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2012 GMC Savana 2500: New Car Review

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author photo by David Boldt May 2012

Pros: Just-right capability; 1,300 additional pounds of GVWR over the light-duty 1500

Cons: Not the most contemporary or efficient way to deliver capability; Savana is basically an afterthought on the dealer lot

As the middle child in GMC's Savana lineup, the 2500 provides additional capability when compared with the light-duty 1500, while offering more day-to-day versatility than the no-holds-barred 3500. GMC provides a 4.8-liter FlexFuel V8 as standard, delivering 279 horsepower and 294 lb-ft of torque. GM's 6.0 liter FlexFuel V8, with 323 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque, is available as an option in the 2500 passenger and cargo vans, while a 6.6-liter DuraMax diesel is an option in the 3500. The 4.8-liter V8 is matched to a four-speed automatic transmission, and the 6.0-liter gasoline-engined Savana is backed by a six-speed automatic transmission. Braking on the 2500 is beefed up via larger-diameter front rotors, while front and rear axles together can accommodate roughly 1,300 additional pounds of cargo or passenger load when compared with the Savana 1500.

If comparing the Savana family of vans with, say, the Silverado family of pickups, know that the vans provide a level of security for your cargo that a pickup never will. And if your residence or business is in the snow belt, a van will keep your cargo dry, regardless of what the weather does on that particular day or weekend. Finally, most pickups are limited to six passengers, while the Savana passenger van can accommodate up to twelve. If cargo and its protection are the most significant considerations, you can make a valid argument for the 2012 Savana. However, GMC's lineup of pickups and SUVs is typically more engaging to drive and has enjoyed more updates over their many years of production.

Comfort & Utility

With available room for 12 or a couple of tons of cargo, you can configure a GMC Savana in dozens of ways. In cargo form as marketed to many fleets, the Savana can serve roles as diverse as plumbing, carpentry or flower delivery. As a passenger van, the Savana is frequently used in shuttle or limousine service. And as an RV, the Savana can capably serve as a donor vehicle for getaway-vehicle modifications. Passenger comfort, however, is determined in large part by the Savana's fleet specification. There's no pretense here of matching the luxury or appointments available in GMC's trucks or sport-utilities. Rather, this is get-me-to-the-airport spec, with an interior designed to satisfy for no more than an hour at a time.

From a suspension standpoint, the Savana 2500 sacrifices some degree of comfort for additional utility. The suspension is less compliant and the tire choices typically more rugged, but the 2500's handling and powertrain will be less affected by load. And whereas the 1500 is limited to under 7,000 pounds of towing capability with its 5.3-liter V8, the 2500 can pull almost 10,000 pounds with its 6.0-liter V8.

If space can be construed as a luxury, the GMC Savana delivers in spades. And with its reserve of towing capability, what luxury the Savana can't deliver, the Airstream behind you will.


GMC's Savana vans can be equipped with numerous technology add-ons. The 2500's audio system lineup can include CD/MP3 capability and a USB port, along with SiriusXM satellite radio. Bluetooth is available, as is dealer-installed WiFi capability. Two standard 12-volt power outlets, mounted inside on the engine cover, maintain the workload when carrying a laptop, while a remote vehicle starter system allows the van to warm up in cold climes and cool off in warm ones. Finally, all GMC products come equipped with OnStar, which provides emergency response, turn-by-turn navigation and concierge service.

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Performance and Fuel Economy

Standard power is provided by a Vortec 4.8-liter V8, delivering 280 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Connected to the Hydra-matic four-speed automatic, the 2500 with the 4.8-

liter V8 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). Equipped with the 6.0-liter gasoline engine, which is good for 324 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque, the Express can tow 10,000 pounds in cargo form and up to 9,800 pounds as a passenger van. As for fuel economy, expect roughly 11-12 mpg in town and between 15 and 17 mpg in highway driving.


The Savana's four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and dynamic rear proportioning reduce the drama inherent in stopping a loaded truck. Helping you stay between the center stripe and the ditch on all Savana vans is StabiliTrak, GM's electronic take on stability control. Head curtain side airbags and lap and shoulder belts for center seat passengers wrap up the Savana's safety menu. Another safety benefit is the sweeping visibility in the 2500 passenger van.

Driving Impressions

With a 135-inch wheelbase and two-stage, multi-leaf rear springs, the Savana is not designed for autocrossing or cutting a wide swath on the autobahn. Ponderous proportions typically make for ponderous handling, and in this regard the Savana won't disappoint. But within the context of a people or cargo carrier, GM engineers have done an admirable job of massaging the "beast" out of this beast; the Savana delivers competent capability within its mission descriptive. And when equipped with any of the V8s, it goes about its business with a degree of eagerness you would not have sensed 20 years ago.

 Other Trucks to Consider

With the advent of more recent contenders such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Nissan NV, the needle has moved regarding customer expectations in the van category. The Savana's ability to navigate highways and byways is unchanged, yet the industry has moved on. Yet Ford's E-250 is equally dated, and the much more contemporary Sprinter, available from Mercedes-Benz, is significantly more expensive.

 The most obvious alternative to GMC's Savana 2500 is in the same GMC showroom. The GMC Yukon XL will seat up to eight, and although not delivering the sheer cubic volume of the Savana, it provides a ride-and-handling dynamic the Savana owner can only dream of.

For those who can wait, Chrysler intends to import FIAT-based commercial vans in the not-too-distant future. Ford's next E-250 should be based on its European counterpart, the full-size Transit, and given the positive reception to its smaller sibling, Ford could have a winner on its hands. Competitive pressure should force GM to modernize the Savana-if, of course, GM management elects to keep it.

AutoTrader Recommends

We'd equip the eight-passenger Savana 2500 with the optional 6.0-liter V8 and six-speed Hydra-matic. We'd then add just enough comfort and convenience accessories (audio upgrade, heavy-duty trailering package) to make it livable for a three-week grand tour. With room for everything a family of four or five could possibly carry, the Savana would make an excellent base camp or a great tow vehicle for that Boston Whaler. And you'd be out-the-door for well under $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 GMC Savana 2500: New Car Review - Autotrader