The full-size van segment is facing a big shakeup at the moment. Mind you, the standards for improvement are pretty low – these vans skipped all the manners and refinement courses undergone by their pickup-truck siblings, like the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado .
New competition from the Nissan NV , Ram CV, Mercedes Sprinter and the upcoming full-size Ford Transit means the Express will have to work harder than ever to maintain its huge 44-plus-percent market share in the segment.
In addition to far more modern options from Dodge and soon Ford, the full-size segment is under assault from above via pricier pickup trucks and from below via the Ford Transit Connect and other urban commercial runabouts. Despite the challengers, the Express logged nearly 77,000 sales in the U.S. in 2012.
So, the Chevrolet Express is long past its glory years where it represented the most sophisticated and modern full-size van available in the U.S. Despite seeming like it’s been around for eternity and beyond, the Express debuted in 1996 to rave reviews by thousands of contractors, conversion van companies and Church groups happy to have (slightly) more refinement than the previous models and the competition of the time.
No one will argue that 17 years is a long time on the market, but its tenure on dealer lots means the Express is both super affordable and also mechanically customizable with four engines, passenger or cargo setups, multiple wheelbases and a myriad of other options.
How does the Chevrolet Express stack up to the latest buyer priorities, and comfort and safety demands? Can its low price and spray-clean cargo area overcome the harsh ride, unbelievably bad seats and almost complete lack of modern interior tech?
Click past the jump for the full review of the Chevrolet Express.
The biggest noticeable exterior update for the latest Chevy Express is on the LT models, which get re-styled dual-composite headlamps in place of the sub-par single lamp squares that come standard on the LS trim level.
Otherwise, the van is quite familiar. It’s actually aged pretty well, considering it is almost old enough to vote. There is a flowing line to the body sides and a strong horizontal bulge running the length of the car. The taillights are still high-mounted units framed by a grey plastic shroud.
The Chevrolet Express tried to grow a nose during its last restyle, losing the unpleasant proportions that ruined both the appearance and interior of the previous-gen Chevy and Dodge full-size vans. The Express’s engine is still shoved well back and above the front axle, but doesn’t intrude into interior space as much as before.
|Chevrolet Express Exterior Dimensions||Regular Wheelbase||Extended Wheelbase|
|Wheelbase||135 in.||155 in.|
|Overall length||224 in.||244 in.|
|Overall width||79.2 in.||79.2 in.|
|Overall height||83.7 in.||82.8 in.|
|Track||62 inches (front) / 61.6 inches (rear)||68.1 inches (front) / 67.7 inches (rear)|
|Curb weight||5499 pounds (2WD) / 5718 (AWD)||6087 pounds (2WD) / 6406 (AWD)|
Express exterior highlights:
- A chrome appearance package, including chrome front and rear bumpers and chrome grille with dual composite headlamps, is standard on LT models and available on LS. Black-painted bumpers are standard on LS
- Swing-out 60/40-split passenger-side doors are standard on all models
- Sliding passenger-side door is available on all models
- Heated power-adjustable outside folding mirrors are available on all models
- Heated power-adjustable outside folding are available on all models
- Sixteen-inch steel wheels are standard on three-quarter ton and one-ton models
- Seventeen-inch steel wheels are standard on half-ton models and 17-inch aluminum wheels are available
- Exterior colors: Silver Ice Metallic, Cyber Gray Metallic, Dark Blue Metallic, Black, Dark Green Metallic, Summit White, Victory Red, Wheatland Yellow and Brownstone Metallic.
The interior of the Express is purely functional, with little in the way of sound deadening or high-tech solutions. The Express standard wheelbase is offered in 2-, 8- or 12-seat formats. The extended wheelbase 3500 can pack 15 people inside via its four rows of bench seats.
The step-in height out back is still very high, and moving around inside the cabin is difficult because of the dangling seat belts in the main entry row. Smart ly, Chevy has built the interior back seat belt mounts within the seatback itself, similar to the setup in the front seat of many convertibles. Doing so makes it far easier to unbolt the seats as needed, and also makes the cabin more hospitable in the back.
The dashboard is a nasty slab of scratchy and hard plastic with three deep cup holders mounted perfectly to hold phones and other pocket junk. The seats are offered in two coverings - vinyl or cloth – and two colors - Neutral and Medium Pewter. “Neutral” as a color is GM code for Saturn -style "nothing-colored" burlap that’s scratchy when wearing shorts. It is somehow better than having sweaty legs stick to the gross vinyl, and standard on the LT.
