Pros: Just right capability; 1,300 additional pounds of GVWR over the light-duty 1500
Cons: Not the most contemporary or efficient van; out of line with GMC's upscale pickup, SUV and crossover lineup
What's New: Available backup camera; rear parking sensors; navigation
As the middle child in the full-size van lineup, the 2013 GMC Savana 2500 provides additional capability in comparison to 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 4-speed automatic transmission, and the 6.0-liter gasoline-engine Savana gets a 6-speed automatic transmission. Braking on the 2500 is beefed up via larger diameter front rotors, while the front and rear axles together can accommodate roughly 1,300 additional pounds of cargo or passenger load compared to the Savana 1500.
If comparing GMC's full-size vans with, say, the Silverado family of pickups, you should 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 the weather. 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 2013 Savana. However, GMC's lineup of pickups and SUVs is typically more engaging to drive and has enjoyed more updates over the years.
Comfort & Utility
With available room for 12 passengers 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 than those designed for the 1500. But the 2500's handling and powertrain are affected less by heavy loads. And whereas the 1500 is limited to less than 7,000 pounds of towing capability with its 5.3-liter V8, the 2500 can pull almost 10,000 pounds with the optional 6.0-liter V8.
If space can be considered a luxury, the 2013 GMC Savana 2500 delivers in spades. And with its reserve of towing capability, what luxury the Savana can't deliver, the Airstream behind you will.
Despite its age, the Savana keeps up pretty well with technology driven equipment. A new radio navigation system is available for 2013, and audio offerings include CD/MP3 capability, a USB port and SiriusXM satellite radio. Bluetooth is available, as is a dealer-installed Wi-Fi capability. Two standard 12-volt power outlets (mounted inside on the engine cover) maintain the workload when carrying a laptop, and a remote vehicle starter system allows the driver to warm up the van in cold climes, and cool it off in the warm ones. Perhaps the ultimate built-in technology is OnStar, which provides emergency response, turn-by-turn navigation and concierge service.
Performance and Fuel Economy
Standard power is provided by a Vortec 4.8-liter V8, delivering 280 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Bolted to the Hydra-matic 4-speed automatic transmission, 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). Bump up to the 6.0-liter gasoline engine rated at 324 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque, and 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 city/15-17 mpg hwy.
The Savana's 4-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 is StabiliTrak, GM's stability control program that comes standard on the Savana. Another safety benefit is the sweeping visibility in the 2500 passenger van. Available backup camera and rear parking sensors aid in low-speed maneuvering. Head curtain side airbags and lap and shoulder belts for center seat passengers wrap up the Savana's safety menu.
With a 135-inch wheelbase and 2-stage, multi-leaf rear springs, the Savana is not designed for quickness. Ponderous proportions typically make for ponderous handling, and in this regard the Savana delivers as expected. 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. And when equipped with any of the V8s, it goes about its business with a degree of eagerness you wouldn't have found in a similar vehicle 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 moves on. That said, 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 it does not deliver 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.
We'd equip the 8-passenger Savana 2500 with the optional 6.0-liter V8 and 6-speed Hydra-matic. We'd then add just enough comfort and convenience accessories (navigation, the convenience package with power windows and locks, the heavy-duty trailering package, parking sensors and backup camera) to make it livable for a three-week grand tour and beyond. 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.