by Gabe Beita Kiser
There aren't too many model lines in the automotive world that can maintain relevancy over two decades after being launched, but the GMC Savana Passenger Van is one such anomaly. Of course, there have been numerous updates through the years, but this is essentially the same body-on-frame van that has been moving groups of people around since the mid-nineties. In its current form, the Savana is available in two load ratings, two trims, and two wheelbase lengths, and can seat up to 15 people. The only limitation is the standard roof height, where rivals like the Ford Transit offer three different roof heights. The GMC also doesn't ride as smoothly as more modern rivals, but thankfully, there are three powerful engines available - including a 341-horsepower V8 - along with towing and payload ratings that remain competitive. Dated it may be, but the tried-and-tested Savana still does exactly what you expect of it.
GMC has done its best to bring the Savana into the 21st century, and for 2019, that includes the availability of new driver-assist safety features. Lane departure warning and forward collision warning are now available, with these technologies most welcome on a van that can transport up to 15 people.
See trim levels and configurations:
4.3L V6 Gas
4.3L V6 Gas
4.3L V6 Gas
4.3L V6 Gas
There's nothing about the Savana's exterior that you wouldn't have seen before. This no-frills people-mover has 16-inch steel wheels, black manual exterior mirrors, and swing-out rear cargo doors. A passenger-side sliding door is an option, while higher trims get chrome bumpers and a chrome grille. Daytime running lamps and a rearview camera are standard across the range.
While the 2500 is only available with a 135-inch wheelbase, the 3500 is optionally available with a 155-inch wheelbase. The Savana's length is, therefore, either 224.1 inches or 244.1 inches depending on the chosen wheelbase. Width without the side mirrors is common to every variant at 79.2 inches. Height varies between 82.9 inches for the 3500 with the longer wheelbase to 83.9 inches for the 2500. Ground clearance in front varies between 8.8 inches for the 3500 with the long wheelbase, to 11 inches for standard wheelbase variants, and 7.7/7.1 inches at the back for the same models, respectively. Step up height is 19.4 inches in front and 19.8 inches at the side.
At the time of writing, curb weight was not available for every configuration/trim, but the 3500 with a regular wheelbase weighs 6,083 pounds, and the 3500 with an extended wheelbase comes in at 6,419 lbs.
The Savana's rather limited color palette extends to six shades, regardless of the chosen trim. Three are standard - Cardinal Red, Summit White, and Onyx Black - while three premium metallic shades cost $495 each. These are Quicksilver, Marine Blue and Dark Sky. None of these color choices can really hide the Savana's age, but the Summit White does make it look distinctly like a cargo van, so we'd go for any of the other choices.
As the Savana is capable of carrying up to 15 people, GMC has wisely provided a range of engines that are well up to the job. The standard engine is a 4.3-liter V6 with outputs of 276 horsepower and 298 lb-ft of torque, with power going to the rear wheels exclusively. When unladen, the engine provides enough power for the van to hit 60 mph in around 8.5 seconds.
For even more power, two 6.0-liter V8 engines are optional (one being able to run on both gas and CNG/LPG), but both engines have a substantial 341 hp and 373 lb-ft, eclipsing the Ford Transit's EcoBoost V6, which has 310 hp. There's also a 2.8-liter turbodiesel with 181 hp and 369 lb-ft. The V8 takes just over seven seconds to hit 60 mph and has no trouble providing brisk performance, even with passengers on board. The diesel is also capable, thanks to good torque output. Like most competitors, the Savana is rear-wheel-drive, although the Ram Promaster Window Van bucks that trend by sending power to the front wheels.
Towing capacity is excellent for the segment, with the Savana's maximum trailer weight being up to 9,600 pounds on the 2500 series model equipped with the V8 engine. Payload for the 3500 model with the regular wheelbase works out to around 3,500 pounds and approximately 2,500 lbs for the 2500 variant.
There are no weak engines in the Savana's range. The 4.3-liter V6 produces 276 hp and 298 lb-ft, the 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel has outputs of 181 hp and 369 lb-ft, and the 6.0-liter V8 a powerful 341 hp and 373 lb-ft. These are competitive power outputs for the segment. While the V6 and turbodiesel are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the V8 gets a six-speed auto.