The latest Express now gets power windows and doors as standard for the first time, which will certainly be appreciated on the U-Haul rental models that come with a negative amount of features.
The two types of rear passenger doors are sliding or swing-out doors on the passenger side of the van. Just like the Express skipped all the refinements of the latest pickups, it is also stuck in time with only one rear door. Neither door setup is easy to use, but they door open a large entryway for loading. The lack of a power-operated sliding door means that kids cannot open or close the door by themselves.
In terms of rear passenger comfort, the LT model’s rear A/C and heater is a must if people are riding back there. There’s no actual comfort back there because it’s bumpy and loud, but at least LT-model Airport Express passengers won’t be sweating and gagging from the stale air back there.
As expected, cargo volume is huge. Without seats, the Express packs in 216 cubic-feet of stuff, while the Extended 3500 model bumps that to 253 cubic feet of highly usable space.
Chevrolet Express interior features:
- Power windows and doors are standard on all models
- Air conditioning (single-zone) is standard on all models
- Rear air conditioning is standard on LT models and available on LS
- A range of audio systems, including CD/MP3 capability and USB port, is available on all models. An AM/FM stereo is standard
- Navigation is available on all models
- SiriusXM Satellite Radio is available on all models
- Child seat anchors (including four anchors and two tethers) are standard on LS and LT models
- Driver information center is standard on all models. A compass and outside temperature features are available
- A rear auxiliary heater is standard on LT models and available on LS
- Two auxiliary 12-volt power outlets located on the interior engine cover are standard on all models
- Remote keyless entry is standard on LT and available on LS
- Remote vehicle starter system is available on all models
- Six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat is available on LT. A six-way power-adjustable passenger seat is also available on LT models
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel and steering wheel audio controls are available on all models
- Power windows are standard on LT and available on LS
- LS and LT passenger model seating is offered in eight-passenger, 12-passenger and 15-passenger configurations
- Custom vinyl or cloth upholstery is offered on all models in Neutral or Medium Pewter colors.
Drivetrain, Suspension and Brakes
The 2013 Express drops the base 4.3-liter V-6 that served for years in the base model. The new standard engine is a 4.8-liter V-8, with 5.3-liter and 6.0-liter gasoline V-8s also available. The top dog of the range is the Express 3500 Extended Wheelbase, which packs the 6.6-liter Duramax diesel V-8. All-wheel drive is available with the 5.3-liter V-8 and four-speed automatic transmission.
Standard ABS is paired with Dynamic Rear Proportioning, a system similar to electronic brake-force distribution that works with the standard StabiliTrak stability control to keep the Express straight under hard braking.
The key selling point of the Express has always been the huge max loads it can haul and tow, especially impressive with the 6.0-liter and 6.6-liter V-8s, which tow a max of 9,700 pounds. That’s enough to haul nearly three cars or a very large boat.
|Engine Size and Type||4.8-liter V-8||5.3-liter V-8||6.0-liter V-8||6.6-liter Duramax Diesel V-8|
|Peak power||285 horsepower||310 horsepower||342 horsepower||260 horsepower|
|Peak torque||295 pound-feet||334 pound-feet||373 pound-feet||525 pound-feet|
|Transmission||Four-speed automatic||Four-speed automatic||Six-speed automatic||Four-speed automatic|
|0-60-mph||13.7 seconds, est||11.9 seconds, est||10.4 seconds, est||14.0 seconds, est|
|Top Speed||99-mph, est||99-mph, est||99-mph, est||99-mph, est|
- Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is featured on 1500 models
- Hydroboost four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and dynamic rear proportioning are standard on all models
- StabiliTrak electronic stability control is standard on all models
- A locking rear differential is available on all models
- 31-gallon (117.3 L) fuel tank is standard on all models (except for dedicated compressed natural gas package)
- 7,300-pound GVWR on 1500 passenger models
- 8,600-pound GVWR on 2500 models
- 9,600-pound GVWR on 3500 models
Full-size passenger vans are very dangerous because their frame construction mounts all the passenger weight far above the car’s center of gravity, making rollover accidents particularly common and lethal. Drivers should never swerve sharply on the highway, and the Express (and Ford Econoline and Nissan NV ) would all fail Sweden’s infamous “Moose Test” with a devastating roll-over.
The key standard safety feature needed on all vans – stability control – is finally standard for 2013. With stability control, the NHTSA rates the Express at a 29% chance of rollover, which is a good score for the segment.
The Express slips past some of the tough new crash testing standards because its high weight puts it into the less-tested truck class. Other new-ish safety improvements are side curtain airbags for the first three rows of seats and special glass in the 12- and 15-passenger models. This Enhanced Technology Glass (ETG) is stronger and provides “increased occupant retention,” meaning fewer back-seat people will be thrown from the car during a violent collision.
