The Chevrolet Express has been around since 1996, when it came as a replacement for the old Chevrolet Van. The second generation was launched in 2003 and featured a series of style and technical upgrades which helped the van remain competitive. However despite the constant struggles made by Chevrolet’s marketing team, the Express was always a half step behind the Ford E Series when it comes to sales charts.
For the second generation Express, the year 2003 brought four wheel disc brakes with ABS, new driver 60/40 access doors, larger stabilizer bars and a stronger frame. The 2003 Express was also offered for the first time with an all wheel drive system. The entire range of V8 units was replaced and th eold 6.0 liter turbo diesel was ditched.
The most striking exterior modification can be seen at the front fascia which comes with a completely new style. If the old generation’s face looked dull and dated, the 2003 Express features a modern design with a chromed strip which traverses the grille and headlights.
The hood was also slightly reshaped and features a more dynamic appearance. The rest of the body lines however, have remained mostly unchanged.
The front bumper keeps the same body lines as the previous generation, but it gets a new, bolder design.
The Chevrolet Express is available in both passenger and commercial versions. The half ton Express 1500 was offered only in regular length configuration, while the three quarter ton 2550 and the one ton 3500 models came in regular or extended lengths.
All models come with standard two swing open rear doors, on the passenger side. The van can be also fitted with 60/40 doors or a sliding door. New for 2003 was also the addition of 60/40 doors on the driver’s side.
The first generation came with a pretty utilitarian interior, but the 2003 cab received a few upgrades which totally changed the environment.
Though, the dashboard and center console keep the overall design of the old model and the materials are also part of the same rugged class. The steering wheel however, is completely new and features a more attractive design. It also offers a confident grab and comes with a few integrated controls and adjustments to make your life on board easier.
The instrument cluster has also received a few tweaks and it’s fairly easy to read during both night and day trips.
The old seats were replaced with new ones which offer a better side and lateral support, being comfortable for bong long and short journeys. The all around visibility is as good as the old model and you won’t complain about the rearward visibility, either as you can rely with confidence on the massive door mirrors.
The 2003 model comes with improved lighting and ventilation systems, and also dual-stage airbags on all light-duty versions.
To make the Express cabin even more practical Chevrolet added some extra storage spaces which have a pretty intuitive position and are fairly spacious.
Engines and performance
The old 6.5 liter turbo diesel V8 was excluded. The standard unit was a 4.3 liter V6 combined with automatic transmission. There were also introduced three new V8 units which replaced the old 5.0, 5.7 and 8.1 liter engines. The new V8s come with 4.8, 5.3 and 6.0 liter displacements.
All units were pretty refined and coped great with the utilitarian nature of the vehicle. Naturally, the top of the range 6.0 liter V8 was the best unit and rewarded you with a crisp acceleration even when it needed to deal with heavy loads. The fuel consumption was also a lot smaller than the old 8.1 liter unit being rated between 19-16 mpg depending on the engine, for the combined cycle.
Chevrolet Express Engines Specifications
| Engine || hp @ rpm || lb-ft @ rpm || Combined mpg |
| 4.3 liter V6 ||200 @ 4400 || 250 @ 2800 || 16 |
| 4.8 liter V8 ||270 @ 5200 || 285 @ 4000 || 16 |
| 5.3 liter V8 ||285 @ 5200 || 325 @ 4000 || 16 |
| 6.0 liter V8 ||300 @ 4400 || 360 @ 4000 || 18 |
Ride and handling
The Chevrolet Express’s ride quality isn’t the most comfortable you’ll find around, but it’s pretty reasonable. There is also only a minor float over dips and the body roll is at par with what you’d usually find in this segment.
Due to its big dimensions, the 2003 Chevrolet Express continues to be pretty hard to drive in narrow traffic situations. The turning radius is a bit bog big too, while the grip isn’t stellar either.
Luckily the Express comes with a pretty responsive steering and acts well in emergency situations. The stopping power is part of the first class thanks to the standard all wheel disc brakes combined with ABS.
The 2003 Chevrolet Express represented a pretty big step ahead in the “van development” segment for the American company. Despite the fact that the exterior changes were limited, the cabin was now pretty comfortable and offered a lot of useful features to keep the driver and its passengers satisfied.
The engines we’re also pretty efficient and had adequate power outputs for their time.
The ride and handling however were far from being the best in the segment and the van needed a more refined ride.