The V6 performs well and provides adequate acceleration from a standing start, while easily holding its own at the legal limit on the highway. At higher speeds, the V8 proves its mettle with good responsiveness and quite a bit more bite than the V6. Whether loaded with passengers or not, the V8 has lots of grunt in reserve, which makes passing slower traffic easier. The diesel's high torque figure also improves passing power and, even if it can't match the V8 off the line, it provides the best blend of everyday performance and efficiency. The V8's six-speed auto has a tow/haul mode and cruise grade braking, which downshifts automatically to slow down the Savana if the cruise control limit is exceeded when going downhill.
It is worth noting that there are two 6.0-liter V8 engines: a Vortec variant and a version capable of running on both gasoline and compressed natural gas (CNG)/liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
While competitors like the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Transit have unibody architecture, the Savana's age is exposed with its body-on-frame construction. It, unfortunately, shows in the GMC's dynamics, which are no longer up to scratch. The large dimensions feel that way on the road, with vague steering that doesn't inspire much confidence. A wide turning circle and considerable body roll are notable. There's also not much compliance to the Savana's hard ride, and it can feel particularly harsh when unladen - with a full complement of passengers on board, matters do improve slightly, but a Mercedes Sprinter does a much better job of isolating occupants from bumps and noises. Even though ride and handling expectations aren't high in the passenger van segment, the Savana does feel like it has fallen behind the pack.
EPA-rated figures are not available for the 2019 Savana, but it's safe to say that the big van isn't thrifty when it comes to consumption. You can expect around 13/18/15 mpg from the V6-engined variants according to real-world owner reports, which equates to a combined driving range of around 465 miles from a 31-gallon gas tank. Expect the V8's consumption to be higher than this, with one owner reporting a heavy 10.3 mpg in 2,293 miles of highway driving.
A big, blocky, and plasticky dashboard faces the driver, again giving away the Savana's age. It's all quite utilitarian, with little attempt by GMC to make this van feel like anything more than a no-nonsense people-hauler. Major and minor controls are easy enough to understand, but as the Savana is light on features, there's not much to adjust, anyway. A giant center engine console cover with three integrated cup holders is useful but somehow manages to make the driver feel a bit confined. Standard features on the base trim include air-conditioning front and rear, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power windows, and vinyl front bucket seats, with cloth available on the LT.
All Savana models seat 12 people as standard. With four rows, there is a 2-3-3-4 seating configuration. Extended-wheelbase models can optionally seat 15 in a 2-3-3-3-4 configuration, which is better than what most other vans can offer. Headroom is good once you are seated, but the driver and front passenger don't have the most spacious footwells. Visibility is fine generally, although the twin rear cargo doors are harder to see out of than one rear window, and finding a comfortable driving position is made challenging by a steering wheel that only tilts - and only on the 3500 and/or LT models (this is an option on the 2500 LS).
Accessing the rear seats is done via the swing-open side door on the passenger side, which isn't quite as practical as the optional sliding door in tight spaces. Ingress and egress are quite good, although, without the option of a high roof, taller passengers will have to duck down low as they make their way to their seats. Access is easier in rows two and three, with the two rows at the back (on 15-seater variants) requiring a bit more of a squeeze. Legroom for all passengers is decent, although seating is basic, with flat benches and no headrests for those not in front.
LS trim means vinyl front bucket seats and rubberized vinyl floor covering. While far from luxurious, it does also mean the interior will be durable and easier to keep clean. Go for the LT, and you get custom cloth front bucket seats and carpeted flooring. These cost an extra $255 and $185, respectively, on the LS. You won't be spending any time choosing your interior color, as Medium Pewter is all that's available. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is optional on all models and will add $185 to the final price.
The Savana's passengers can bring their luggage along for the ride, too. With the seats in place, there's 92.1 cubic feet of cargo space available in the short-wheelbase variants, and 127.2 cubes for versions with the extended wheelbase. Up to 252.8 cubes of space can be freed up by removing the seats from the extended-wheelbase variant, making for a perfectly capable cargo van.
Small-item storage is provided for by three cup holders for the driver and front-seat passenger, while the LT trim gets a deluxe front console with a swing-out storage bin. Other than cup holders for rear passengers, there aren't many more options for stashing small items.
Don't expect too much in the way of creature comforts, but go for the top trim for some extras that improve comfort and convenience. Standard items on the LS trim include a 12-volt power outlet, an eight-point digital compass, a rearview camera, manual air-conditioning front and rear, a driver information center, front and side window defoggers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and power windows. The LT adds cruise control, newly available forward collision alert and lane departure warning, remote keyless entry and theft alert notification. Most of the LT's extras are optional on the LS. Optional on both trims are six-way power front seats and remote start.