Additional safety features include:
- StabiliTrak is standard.
- Tire pressure monitoring system is standard.
- Flat and convex exterior mirrors (for a wider field of vision) are standard.
- Lap and shoulder belts for the center seats are standard.
- Four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system with Hydroboost is standard.
- Driver and front passenger air bags are standard.
- Daytime Running Lamps are standard
Reliability and Recalls
The 2013 Express has been recalled multiple times for serious safety and security failures, including:
- Steering-column Locking Anti-theft device; Recall number: 13V001000; Recall date: 01/02/2013
- Powertrain Automatic Transmission; Recall number: 13V001000; Recall date: 01/02/2013
- Electrical System Ignition; Recall number: 13V010000; Recall date: 01/14/2013
The most serious recalls affect the steering column interlock: certain Express models can be shifted from Park without the key in the ignition at all, and can roll away because the key can be removed while the vehicle is actually in drive. These are serious problems that need to be fixed right away by Chevrolet dealers, but luckily only a small slice of vehicles made in November and December 2012 are affected.
There are other serious recalls from the leading conversion company that modifies Express models, Explorer Van Company. At least four recalls are out for the Explorer-converted Express models’ electrical wiring, which can cause a fire.
The Express is pretty bulletproof when it comes to reliability, with many trucks topping 200,000 miles on their original engines and transmissions. Cargo models that are over-loaded with weight can suffer serious brake and transmission problems, so buying used is not recommended.
The 2013 Express starts at $25,320 and balloons up to $46,000 for the 3500 Duramax model with its pricey diesel engine. The reality is that this is a volume model for Chevy dealers, who are quick to discount this old warhorse up to 25 percent off in order close deals.
|2013 Chevrolet Express 1500 Cargo Van||$25,320|
|2013 Chevrolet Express 1500 LS Passenger Van||$28,970|
|2013 Chevrolet Express 2500 LS Passenger Van||$29,865|
|2013 Chevrolet Express 2500 Cargo Van||$38,770|
|2013 Chevrolet Express 2500 Extended Cargo Van||$40,630|
|2013 Chevrolet Express 3500 Cargo Van||$42,090|
|2013 Chevrolet Express 3500 Extended Cargo Van||$42,975|
|2013 Chevrolet Express 3500 LS Passenger Van||$45,100|
|2013 Chevrolet Express 3500 LS Extended Passenger Van||$46,970|
The NV is a credible entry to the segment based on the full-size Nissan Titan platform and also coming in a variety of configurations of engines, roof heights and number of seats. Nissan’s 5.6-liter V-8 offers much better acceleration performance but little other benefits over the Express. The Nissan’s interior is also awful.
Gallery Nissan NV Cargo
2014 Ford Transit
The Econoline and Ford’s radically better 2014 Transit Van will be offered concurrently for the first year, then just the Transit after that. The Transit is a radical re-think of buyer needs, with a much-lower rear load floor and better fuel economy and safety. A huge variety of Transits will be offered, including front-wheel-drive models.
2014 Ram ProMaster Van
The Express occupies a strange place in the market. Even the people who rely on full-size cargo vans for their livelihood are not likely to be super jazzed about the Express’s new features. A quick comparison with a mid-spec $35,000 Chevy Silverado reveals that the Express misses out on nearly all the work-truck advancements of the last decade.
Unlike most full-size pickup truck drivers, whose truck is for both work and personal use, it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing to drive the Express full-time. As the conversion van fad is firmly dead, the Express is back to being primitive fleet transport or a cabinet-filled carpenter van. This is probably for the best, especially for the poor moms who tried to pilot giant conversion vans around suburban parking lots.
A nearly 50-foot turning circle and unrated safety and economy means the Express is at its best doing hard manual labor. As a passenger van, most people would be happier on a bus or in the back of a taxi.
|Driving||D||The Express Drives Poorly With Little Body Control|
|Performance||C||Solid Towing and Loading Weights With Optional Engines|
|Look||D||The Express Has Looked The Same Since 1996|
|Value||A||Great Value Base Models, Dealer Rebates And Incentives Lower Price Even More|
|Overall||C||An Outdated Relic of How Trucks Used To Be|
- Tough and durable
- Very affordable
- Good towing and cargo ratings
- Marginal safety level, especially for rear-seat passengers
- Abysmal comfort and NVH levels
- Very high fuel consumption with four-speed automatics on smaller V-8’s