Te first generation of the highly utilitarian Chevrolet Express was launched in 1996 and came as a replacement for the old Chevrolet Van.
The vehicle shared the same underpinnings with the GMC Savana and both models were hot sellers on the US market. However, despite the fact that these two vans were basically identical, the Express outsells the Savana by more than 3 to 1.
The Chevrolet Express is a fairly versatile utility vehicle that can be used for towing heavy loads or as an ambulance, shuttle bus, or school bus. For increased versatility Chevrolet also offered cutaway versions for its Express.
As most vans of its type the exterior design of the first generation Chevrolet Express was far from being charming. The vehicle came with a plain and boring style and Chevrolet didn’t even struggle to hide its boxy shape. A keen eye however will be able to spot a few aerodynamic traits, including flush glass and recessed door handles.
The front comes with a pretty short nose which is dominated by a rectangular radiator grille flanked by a set of big headlights. The grille is traversed by a central thick bar which bares the company’s logo in its center.
The front bumper was pretty rudimentary, but it was fairly solid build, being able to survive to small impacts without breaking.
At buyer’s request, the Chevrolet Express’s rear windows could’ve been replaced with metallic panels and there were also offered two wheelbases, three gross vehicle weight ratings levels, and an Extended version that can accommodate up to 15 passengers. A unique hidden-hinge design allows the rear doors to swing out a full 180 degrees, providing easy access to the load area.
The standard load area offers a maximum volume of 267 cubic feet while the Extended version’s cargo volume is rated at 317 cubic feet.
The 1996 Chevrolet Express comes with a highly rudimentary interior. The plastics and materials are part of the third class, while the build quality and fittings aren’t exactly stellar.
On the other hand, despite its plain look, the dashboard is pretty practical and the center console is laid out in an intuitive way with every control placed within easy reach.
Needless to say, that there are acres of space and you are treated with a royal amount of head and leg room.
The dash is fitted with dual-airbags and together with the instrument panel is hung on a massive magnesium beam that spans the entire front width. The 1996 Chevrolet Express was also available with a molded headliner which came with optional overhead climate controls and vents.
As it was expected, there are enough cubby holes, cup holders and other storage places to keep you satisfied.
The seats are fairly big, but offer only basic support and come with limited adjustments. Luckily, the steering wheel can be also adjusted, so finding a decent driving position won’t be such a big deal.
The all around visibility is nothing short of excellent thanks to the huge, panoramic windscreen and the generous lateral windows. The exterior mirrors are also up to the task and will keep blind spots to minimum.
Engines and performance
The 1996 Chevrolet Express is offered with a redesigned range of Vortec engines.
The entry level unit is a 4.3 liter Vortec V6 which offers a maximum output of 195 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. There is also a 5.0 liter Vortec V8 which comes with 220 hp and 285 lb-ft on tap. However, the best choice you can make it’s the 5.7 liter Vortec V8 which cranks out 250 hp and 335 lb.ft of torque. Naturally this engine is the most responsive and can deal with heavy loads without breaking a sweat.
The strongest engine in Express’s lineup is the 7.4 liter V8 which will appeal to those who are searching for sporty performances. This unit can develop a maximum power of 290 hp and 410 pound feet of torque which is more than enough to keep the vehicle nimble in any situation.
Apart from the V8 petrol units, the 1996 Express was also available with a 6.5 liter Indirect EFI V8 turbo diesel unit which is slightly stronger than its predecessor and delivers 190 hp and 385 lb.ft.
Ride and handling
The Chevrolet Express’s suspension setup is pretty forgivable and is able to deal well with most of the road bumps and potholes. On the other hand its high stance and the gargantuan proportions aren’t working’ in its favor and maneuverability isn’t its strong point. There is also a pretty big body lean in corners.
The steering was pretty sharp and rewards you with a direct response, but don’t expect to any significant road feedback.
The standard-wheelbase has a 45.2-foot turning circle, while the extended cab models come with a 47.4 feet turning circle.
The Chevrolet Express was a trustful working partner and its versatile nature helped it conquer a lot of buyers.
The cab was also fairly spacious, but it was far from being refined or comfortable and betrayed the utilitarian character of the vehicle.
Fortunately, the upgraded range of Vortec engines was fairly capable of dealing with arduous jobs and the ride quality was pretty reasonable.