Even since its first launch in 1996, the GMC Savana managed to attract buyers’ interest and for many years was the second best sold van from the US market, after the Ford E Series.
The van received a set of significant modifications in 2003 when it came with upgraded engines and a few style modifications.
The year 2003 has seen the introduction of a four wheel drive system that was a premiere for the Savana. The 2003 GMC Savana was also offered for the first time with four wheel disc brakes.
New driver-side 60/40 access doors have been added as an option together with larger stabilizer bars and a stronger frame. The cabin was slightly revised as well and Chevrolet added new seats, upgraded the lighting and ventilation systems, and also offered dual-stage airbags.
The only exterior difference between the GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express is the front grille and the company badge. The new hood comes with a set of smart creases which give the vehicle a touch of dynamism.
The Savana keeps the same design language for the headlights and also shares all other exterior lines found at its sibling.
However, many consider that the Savana looks slightly better than its twin and consider the GMC’s van more upscale than the Express, as it’s fitted with more premium features.
The Savana also shares the same body configurations with the Express. The half ton model came only in regular length configuration, while the three quarter ton and the one ton versions came in regular or extended lengths.
All models come with standard two swing open rear doors, on the passenger side. The GMC Savana can be also fitted with 60/40 doors or a sliding door. Another new feature brought in 2003 was the 60/40 door mounted on the driver’s side.
The van is fitted with wide opening doors, and convenient grab handles, so access inside is fairly easy. There is plenty of space inside and you won’t complain about head or legroom. We like that the engine housing is pretty compact so you have enough space to move through the cabin unrestricted. The new cabin is also fitted with more storage places than the old one.
There isn’t a big difference between the old dash and the new one, but the overall ergonomy is pretty good. Unfortunately, the plastics, materials and build quality remained at the same inferior level.
The new instrument panel keeps the legible round gauges simple, while the center console is fitted with handy controls. On the other hand, the driver’s power seat switches on the front of the cushion are a bit hard to reach.
We like the redesigned steering wheel which comes fitted with a few useful controls. There are also offered some adjustments, so finding an adequate driving position won’t be a complicated affair.
The old seats were rock hard and we’re glad to see that GMC has replaced them with new units which offer adequate support for both long and short trips
Needless to say that the road visibility is part of the high class, as you seat pretty high from the road and you are surrounded by a generous glass area.
GMC has also improved the interior lighting and ventilation systems and added dual stage airbags as standard equipment.
Engines and performance
Besides the exterior and interior modifications, the 2003 model has also received upgraded engines which offer a bigger output and come with a better fuel efficiency.
GMC started by leaving behind the old 6.5 liter turbo diesel V8 that was a bit dated for 2003 standards. The entire range of V8 units was also replaced with new ones. The new 4.8, 5.3 and 6.0 liter units were more compact, efficient and stronger than the old ones.
Regardless of what engine option you’ll choose, you won’t be disappointed, as all of them reward you with a decent punch. As it was expected, the 6.0 V8 steps out from the crowd and delivers strong performances, being perfectly suited even for the heaviest loads. This unit scores an average fuel consumption of 19 mpg.
GMC Savana Engines Specifications
| Engine || hp @ rpm || lb-ft @ rpm |
| 4.3 liter V6 ||200 @ 4400 || 250 @ 2800 |
| 4.8 liter V8 ||270 @ 5200 || 285 @ 4000 |
| 5.3 liter V8 ||285 @ 5200 || 325 @ 4000 |
| 6.0 liter V8 ||300 @ 4400 || 360 @ 4000 |
Ride and handling
The GMC Savana was built for utilitarian purposes, so don’t expect to any sort of comfortable ride. Due to its high stance, the vehicle has also a pretty big body roll.
As it was expected, the GMC Savana is pretty hard to be driven around town and its wide turning radius won’t help you too much either.
The overall handling is at par with what you’ll usually find in the segment, but the steering is pretty accurate and offers a decent road feedback.
Since 2003 GMC has equipped its second generation Savana with standard all wheel discs brakes and ABS whic has a major benefic impact for the stopping power.
Thanks to its long list of upgrades, the 2003 GMC Savana managed to say in front of the pack on a pretty competitive market. Its new cabin and features raised the interior comfort to a reasonable level, while the capable engines make justice to the utilitarian character of the vehicle. The ride and handling however aren’t the best you’ll find around. Not to mention about the cheap plastics and the poor build quality.