Sitting at the top of Chevy's full-size van lineup, the 2014 Chevrolet Express 3500 packs the biggest punch for the commercial user. With the gasoline powertrain, it has 965 additional pounds of payload over its smaller 2500 sibling. The payload comparison when it's equipped with a diesel engine is even greater. In all, heavy-duty applications are the reason for the Express 3500's existence.
Although the capability of the Express is unquestioned, prospective buyers should remember that its platform dates to 1996. The market for domestic full-size vans has remained relatively static until very recently. Now both Ford and Chrysler (through its RAM brand) have new vans derived from European platforms on the way, while Mercedes-Benz and Nissan recently released all-new full-size vans. For GM to remain a close second to Ford in the full-size sales race, it's time for Chevrolet to bring to the table something conceived in this century.
What's New for 2014?
The Express 3500 is unchanged for the 2014 model year.
What We Like
Maximum capability for demanding truck customers; up to 9,900 gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) on diesel versions
What We Don't
Old platform; old switchgear; driving dynamics from another era
Engine choices for the Express 3500 should fit most needs. Standard is the Vortec 4.8-liter V8, delivering 279 horsepower and 294 lb-ft of torque. Two engines are optional: a 6.0-liter gasoline V8 that makes 323 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque, and a 6.6-liter DuraMax V8 diesel that puts out 260 hp and a whopping 525 lb-ft of torque. All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Given that all 3500s enjoy a GVWR of more than 8,500 pounds, the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't provide fuel economy figures. You can, however, project roughly 11 to 12 miles per gallon in stop-and-go driving and between 15 and 17 mpg in highway driving, regardless of engine choice.
Standard Features & Options
The Express 3500 is offered in three trim levels: a base-level "cargo" model for hauling, and LS or LT trims for carrying passengers.
Opt for the Express Cargo ($33,300) and don't expect many standard features. The van includes only the basics, such as vinyl seating, manual air conditioning and an AM/FM stereo. There's no CD player, no OnStar telematics system and no power locks, power windows or power mirrors. However, each of those features, and more, can be added as options.
Choose the Express LS ($35,000) and you get a few more features. The most important one is seats: The Express 3500 passenger is offered in two wheelbases; regular models have a 12-person seating capacity, while the extended-length Express can carry up to 15 people. The Express LS also includes power door locks and cruise control.
Drivers who opt for the upscale Express LT ($37,000) get even more standard equipment. Such features include cloth upholstery, a compass, remote keyless entry, rear air conditioning and exterior chrome accents.
In addition to the van's standard equipment, many options are available. They range from items such as power mirrors and windows to high-end features such as a reversing camera, a navigation system and rear park assist. While all-wheel drive is available on some Express models, all Express 3500 units are rear-wheel drive.
Four-wheel disc braking with ABS and dynamic rear proportioning can reduce the drama inherent in stopping a loaded truck. Also standard on all Express vans is StabiliTrak, GM's electronic stability control program. Available head curtain side airbags and standard lap and shoulder belts for center-seat passengers bolster safety in an accident. Your ability to avoid an accident is enhanced by sweeping visibility in the 3500 passenger van and the newly available backup camera and parking sensors.
The Express 3500 is not fully rated in government crash tests. Front- and side-impact scores aren't available, though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provided the Express with a 3-star rollover rating. The Express 3500 is also unrated in tests from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
Behind the Wheel
No one buys an Express cargo or passenger van with the idea of on-road competition. Whether intended for work or recreation, the Express is a means to an end. Ponderous proportions typically make for ponderous handling; in this regard, the Express delivers as expected. To their credit, GM engineers have done an admirable job of providing the aging platform with a range of powerful V8 engine choices. As a result, the Express 3500 goes about its business with surprising eagerness, regardless of engine choice.
Still, the arrival of recent competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Nissan NV -- not to mention upcoming new full-size van models from the other two Big Three U.S. automakers -- means GM will need to modernize the Chevrolet Express and its sister model, the GMC Savana, to keep pace.
Chevrolet Suburban -- Yes, the most obvious competitor to the Chevrolet Express 3500 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 tops the van in comfort and over-the-road demeanor.
Ford E-350 -- The E-350 is just as dated as the Express, but the next-generation full-size Transit arrives soon. Given the positive reception to its smaller sibling, the Transit Connect, Ford could have a winner on its hands, which would add pressure for Chevrolet to modernize the Express.
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter -- The Sprinter offers impressive capability and efficiency in a considerably more modern package than the Express 3500. But it's also more expensive.
RAM ProMaster -- While it hasn't reached dealers yet, RAM's latest take on the full-size van is sure to offer huge capability, whether you're hauling people or large items.
We'd equip an 8-passenger 2014 Chevrolet Express 3500 with the optional 6.6-liter DuraMax diesel, hook it up to a 27-foot Airstream and add just enough comfort and convenience accessories to make the Chevy livable for a 3-week grand tour. With room for everything a family of four could carry, along with bike storage inside rather than on top of the van, the Express/Airstream combo would make an excellent base camp for an extended road trip.