It's pretty basic stuff from the Savana, with newer rivals again outdoing it for interior tech. To start with, the AM/FM stereo with MP3 only has two front-door speakers, so passengers at the back will be better off throwing on some earphones with their portable devices. This basic sound system also has an auxiliary jack, while a USB port and Bluetooth for audio playback are only options. Further options are SiriusXM NavTraffic for real-time traffic updates and a SiriusXM radio trial. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration aren't available at all.
What you do get is a standard 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, along with OnStar and GMC Connected Services, with easy access to emergency services when you need it. A 6.5-inch color touchscreen with GPS-based navigation is an option. It includes voice-activated radio and phone functionality, and does a lot to make the Savana feel more up to date. That said, it's not as slick and fast as infotainment systems in other GMC products.
While J.D. Power hasn't rated the GMC Savana Passenger Van, there have been quite a few recalls - spanning multiple model years - that have been issued by the NHTSA and are worth noting. For 2019 models, a recall was prompted for a delay with the seatbelt warning reminder, leading to the driver potentially forgetting to fasten his or her seatbelt. Both 2019 and 2018 models were also recalled for a backup camera image that could be reversed, and rear-quarter window glass that could be tempered instead of laminated, increasing the risk of injury in an accident. For 2016-2018 models, a climate control module that overheats could result in a fire hazard. 2018 models also had a fault with the tire pressure warning system, which could warn the driver of a problem at the wrong time. Models from 2009-2018 were found to have potentially faulty fire extinguishers which become clogged. 2014-2017 models additionally had an issue where liquid could leak into the power window switch, increasing the risk of a fire.
Should anything go wrong, the GMC Savana is covered by a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain/drivetrain limited warranty. Qualified fleet purchases have higher mileage coverage for the powertrain/drivetrain, set at 100,000 miles. Roadside assistance is for five years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first, or 100,000 miles in the case of qualified fleet purchases. Corrosion protection runs for three years or 36,000 miles, with six-year/100,000-mile rust-through coverage.
With no safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Savana's crashworthiness is unknown.
The Savana has dual-front airbags, side-impact airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger, and head-curtain airbags providing protection for occupants seated in the first three rows. Other standard safety features are daytime running lamps, hill start assist, a LATCH system for installing a child seat, a tire pressure monitoring system, a rearview camera, and StabiliTrak - this system includes traction control and trailer sway control.
Modern driver-assist technologies have appreciably found their way onto the Savana, with forward collision alert and lane departure warning being standard on the LT and optional on the LS. Rear park assist and blind-spot monitoring are available.
Objectively, the GMC Savana Passenger Van is outclassed in several key areas by newer competitors like the Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Between the dated infotainment interface, the unpleasant ride, and the lack of a high-roof option, one can draw up a long list of the ways in which the Savana has fallen behind. But regardless of the on-paper figures and what things feel like from behind the wheel, there is still a market out there for a trusted, no-frills passenger van with plenty of power. With three really strong engines, excellent towing capacities, and the ability to seat 15 people, the Savana ticks off many of the basics required of a hard-working van. We also appreciate GMC's decision to add driver-assist safety equipment to the old stager. Along with the closely-related Chevrolet Express, these vans keep getting a new lease on life, but how much longer can they survive?
The range starts off with the 2500 LS which carries an MSRP of $34,900. Next is the 2500 LT at $36,500. The 3500 LS costs $37,200 and the 3500 LT works out to $38,400.
While a 4.3-liter V6 with an eight-speed automatic is standard across the range, upgrading to the 6.0-liter V8 Vortec with a heavy-duty six-speed automatic will cost $995. For another $300 on top of that, you can get the 6.0-liter that is gaseous CNG/LPG-capable. The 2.8-liter turbodiesel is the priciest engine upgrade, costing $3,995 over the standard 4.3-liter V6.
Finally, the 3500 series is also available with a long wheelbase - this upgrade costs $800 over an equivalent 3500 with the regular wheelbase. The priciest GMC Savana Passenger Van is the 3500 LT with the extended wheelbase and the diesel engine, which will set you back $43,195.
All prices are exclusive of tax, licensing, registration, and a destination freight charge of $1,195.
The GMC Savana Passenger Van range comprises four models: 2500 LS, 2500 LT, 3500 LS, and 3500 LT. All models are fitted with an eight-speed automatic and rear-wheel-drive as standard, along with a 4.3-liter V6 producing 276 horsepower and 298 lb-ft of torque. Three engine upgrades are available: a 6.0-liter V8, a 6.0-liter V8 that is gaseous CNG/LPG-capable, and a 2.8-liter turbodiesel.
