Sitting at the top of GMC's Savana menu is the 3500. Among the full-size van lineup, the 2014 GMC Savana 3500 packs the biggest punch both in commercial use and as a weekend RV, offering roughly 800 additional pounds of payload over its 2500 sibling. Like all GMC vans, the Savana 3500 employs a fully boxed frame, available locking rear differential and StabiliTrak electronic stabilization.
The design intent of the Savana 3500 is still heavy-duty usage. As a passenger van, the Savana with the 155-inch wheelbase can carry 15 passengers, while as a tow vehicle it can handle as much as 10,000 pounds. The 3500's standard drivetrain is the 4.8-liter V8, delivering 280 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The next bump is the 6.0-liter V8, providing 324 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque. (Notably, both 4.8 and 6.0 are available as flex-fuel variants, allowing an E85 mix of ethanol and gasoline.) At the top of the pyramid is GM's 6.6-liter Duramax diesel. And while its rating of 260 hp may be modest, its 525 lb-ft of torque will pull as many stumps as your acreage could provide.
Capable as it may be, the platform underpinning the Savana is aging. (It dates back to 1996.) The market for full-size domestic vans has remained static until recently. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which was also sold as a Dodge during the Mercedes/Chrysler marriage, competes with a more modern and efficient design. Ford has a new full-size van (also based on a European model) coming soon. The Nissan NV full-size van is now available for both cargo and passenger applications. And Chrysler's RAM division recently launched its all-new ProMaster cargo van, which boasts updated driving dynamics and fuel-efficient powertrains.
What's New for 2014?
The Savana 3500 is unchanged for the 2014 model year.
What We Like
Maximum capability to truck customers who need it; up to 15 passengers on extended-wheelbase chassis
What We Don't
Platform is showing its age; competition is heating up
The Savana 3500 offers three engines. The standard Vortec 4.8-liter V8 makes 279 hp and 294 lb-ft of torque, while the optional 6.0-liter V8 puts out 323 hp and 373 lb-ft. For drivers who really need to haul or tow, there's the 6.6-liter Duramax diesel. Exclusive to the 3500 model in the Savana's range, it boasts only 260 hp but a whopping 525 lb-ft of torque. All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Because of the Savana's weight and size, the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't provide fuel economy figures. Expect around 10 to 12 miles per gallon in the city and 15 to 17 mpg on the highway, regardless of engine choice.
Standard Features & Options
The Savana 3500 comes in three trim levels: a base-level "cargo" model for hauling large items, and LS or LT trims for carrying passengers. All three are offered in short- or long-wheelbase with mandatory rear-wheel drive.
Opt for the Savana Cargo ($33,100) 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 LS ($37,000) and you get a few more features. The most important is seats. The Savana 3500 passenger is offered in two wheelbases; regular models have a 12-person seating capacity, while the extended-length Savana can carry up to 15 people. The Savana LS also includes power door locks and cruise control.
Drivers who opt for the upscale LT ($37,500) get even more standard equipment. Such features include cloth upholstery, a compass, remote keyless entry, rear air conditioning and exterior chrome accents.
Shoppers who want the Savana's diesel engine will pay big money for the privilege. The engine costs around $10,000 extra on all Savana models, so you shouldn't choose it unless you plan on hauling and towing extensively.
In addition to the Savana's standard equipment, many options are available. Extras range from items such as power mirrors and windows to high-end features, including a reversing camera, a navigation system and rear park assist.
Standard 4-wheel disc braking with ABS and dynamic rear proportioning can reduce the drama in stopping a loaded truck. Also standard on all Savana 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. Sweeping visibility in the 3500 passenger van and the newly available backup camera and parking sensors enhance your ability to avoid an accident.
The Savana 3500 is not rated in government crash tests. The Savana's mechanical twin, the Chevrolet Express, received a 3-star rollover rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, though the group didn't rate the van's front- and side-impact protection. The Savana 3500 is also unrated in tests from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
Behind the Wheel
No one buys a Savana cargo or passenger van with the idea of on-road competition. Whether intended for work or recreation, the Savana is a means to an end. Ponderous proportions typically make for ponderous handling and, in this regard, the Savana delivers as expected. To their credit, GM engineers have done admirably in providing the aging platform with a range of powerful V8 engine choices. As a result, the Savana 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 -- as well as upcoming new full-size van models from the other two Big Three U.S. automakers -- mean GM will need to modernize the GMC Savana and its sister model, the Chevrolet Express, to keep pace.
Other Cars to Consider
GMC Yukon XL -- Yes, the most obvious competitor to the GMC Savana 3500 is in the same showroom. A Yukon XL will seat up to eight, and although it doesn't deliver the sheer cubic volume of the Savana, it tops the van in comfort and over-the-road demeanor.
Ford E-350 -- The E-350 is just as dated as the Savana, 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 a modernized GMC Savana.
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter -- The Sprinter offers impressive capability and efficiency in a considerably more modern package than the Savana 3500. But it's also more expensive.
RAM ProMaster -- With fuel-efficient V6 engines and a low load floor, 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 extended-wheelbase 2014 GMC Savana 3500 cargo van with the optional 6.6-liter Duramax diesel, the Convenience package with power windows and locks, a heavy-duty locking differential, heavy-duty trailering equipment and the chrome appearance package to dress it up. We'd then ship it off to an adventure-oriented converter such as Sportsmobile, giving us a big van that could easily sleep four while carrying all the gear typically taken on a 3-week tour. We'd be out the door for roughly $45,000 plus the cost of the conversion, and we'd have a base camp suitable for virtually any venue in North America.