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The Chevy Sportvan is gone, long live the Chevy Express. This is the newest full-size van on the market, all new from the ground up after a 25-year wait, and for Chevrolet, it's a chance to catch up to the Ford competition. That's because this is the first Chevrolet full-size van to have body-on-frame construction, after a quarter of a century of welded unitbody design that's difficult and expensive to modify for aftermarket use. Body-on-frame design is stronger and quieter due to better isolation from road inputs, and more durable, generally speaking, than unit body design.
The all-new Chevy Express offers a great many advantages over the aging competition. There are two wheelbases, 135- and the extended 155-inch model, ten inches longer than the outgoing model and vastly longer than either the Ford or the Dodge wheelbase offerings, and the standard 135-inch wheelbase van is almost 15 inches longer overall than the Sportvan it replaces, fractionally lower and fractionally narrower. The move to a body-on-frame construction and a longer wheelbase means the Chevrolet Express will hold a great deal more than before and will ride down the highway much more comfortably than its predecessor.
The rear doors are designed with new hidden hinges that allow the doors to swing completely away from the cargo opening, so that even wide loads easily slide in. A second and important part to the door design story is that the doors are cut away on their upper halves to mate with the high-position body-mounted stop and turn signal lamps. The high-mount lamps can thus be easily seen by motorists even when the van doors are open, which we think is a significant safety innovation. The standard side-door configuration is a set of 60/40 swing-open doors, but a long sliding door design is a no-cost option on 135-inch wheelbase models, and we think most families will want that option.
Inside, there is a brand new instrument panel that's typical of Chevrolet's latest ergonomic thinking for trucks, and we think their thinking is excellent in this area. All the gauges are well placed, easy to read and easy to use, and there's an extra 12-volt accessory plug, standard. Interior materials are first-rate.
Other innovations on the Chevy Express include a full-size spare tire stored underneath the rear bumper to add to usable interior space, and a monster 31-gallon fuel tank.
Dual air bags and four-wheel ABS brakes are standard equipment, as is a Vortec 4.3-liter V-6 engine and 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The optional engine lineup includes 5.0-, 5.7- and 7.4-liter gasoline V-8s, all redone for 1996 for more power and torque, as well as a brand new engine offering, a 6.5-liter turbodiesel for those who must have a combination of pulling power and long-term operating economy. This is an extremely broad range of engine choices for business and personal-use customers. The torque parade starts with the 5.0-liter's 285 foot-pounds and runs up to 410 foot-pounds for the 7.4-liter V8, more than enough to easily tow around an 8000-pound trailer load.
We think the new Chevy Express is a dream come true for the Chevrolet faithful. It's got a terrific combination of comfort, convenience, space, and power wrapped in a crisp new design that may not be around for 26 years like the old Sportvan, but it will be with us for a long time to come.