There arenít many new vehicles that are almost 25 years old. The GMC Savana van is, in fact, the only one.
If, of course, you donít count its Chevy-badged cousin, the Express.
Both of these full-size vans havenít changed much since 1996 - because why would they? No one else makes vans like them anymore: Body-on-frame construction, 12-15 passenger capacity and a big V8 instead of a turbo four . . . or a turbodiesel four . . . or a V6, without a turbo.
Ether one offers your pick of all three.
And none of the others do.
What It Is
The Savana van is GMCís version of the Chevy Express van. Both are far-from-being mini vans. They are also unlike any other vans currently on the market.
Their heavy-duty layout layout enables them to carry more passengers and pull more cargo than sort-of rivals like the Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster - while being much less pricey than the rugged but high-dollar Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van.
Prices start at $32,000 for the base version of the GMC van - topping out at $35,900.
Whatís New
Though the van itself is largely the same as it was back in í96 - in terms of how itís built and how it looks - it offers things that werenít available back in í96, including the now-available Corvette-derived 6.0 liter V8 and the almost-as-powerful (but much less thirsty) 2.8 liter turbo-diesel engine.
And the 2020 comes standard with things inconceivable back in í96, such as in-vehicle WiFi. And - optionally - Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision alert.
Whatís Good
Rear-wheel-drive/body-on-frame.
Nothing else can carry as many - and pull as much - for as little.
Almost endlessly configurable.
Whatís Not so Good
No high-roof option (Sprinter and ProMaster offer this).
Tilt wheel costs extra.
Turbo-diesel engine costs a lot extra ($3,995).
Under The Hood
The Savana comes standard with a 4.3 liter V6 that makes 276 horsepower - almost as much power as a V8 and much more power than comes standard in other large vans like the the Mercedes Sprinter, which comes standard with a turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder that makes 188 horsepower.
The 4.3 V6 engine actually is a V8 - or at least, was.
It's a small-bock Chevy V8, less two cylinders - but the same architecture. It's a simple, overhead valve (and two-valve) pushrod engine, 90 degree cylinder banks and a timing chain (not belt). If you want a long-lived, low-maintenance engine, this one's it.
You can upgrade any Savana trim to either a 6.0 liter V8 that makes 341 horsepower and 373 ft.-lbs. of torque or a 2.8 liter turbo-diesel four that makes nearly the same torque as the V8 (369 ft.-lbs.) but much at much lower engine RPM and with less appetite.
Also available - a compressed natural gas (CNG) version of the V8.
This van can pull as much as 7,400 lbs. - substantially more than all the other large vans except for the Mercedes Sprinter - which can pull 7,500 lbs. - but only when equipped with its optional (and also a lot extra) 3.0 liter turbodiesel V6.
The 4.3 V6 and the 2.8 liter turbodiesel both come standard with eight speed automatics; the V8 is paired with a six-speed automatic.
Mileage ranges from 11 city, 16 highway for V8 models to about twice that for turbodiesel models. But do all the math before you pick the diesel over the V8, which uses more gas but costs about $2,500 less to buy. On the other hand, the diesel should cost less over the long haul because it should haul for longer.
It may also be the best choice for in-city/stop-and-go service because of its tremendous low-speed torque. The V8 makes big torque as well - but not until higher speed (RPM) which means more revving.
On The Road
All the vans in this class are long; the Savana (and its Chevy-badged cousin) are the only ones that are quick.
Equipped with the optionally available 6.0 liter V8, the Savana gets a dozen people to 60 more quickly than anything else that can carry that many people. Zero to 60 in seven seconds. That is quicker than several sports cars - for example, the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 twins, which aren't that quick.
Which is slightly embarrassing . . . for the twins.
Even with the standard V6, the Savana isnít slow - as its sort-of rivals, equipped with their standard engines, are.
There is also much to be said about the insulating effect of a body that is bolted to a frame - with a dozen rubber biscuits sandwiched in between. This layout used to be the signature. layout of luxury sedans. Nowadays, almost everything else is welded-together body-and-frame (unibody) which makes for a more rigid end product and less forgiving ride.
The driver sits pretty far forward relative to the hood, which makes this 244 inch-long vehicle seem not as long as it actually is. But itís still almost four feet longer overall than a current full-sized minivan, such as Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey.
So, look twice - and one more time - before you back up.
At The Curb
Size matters - if you want to carry all your friends (or everything) at once, without needing another van - or another trip.
Those 244 inches of length translate into 252.2 cubic feet of interior space; almost twice the space of a current full-sized Sienna or Odyssey. Even with seats in place, the Savanaís available cargo space is almost as much as the Siennaís or Odysseyís without their seats in place (127.2 cubic feet).
The Savanaís more direct rivals - like the Benz Sprinter and the Ram ProMaster - are comparable roomy and offer ďhigh roofĒ options that make it possible to stand upright in them, which is something the Savana doesnít offer.
But the trade-off there is capability - and expense. The Ram canít match the Savanaís towing capabilities - or rugged build layout.
The Benz canít match the price - for comparable capabilities.
The Rest
A curious thing is that the Chevy-badged version of this van costs more than the GMC iteration - $34,900 to start. Itís curios because GMC is the more prestigious brand within the GM hierarchy and GMC models are usually a little nicer and offer additional amenities you canít get in the Chevy-badged version of the same thing.
The Savana is an exception to that rule.
The Bottom Line
Thereís literally nothing else you can buy new thatís like the Savana - or the Express - which is probably why they have been able to get away with making the same thing for the past 25 years.