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Car Review

2012 Chevrolet Express 2500: New Car Review

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author photo by David Boldt May 2012

Pros: Just-right capability; spaciousness; affordability

Cons: Outdated design

Sitting in the middle of Chevrolet's Express van lineup, the 2500 hits the sweet spot in both capability and affordability. Chevy provides a 4.8-liter FlexFuel V8 as standard, eschewing the standard V6 of the 1500. A 6.0-liter FlexFuel V8 is optional for 2500 passenger and cargo vans, and a 6.6-liter DuraMax diesel is available for the 2500 cargo van. The 4.8-liter V8 is matched to a four-speed automatic transmission, while the 6.0-liter gasoline and diesel engines are backed by a six-speed transmission. Braking is beefed up with large-diameter front rotors. Together, the front and rear axles can accommodate some 2,500 additional pounds of cargo or passenger load.

If comparing the Express family of vans to Chevrolet's Silverado family of pickups, consider that the vans provide a level of security for your cargo that a pickup never will. It will also keep your cargo dry, important especially if your residence or business is in the snow belt rather than the sun belt. Finally, most pickups are limited to a maximum of six passengers, while the Express passenger van can accommodate up to fifteen. If cargo protection is the most significant consideration, that's a valid argument for the Express. However, Chevy's lineup of pickups and SUVs is typically more engaging to drive and has enjoyed more updates over many years of production.

Comfort & Utility

With available room for 15 occupants or a ton of cargo, you can configure the Express in dozens of ways. In base form as marketed to many fleets, the Express can serve job descriptions as diverse as plumbing, carpentry and flower delivery. As a passenger van, the Express is frequently used in shuttle or limousine service. As an RV, the Express 2500 can serve as a donor vehicle for getaways. Keep in mind, however, that for seating comfort and support, you'll need to go to the aftermarket; the standard seating is ordinary at best.

The Express 2500 sacrifices some comfort for utility. The suspension is less compliant and the tire choices typically more rugged than on the 1500. On the other hand, the 2500's handling and powertrain will be less affected by load. And whereas the 1500 Express is limited to less than 7,000 pounds of towing capability with its 5.3-liter V8, the 2500 can pull up to 10,000 pounds with the 6.0 liter V8 or the 6.6-liter DuraMax diesel.

If space can be construed as a luxury, the Express delivers luxury in spades. Considering it's a passenger van from Chevrolet, you'll find the level of comfort serviceable. A visit to a van converter can provide all the additional luxury or decadence you're inclined to purchase.


Express vans enjoy numerous technology-driven features. The 2500 offers a range of audio systems, including CD/MP3 capability and a USB port, along with Sirius XM satellite radio. Bluetooth is an option, as is dealer-installed WiFi capability. Two 12-volt power outlets, mounted inside on the engine cover, maintain the workload when carrying a laptop, while a remote vehicle starter system allows advance warmup in cold temperatures and cool-down when it's hot out. Finally, all Chevrolet vans come equipped with OnStar, which provides both emergency response and turn-by-turn navigation.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The choices available on the Express 2500 should fit most needs. A Hydra-matic six-speed automatic transmission is paired with all three engine choices. Standard is a Vortec 4.8 liter V8, delivering 279 horsepower and 294 lb-ft of torque. With it, the Express 2500 can tow up to 7,400 pounds as a cargo van and 6,700 pounds as a passenger van (allowing for the higher weight of a fully equipped interior). Next up is a 6.0-liter FlexFuel V8 good for 324 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque, letting the Express 2500 tow up to 10,000 pounds in cargo form and up to 9,800 pounds as a passenger van. Opt for the 6.6-liter DuraMax diesel, and you'll enjoy diesel efficiency and longevity with up to 10,000 pounds of towing capability.

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Given that all 2500s enjoy a GVWR of more than 8,500 pounds, the EPA doesn't provide fuel economy figures. You can, however, estimate 11 to 12 miles mpg in stop-and-go driving and between 15 and 17 mpg in highway driving.


Four-wheel disc braking with ABS and dynamic rear proportioning reduce the drama inherent in stopping a loaded truck. Also standard on all Express vans is StabiliTrak, GM's electronic take on stability control. Available head curtain side airbags and standard lap and shoulder belts for center seat passengers wrap up the safety menu. In the passenger van version, your ability to avoid an accident is enhanced by sweeping visibility.

Driving Impressions

Ponderous proportions typically make for an expectation of ponderous handling, and the Express won't disappoint. That said, GM engineers have done an admirable job of massaging the beast out of this beast, and when equipped with any of the V8s, it goes about its business with a surprising degree of eagerness. But, despite the Express's ability to navigate highways and byways, the arrival of recent competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has moved the needle regarding customer expectations. The industry has moved forward, and ultimately, GM will need to modernize the Express to keep pace.

Other Trucks to Consider

Chevrolet Suburban - Yes, the most obvious competitor to the Chevrolet Express 2500 is in the same showroom. A Suburban will seat up to eight, and although it doesn't deliver the sheer cubic volume of the Express, it lines up well in over-the-road demeanor.

Ford E-250 - Just as dated as the Express, but the next-generation E-250 should be based on its European counterpart, the full-size Transit. Given the positive reception to its smaller sibling, the Transit Connect, Ford could have a winner on its hands, adding pressure for Chevrolet to modernize the Express.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter - Much more contemporary, but more expensive than the Express 2500.

For those who can wait, Chrysler intends to import FIAT-based commercial vans in the not-too-distant future.

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We'd equip an eight-passenger Express with the optional 6.0-liter V8 and just enough comfort and convenience accessories to make it livable for a three-week grand tour. It has room for everything a family of four could possibly carry, along with bike storage inside rather than on top of the vehicle. The Express would make an excellent base camp or a great tow vehicle for, say, a 25-foot Airstream. And you'd be out the door for less than $40,000.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Chevrolet Express 2500: New Car Review - Autotrader