently no crash safety information regarding the Savana from either the NHTSA or the IIHS.
Even for a work van, the Savana has very basic standard safety features, as well as some optional driver aids. The standard equipment includes a rearview camera and dual front airbags, with side airbags relegated to the options list. It also has a tire pressure monitor, stability control, traction control, and four-wheel ABS. Lane departure warning, forward collision alert, and blind-spot detection are optional extras, as are rear park sensors
If the year was 1999, the Savana would be right up at the top of our recommended cargo vans list. But a lot has changed in the 23 years since the Savana first went on sale, and the competition has all moved with the times while the Savana simply feels archaic. There's a lot going against the Savana, like a cramped, ill-equipped cabin, truck-like driving dynamics, and extremely limited practicality with the single roof height. But there still remain areas in which the Savana is king of all cargo vans. At a starting price of $31,900, it's also cheaper than rivals like the Ford Transit Van and Mercedes Sprinter, and with both a diesel and a 6.0-liter V8 engine available, with class-leading towing capacity, the Savana will be hauling loads long after the competition has given up.
The Savana can get the job done when it comes to moving stuff, but there are far better options, all of which are more refined.
The Savana Cargo Van comes in two trims, the 2500 and 3500, each with the option of an extended wheelbase. The 2500 starts at an MSRP of $31,900 for the standard model with the V6 engine, which goes up to $33,800 for the extended model. The 3500 starts at $35,000, then climbs to $35,800 for the extended model. These prices exclude licensing, taxes, and registration fees, as well as the destination charge of $1,195. Then the engine options add an extra layer to the pricing structure, with the V8 adding $995 to the asking price, flex-fuel capability adding $300 on top of that, and the diesel engine adding $4,070 to the base derivative's price.
The 2019 Savana Cargo Van comes in two main trims: 2500 and 3500.
Both are offered in standard and long-wheelbase guise, and both boast a 4.3-liter V6 engine and an eight-speed automatic gearbox by default, with optional V8 and diesel four-cylinder alternatives available.
The 2500 is the entry-level model and comes with air conditioning and an AM/FM radio with an MP3 player. The optional extras include remote start, cruise control, a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a six-way power-adjustable passenger seat, keyless entry, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and blind-spot detection.
The 3500 is similar to the 2500 but has a larger load capacity, and therefore has an upgraded suspension and axle configuration. It also comes with an AM/FM radio with an MP3 player and air conditioning.
As barebones as the Savan is, it can be upgraded by means of packages and standalone options.
The Hotel Shuttle Package is a $1,330 option which includes swing-out rear cargo doors, a swing-out rear side door and rear door windows, tinted glass, and a window security bar. The Chrome Appearance Package, at $355, includes a chrome grille and chrome front and rear bumpers. Lastly, the Driver Convenience Package adds cruise control and a tilting steering wheel.
In addition to the packages, a range of standalone options are available, too. Rear park assist is the most notable extra at $295, while buyers might also be interested in a 6.5-inch navigation system for $1,025, cloth seats for $70, and a six-way power driver's seat for $275. A few safety features are optional, too, such as forward collision alert for $295 and blind-spot monitoring for $395.
When it comes to vans, you ultimately buy based on your specific needs. But if you're even contemplating a GMC Savana then it means you need supreme hauling power. As such, we suggest the 3500 extended wheelbase with the 6.0-liter Vortec V8 and the optional heavy-duty trailering equipment. We'd also suggest adding the Driver Convenience Package, rear park assist, navigation system, and blind-spot monitoring, taking the asking price to $39,880.
The GMC Savana has been around since way back in 1996, while the current Ford Transit Van was introduced in 2015 and is much more modern. It shows. The Transit offers buyers a range of body configurations with various roof heights and body lengths offering huge amounts of versatility. It's three engines are pretty potent and refined too, and while it may be nearly 3,000 lbs short on towing capacity, it's far more pleasant to drive than the Savanna. It boasts more features too. Really, unless you need to tow 10,000 lbs, buy the Transit.
For 2019 the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is all-new, and Mercedes' constant evolution of their work van shows in a product that feels almost as easy to drive as the Metris minivan, while still offering most of the ability of the Savana. It feels more modern, too, with an MBUX infotainment interface, advanced safety aids, and a pliant ride, while the option of all-wheel-drive is unique to the Sprinter. It may be more expensive, but the two turbo-diesel offerings in the Sprinter are more refined, even if lacking the outright grunt of the Savana's optional V8. The Sprinter makes the Savana feel 30 years old in every aspect.