The GMC Savana shared the same design and underpinnings with the Chevrolet Express and was launched for the first time in 1996 as a replacement for the old GMC Vandura.
Thanks to its generous payload capacity and the strong engines, the vehicle was fairly practical and even since its debut, has managed to stay on top of the sales charts.
The van was build with versatility in mind and thanks to its flexible character in could’ve be converted into various commercial vehicles being perfectly suited to be used as an ambulance or bus.
The GMC Savana was offered with a choice of redesigned Vortec petrol engines which developed between 220 and 290 hp. There was also a 6.5 liter turbo diesel V8 unit which came with 190 hp on tap. The van is offered with two wheelbases, three gross vehicle weights and an Extended version.
Back in the 90s, looked more or less the same sharing the same dull exterior design which won’t win you any beauty awards. The GMC Savana made no exception and looked like a typical van, featuring a boxy shape combined with a pretty rugged style.
It’s true that GMC tried to add a few dynamic traits which can be seen in the recessed door handles and the flush glass, but the overall style remained on the dull side of things.
Up front there is a rectangular radiator grille that is fitted with the GMC’s logo in its center and lost the central horizontal strip found at its Chevrolet twin. There are also two big headings that are split in two sections by a thin metallic strip. The bumper continues the agricultural style found at the rest of the body, but it features a solid build quality and is nicely integrated into the overall design.
Access to the load area is made by means of a bug rear gated that opens to a 180 degree angle. The boxy shape of the Savana can swallow a load volume of 267 cubic feet in the standard version and up to 317 cubic feet in the Extended model.
Access inside is made fairly easy, as the ground clearance is pretty low and you have also a few convenient grab handles. As it was expected, the interior design was pretty spartan and the materials and plastics were more on the cheap side.
The material used for the dash and doors is hard, cheap-feeling textured plastic that sounds hollow when tapped with a finger, and wind noise enters the cabin like it owns the place. The build quality isn’t impressive either, but the cabin has a rugged feel which is perfectly suited for the utilitarian nature of the vehicle.
Fortunately, every control is placed within easy reach and you’ll find the robust dashboard fairly practical, as it’s fitted with a bunch of smart storage places.
The cabin is also very spacious and there is enough head and leg room for both the driver and passenger. The 1996 GMC Savana was available with a molded headliner which came with optional overhead climate controls and vents.
The driver is met by an old school instrument cluster which comes with a pretty intuitive layout and its fitted with wide, easy to read gauges. The steering wheel isn’t something to rave about as it comes with a pretty dull design and it’s a bit too thin to offer a confident grab.
The big seats aren’t the most comfortable units you’ll find around and they offer only basic support. Though, the driving position is pretty reasonable and you won’t have any complains about the all around visibility either. You can also rely with confidence on the gargantuan door mirrors.
Engines and performance
The entire range of engines was shared with the Chevrolet Express. The base Vortec unit was a 4.3 liter V6 which develops 195 hp and 250 lb.ft of torque while the second engine option was a 5.0 liter V8 that developed 220 hp and 285 lb.ft of torque.
GMC also offered a 5.7 liter Vortec V8 which offered the best mix between performance and efficiency and came with 250 hp on tap. It had also a pretty generous torque of 335 lb.ft which was more than enough to tow massive loads without too much fuss.
For those who were seeking for sporty performances, GMC offered a strong 7.4 liter V8 which came with a maximum output of 290 hp and 410 pound feet of torque.
Apart from the wide range of petrol units, the Savana was also offered with a 6.5 liter V8 turbo diesel unit that was carried over from the previous GMC Vandura. The engine however has received a few tweaks and now develops 190 hp and 385 lb.ft of torque.
Ride and handling
Given its utilitarian nature the GMC Savana offered a pretty comfortable ride and it can deal with rugged terrains pretty reasonable. However, the tall stance and the boxy shape are translated into a significant body roll which spoils all the fun every time you want to get aggressive with corners.
Luckily, the steering was at par with what you’d usually get in this segment and offered a proper feedback and an accurate response.
The van wasn’t hard to maneuver around the tight city streets as it had a 45.2-foot turning circle in standard guise and a 47.4 feet turning circle for the extended version.
The GMC Savana was a pretty reliable work horse which came with a generous payload capacity and a range of revised and capable engines.
The cabin was pretty rudimentary, but it had a reasonable ergonomy and was fairly practical, dealing great with the necessities of a rugged LCV. The ride and handling were at par with what you’d usually get in this segment.