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One of a handful of remaining full-size vans, the Savana 1500 follows an engineering formula established more than 40 years ago. It's essentially a long-wheelbase truck with a tall, fully enclosed body that provides cavernous room for people and cargo. Since most families don't need this level of size and ruggedness, consumers switched to minivans and SUVs long ago, and now the crossover is taking their place in suburban driveways.
It's the commercial sector that keeps the genre alive, from cable TV installers to caterers and urban couriers. The passenger model is still on the roster, and can be equipped with most civilian conveniences, but only accounts for a sliver of the Savana's overall sales volume -- about a third of the nearly identical Chevrolet Express.
Because full-size vans are called upon to perform all sorts of duties, the option list is almost as long as the Savana itself. In these days of abundant standard equipment and multi-feature bundles, it's about as close to a build-it-yourself vehicle as you can get.
The cargo model starts out in an austere way with a 195-horsepower 4.3 V6, two vinyl seats in front, air conditioning (which can be deleted for credit), and sound system components such as speakers and an antenna -- but no actual radio. From that basic point, you can order all-wheel drive, a 310-horsepwer 5.3-liter V8, different audio setups with or without navigation, full power accessories, a rearview camera, more power outlets, various fixtures for the massive cargo bay, and a passel of other features, from the mundane to the highly specialized. All Savanas carry a four-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode.
The passenger model comes with the V8 standard and eight-passenger seating, which can be bumped to 12. To make the interior environment more amenable to human occupants, it carries "comforts" such an AM/FM stereo, cloth headliner and visors, and child seat anchors. For families who must have something of this size, GMC offers most of what you could get on a modern crossover, including power front seats in premium cloth, remote start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio and rear climate control.
With the Ford E-Series about to leave the retail market, the Savana and its Chevrolet twin will be the only big American vans available to consumers. They persist because automakers have yet to concoct a modern replacement. The Savana continues to fill a market niche where no other type of vehicle can get the job done.
The entry-level passenger version of the Savana carries a standard 5.3-liter V8, full-body windows and seating for eight. The LS also runs with 17-inch steel wheels, an AM/FM stereo, air conditioning, vinyl front bucket seats, rubberized floor covering, cloth headliner and visors, auxiliary power outlets, and OnStar telematics.
All models are equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode, and all-wheel drive is available. The long option list includes numerous power accessories and mechanical upgrades.
With enhanced trim and accessories, the Savana LT is the natural choice for personal use. The exterior benefits from composite halogen headlamps and chromed bumpers, wheel center caps and grille surround. Inside are premium cloth front seats, full carpeting, and power windows and locks.
Other upgrades include rear air conditioning and heating, a deluxe front console with storage bin, keyless entry, cruise control, additional interior lighting, tilt wheel and a 145-amp alternator. For all of this, the LT is priced only $2,300 higher than the LS.
Snazzier interior, available V10, on its final lap.
Identical in every way except the bow tie-emblem.
Modern and efficient, new passenger model coming, not designed for serious towing.
Powerful available V8, endless seating arrangements, no all-wheel drive option.