By Keith Buglewicz
The reality is that the aging GMC Savana has been surpassed when it comes to people- and cargo-carrying duties. Newer vans from Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and even Ford offer new architecture with more interior space and better fuel economy. However, the 2015 GMC Savana offers up some big advantages of its own. First, it's considerably less expensive than those newer vans, especially the Mercedes-Benz. Second, that it has been around forever means there's a ton of aftermarket parts for customization, or "up-fitting." You can get passenger, cargo or "cutaway" versions, and all-wheel drive (AWD) is available with some of the many engine combinations. It's also one of the few vans that can carry up to 15 people right from the factory.
If your daily commute involves carrying plumbing and electrical equipment, a house-load of furniture, or an entire Little League team, you're going to love driving the Savana every day. As easy to drive as it is on the wallet, the versatile Savana is hard to fault.
If you have nine or fewer family members to haul around, you'd probably be happier with the amenities and comfort of a modern full-size SUV like a Yukon XL. Plus, the Savana's fuel bills can become quite astronomical, especially with the big V8s.
The 2015 GMC Savana drops the 4.3-liter V6 and 5.3-liter V8 engines, simplifying the lineup. It also gets digital audio with USB and auxiliary ports, a standard 110-volt outlet and a new Emerald Green color. Savana Passenger Van models get standard OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation.
While the 2015 GMC Savana may look like a throwback to the glory days of 1970s’ custom vans, under the traditional sheet metal is a new chassis based off GM's...
... modern pickup-truck fleet. The stiffer body and improved suspension, steering and engine/transmission options make this full-size van surprisingly comfortable and as easy to drive as any modern full-size pickup or SUV. The high seating position makes for great forward vision, and the broad side glass gives passenger-van drivers nearly unhampered 360-degree visibility. Cargo vans get big side mirrors to help the driver navigate, as well as available sonar park assist and a rearview camera. As for power, the V8 engines have little trouble pulling the Savana. Also note that the Duramax diesel is designed for heavy-duty hauling, not sipping fuel.
GMC offers multiple options for accessing the Savana's interior. You can get a traditional sliding door on the side, or swing-out barn doors, and you can even get swing-out doors on the driver's side. We also like the lift-up panels for storage bins.
The Savana may be old, but its 15-passenger seating, tow rating of 9,900 pounds, and 284 cubic feet of cargo area mean it's still one capable van. Compared to competitors, it's also a bargain.
Function is the watchword for the 2015 GMC Savana interior. Sturdy plastics, vinyl on the seats and floor, big gauges and easy-to-reach controls surround the driver in the austere cabin. Opt for the cargo model, and you have a 2-seater with the world's biggest trunk. You also have an enormous and well-established up-fitter market to outfit your Savana to whatever your industry may require. Passenger vans offer bench seating for up to 15 passengers, power windows, rear air conditioning and Bluetooth for your phone.
If you have a bunch of things to carry, you put them in a box, right? That's the philosophy behind the GMC Savana's design. The shape hasn't evolved much in 30 years, but you could argue that it hasn't needed to. Of course, there are some distinctions, such as the rounded corners, flush headlights and high taillights. Available door configurations include sliding or split swing-out passenger-side doors and GM-exclusive swing-out doors on the driver's side. Useful exterior accessories include a roof-mounted ladder rack, roof-rack cross-rail system and mudflaps.
It's not surprising that a work van like the base 2015 GMC Savana van is stripped to the barest essentials. The newly standard 4.8-liter V8 offers a solid 285 horsepower, plus air conditioning, power windows and door locks, manual exterior mirrors, and vinyl on the seats and floors. Passenger-van models feature cloth seat fabric and 8- or 12-passenger seating. All Savana models come with full instrumentation and a trip computer. Standard safety features include 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, StabiliTrak electronic stability control and dual front airbags (plus head/side-curtain airbags for the first three rows in the Passenger Van).
It's all uphill on the GMC Savana's options sheet. You can choose from a 6.0-liter V8 – powered by either gasoline or natural gas – or the 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel. There's also all-wheel drive (AWD), a towing package and things like cruise control and upgraded audio systems. Passenger models can get rear air conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and other amenities to make you and your passengers more comfortable. On the more industrial side, there's an enormous up-fitter market for tool racks, work benches, special-needs mobility provisions and whatever else you can imagine. GM actively cooperates with these manufacturers.
The simplified engine lineup makes life easier for GMC Savana buyers. The base engine on all models is the 4.8-liter V8, now making 285 horsepower. The 6.0-liter V8 comes in either regular gasoline-burning form, where it now makes 329 horsepower. The natural-gas version gets a more significant horsepower bump, and at 332 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, it gives up very little to its gasoline-powered counterpart, surely good news for fleet owners who prefer the economies of scale offered by natural gas. The 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel V8 is meant for heavy-duty hauling and towing, and with 525 lb-ft of torque, it's easily up to the task. All Savana engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
285 horsepower @ 5,400 rpm
295 lb-ft of torque @ 4,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 11/17 mpg
329 horsepower @ 4,000 rpm
373 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 11/16 mpg
6.0-liter V8 CNG
332 horsepower @ 4,700 rpm
320 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: NA
6.6-liter turbodiesel V8
260 horsepower @ 3,100 rpm
525 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: NA
The base 2015 GMC Savana cargo van starts with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of about $30,500, including the $995 destination charge, while passenger-van models start around $33,200. The basic chassis for a cutaway van will run about $30,000 before up-fitting. The diesel engine and specialized interior fittings for plumbing, electrical work, etc., can push the price up to the $50,000 range. That's competitive with vans like the Nissan NV, which lacks the Savana's variety of engines and towing capacity. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter costs much more. With similar features and price, the new Ford Transit is definitely going to give the Savana a run for its money. Be sure to check the Fair Purchase Price on KBB.com to see what others in your area paid for their GMC Savana. Compared to the old Ford E-Series, the GMC Savana is expected to maintain more of its value when trade-in time rolls around.