The 2500 LS kicks off the range and, as with the 2500 LT, is only available with a regular wheelbase and a GVWR of 8,600 pounds. Standard equipment on the LS includes air-conditioning front and rear, 12-passenger seating, vinyl front bucket seats, power windows, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and a rearview camera. The 2500 LT adds remote keyless entry, cloth front bucket seats, cruise control, and advanced safety features in the form of forward collision alert and lane departure warning.
The 3500 LS and 3500 LT have a maximum GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) of 9,900 lbs as well as the option of an extended wheelbase. The 3500 LS largely matches the 2500 LS' feature-count but includes the Driver Convenience Package as standard (with cruise control and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel). The 3500 LT otherwise matches the 2500 LT's list of features. With the seats removed, the 3500 with the extended wheelbase provides a vast 252.8 cubic feet of cargo space.
Several packages are available to add more features to the fairly basic Savana. Only available on the 2500 LS, the Driver Convenience Package adds $395 to the basic price and fits cruise control and a tilting steering wheel. It's not often that a 6.0-liter V8 engine gets bundled into packages, but that's exactly what GMC has done with several of the upgrades for the 2500 LS with the base engine. So, the Communications Package goes for $2,090 and includes the V8, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth audio streaming, and 12 months of GM Commercial Link. The Safety Package costs $2,315 and also includes the V8 upgrade, along with rear park assist, blind-spot monitoring, powered and heated outside mirrors, and cruise control. Similarly priced is the Enhanced Convenience Package at $2,380, with the V8 engine, remote keyless entry, remote start, heavy-duty trailering equipment and cruise control all included. By comparison, the 2500 LT's sole package is the $100 Cold Climate Package, which includes an engine block heater.
There are many standalone options and accessories. Outside, heavy-duty trailering equipment costs $280, an automatic locking rear differential is $325, and chrome treatment for the bumpers and grille (on the LS) costs $355. The GMC infotainment system with navigation and a 6.5-inch touchscreen costs $1,025. A six-way power driver's seat is $275 and remote start is $300. The safety features which are standard on the LT can be added to the LS, with forward collision alert (which automatically adds lane departure warning) being $295 and blind-spot monitoring going for $395.
For the long wheelbase 3500, 15-passenger seating is a $475 upgrade.
Choosing between the 2500 and 3500 will come down to how much you need to tow or whether you need a higher load rating. Fortunately, no matter which engine option you go for, the Savana doesn't feel underpowered - the V8 is the most pleasant drive, but it's heavy on gas.
While the LT trim's additional features and less basic interior trim are welcome, there's more customization available - as well as a small cost saving if you spec carefully - with the LS via one of GMC's many optional packages. For instance, a 2500 LT with the V8 engine will cost you $37,495. However, a 2500 LS with the Safety Package (including the V8 upgrade) is $37,215, and throws in blind-spot monitoring and rear park assist, both of which aren't standard on the LT. If you'll be doing a lot of the driving yourself, the $1,025 infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, while not the slickest system around, is also a worthy upgrade. Whatever you decide, it's worth spending enough time sifting through the various packages and standalone options to decide which extras are priorities for you.
The GMC and Chevrolet are essentially the same van, with the major difference being the badges on the nose and one or two minor styling differences. They cost the same, have the same trim lines, and even share the same shade of interior cloth. Of course, this means that the Express also shares the Savana's weaknesses: a harsh ride, the lack of a high roof option, and a dated infotainment system holds both vans back from competing with newer competitors. Upon purchase, you'll notice that the Express has a $100 cheaper destination charge - which is about all that separates these two.
While the Transit doesn't have the power or maximum towing capacity of the Savana, it's difficult to find another area in which the Ford isn't the easy winner in this comparison. It probably helps that the Transit was introduced to the market nearly two decades after the Savana. An endless amount of seating configurations, as well as a 15-seater option and three roof heights, mean that there is a Ford Transit to suit every need. The Ford's interior is also a world apart from the GMC's, with better materials, more features, and the availability of Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system. Plus, the Ford is both more pleasant to drive and be driven in, with a more compliant suspension and the benefits that come with its more modern unibody construction. It's a cakewalk for the Ford.
The most popular competitors of 2019 GMC Savana Passenger Van: