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2015 GMC Savana 3500: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader September 2014

Sitting at the top of GMC's Savana menu is the 3500. Among the full-size-van lineup, the 2015 GMC Savana 3500 packs the biggest punch for the commercial user and as the basis for 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, an 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's 155-inch wheelbase is capable of carrying 15 passengers, while it can handle as much as 10,000 pounds as a tow vehicle. The 3500's standard drivetrain is the 4.8-liter V8, delivering 280 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. There's also the 6-liter V8, providing 324 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque (notably, both 4.8- and 6-liter engines 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 can provide.

Capable as it may be, the platform underpinning the Savana (which dates back to 1996) is aging. The market for full-size domestic vans has remained relatively static until recently. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which was also sold as a Dodge before the Mercedes/Chrysler marriage, is a rival with a more modern and efficient design. Ford recently released an all-new van dubbed the Transit, and the Nissan NV full-size van is now available for both cargo and passenger applications. Chrysler's RAM division also recently launched its all-new ProMaster cargo van, which boasts updated driving dynamics and fuel-efficient powertrains.

What's New for 2015?

Like other Savana models, changes to the 3500 are minimal for 2015. The biggest upgrade is a newly standard auxiliary port for music, along with a newly optional USB drive for music. The 2015 Savana also comes standard with an OnStar system.

What We Like

Maximum capability to truck customers who need it; can hold up to 15 passengers on extended-wheelbase chassis

What We Don't

Platform is showing its age; competition is heating up

How Much?

$33,500-$50,300

Fuel Economy

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-liter V8 puts out 323 hp and 373 lb-ft. For drivers who really need to haul or tow, there's also the 6.6-liter Duramax diesel. Although this powerplant offers only 260 hp, it boasts a whopping 525 lb-ft of torque. All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Due to the Savana's weight and size, the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency doesn't provide fuel economy figures. Expect around 10–12 miles per gallon in the city and 15–17 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 options, with mandatory rear-wheel drive.

Opt for the Savana Cargo ($33,100), and you shouldn't expect many standard features. The van includes only the basics, such as vinyl seating, OnStar, manual air conditioning and an AM/FM stereo (which includes an auxiliary music port in the 2015 model). There's no CD player and no power locks, power windows or power mirrors, but each of those features and more can be added as options.

Choose the Savana LS ($37,200), and you'll get a few more features. First of all, the Savana 3500 passenger van 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 Savana LT ($37,700) 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, meaning 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 such as a reversing camera, a navigation system and rear park assist.

Safety

Standard 4-wheel disc-braking with anti-lock brakes and dynamic rear proportioning can reduce the drama that comes with stopping a loaded truck. Also standard on all Savana vans is StabiliTrak, GM's electronic stability-control program. Available side-curtain airbags and standard lap and shoulder belts for center-seat passengers bolster safety in the event of an accident. Your ability to avoid an accident is enhanced by sweeping visibility in the 3500 passenger van, the newly available backup camera and parking sensors.

The 2015 GMC 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 for Highway Safety.

Behind the Wheel

No one buys a Savana cargo or passenger van with driving pleasure in mind. Whether intended for work or recreation, the Savana is a means to an end. Ponderous proportions typically make for ponderous handling, but instead, the Savana 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 Savana 3500 goes about its business with a surprising degree of eagerness, regardless of engine choice.

Still, the arrival of recent competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, the Ford Transit and the Nissan NV means that GM will need to modernize the GMC Savana and its sister model, the Chevrolet Express, to keep up the pace.

Other Cars to Consider

Ford Transit -- The all-new Ford Transit offers better gas mileage than the Savana and has improved capabilities. It also offers a more attractive starting price for budget-conscious van shoppers.

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.

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 boasts especially extensive capabilities, whether you're hauling people or large items.

AutoTrader's Advice

It's hard for us to suggest one van over another because the one that's best for you depends on your needs. Drivers who need to carry a lot of people, for instance, will choose a 15-passenger version, while those interested in a heavy-duty hauler will want the cargo model. Our only advice: Get a few convenience options. You'll thank us when you don't have to get out of the van on a hot day just to adjust the passenger-side mirror.

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.
2015 GMC Savana 3500: New Car Review - Autotrader