By Matt Degen
The 2016 GMC Savana and its twin the Chevrolet Express are the last of the old-school cargo vans. In recent years fresh rivals such as the Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster, and Mercedes-Benz Metris and Sprinter have given new life to the commercial-van segment with their better efficiency, newer technology, easier driving manners and advanced safety features. Meanwhile, the GMC Savana cargo and passenger vans rumble on as they long have. Despite its disadvantages compared to fresher rivals, the Savana still has merits. The thing has been around so long that it's a known quantity for drivers and upfitters, and it can still outmuscle the competition thanks to stout V8 gasoline and diesel engines. Passenger models, meanwhile, can shuttle up to 15 people.
If you seek a tried-and-true van that was born to haul materials or transport passengers or the largest of families, the Savana can do it. If you need to tow 10,000 pounds, want a custom installation or desire a diesel engine with 525 lb-ft of torque, the Savana offers that, too.
GMC’s Savana is more cumbersome and inefficient than newer vans. And while the Savana is offered in two lengths, rivals also offer various roof heights. Finally, the new crop of cargo vans has more safety features -- and what business or family doesn't want that?
For 2016, the Savana gets a touch of modern with OnStar 4G LTE connectivity and Wi-Fi hotspot, plus an optional navigation system. Cargo models finally receive an AM/FM radio as standard, so go ahead -- sing along to the oldies en route. Sadly, all-wheel-drive models were dropped two years ago.
While the 2016 GMC Savana may look like a throwback to the glory days of 1970s’ custom vans, under the traditional sheet metal is a chassis based off GM's more...
... modern pickup-truck fleet. While still more cumbersome than the Ford Transit Connect and Mercedes-Benz Metris, the Savana is at least as easy to drive as a 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 views. 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. Note that the Duramax diesel, offered on both 2500 and 3500 versions of the Savana, 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 with its ability to seat up to 15 passengers, tow up to 10,000 pounds or grant 284 cubic feet of cargo space, it's still one capable van. With a starting price in the low-$30,000 range, it offers a lot of metal for the money.
Function is the priority over form in the 2016 Savana. As either a cargo van doing commercial duty or passenger hauler acting as a shuttle for a hotel or large family, the Savana boast loads of interior space. Unlike competitors, only one roof height is available, but there is an extended-length model that provides even more space. Sturdy plastics and vinyl seats are the cabin materials of choice. Cargo models can seat two up front, while a Crew Cargo version seats five and still offers plenty of space in back. Passenger models seat 12 in standard form, 15 for extended-length models.
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. The van can also be customized to accommodate wheelchairs and assist with entry, and buyers can even receive financial reimbursement through the GM Mobility Program.
It's not surprising that a work van like the base 2016 GMC Savana cargo has the barest essentials. There is a standard 4.8-liter V8, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, manual exterior mirrors and vinyl seats. For 2016, this model now comes with an AM/FM radio with auxiliary input. It is also equipped with GM’s subscription-based OnStar 4G LTE connectivity service. Passenger-van models feature cloth seat fabric and 12- or 15-passenger seating. 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).
The Savana's noteworthy extras include a 6.0-liter V8 -- powered by either gasoline or compressed natural gas (CNG) -- or the 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel. There's also a towing package, locking rear differential, cruise control, upgraded audio systems and rearview camera. New for 2016 is an integrated 6.5-inch touch-screen navigation system with traffic information. Passenger models can get rear air conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and other comfort/convenience amenities. On the more industrial side, there's an enormous upfitter market for tool racks, work benches, special-needs mobility provisions and whatever else you can imagine. GM actively cooperates with these manufacturers.
The 2016 Savana full-size van has a trio of V8 engine choices. The base powerplant is a 4.8-liter V8 making 285 horsepower. The optional 6.0-liter V8 comes in either regular gasoline-burning form, where it makes 342 horsepower. The natural-gas version is exclusive to the 6.0-liter V8 and is offered with three tanks for a range of up to 200 miles or with four tanks for up to 300 miles. Starting about $11,000, the CNG option isn't cheap. The 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel V8 is meant for heavy-duty hauling/towing, and with 525 lb-ft of torque, it's easily up to the task. All engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, and all Savana vans are rear-drive only. If you require an all-wheel-drive commercial van, look to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
285 horsepower @ 5,400 rpm
295 lb-ft of torque @ 4,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: N/A
342 horsepower @ 5,400 rpm
373 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 11/16 mpg
6.0-liter V8 CNG
282 horsepower @ 4,800 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: N/A
The 2016 GMC Savana has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting at $31,600 for a base cargo van, while passenger-van models start just under $34,000. The basic chassis for a cutaway van will run about $30,000 before upfitting. The diesel engine and its specialized fittings can push the price up to the $50,000 range. That's competitive with the Nissan NV, which lacks the Savana's variety of engines and towing capacity. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter costs more, though the new Sprinter Worker model appeals with its mid-$30,000 price and standard diesel engine. Also alluring are the smaller, nimbler Mercedes-Benz Metris that starts under $30,000 and the newer Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster. Be sure to check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area paid. The Savana's resale value is expected to trail the Transit but be similar to the Nissan NV.