The 2021 GMC Savana is an old-school van. Its profile and basic dimensions look not unlike the custom machines that were popular during the 1970s vanning craze. The GMC Savana was last made new back in the 1990s. So, in the automotive world, the bones underneath the bodywork of the Savana are downright ancient. Yet GM hasn’t stopped improving and upgrading the van since its launch back in 1996. And most of those enhancements are in the form of upgraded engines and transmissions.
Like its twin, the Chevrolet Express, the Savana is a no-frills, commercial-grade vehicle. The cargo models are used by small businesses to haul supplies, and the passenger models are often airport or hotel shuttles. So, for family use, the interiors of these big, trucky vans come up short compared to the downright luxurious and comfort-laden minivans.
Over the years, GMC has streamlined the Savana range. There’s no longer a light-duty 1500-series model. All Savanas are now the more utilitarian and capable 2500 and 3500 series models. And a few years ago, GMC ditched the all-wheel-drive option, too. Generally, they come up a bit short on features when compared to roomier rivals like the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ford Transit, and Ram ProMaster.
How much less room does a Savana offer compared to its peers? The regular wheelbase Savana has 239.7 cubic feet of space behind the front seats, and the longest Savana, the G3500 with its extended 155-inch wheelbase, can handle 283.6 cubic feet of cargo. Now let’s check the more modern competition. The shortest 144-inch wheelbase Sprinter cargo van offers almost 320 cubic feet of space. That’s a big difference.
The size of the Savana hasn’t changed for 2021. But some notable improvements could make the classic GMC van worth another look.
What’s New for 2021?
GMC has replaced its top V8 engine with an all-new one – the 6.6-liter V8. This engine is a monster, delivering 401 horsepower and 464 lb-ft of torque. The engine is also used in the GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500 HD pickup trucks and it generates about 10 percent more power and 20 percent more torque than the old 6.0-liter V8.
Although the Savana’s other engines, a 2.8-liter 4-cylinder diesel from the GMC Canyon midsize pickup and the 4.3-liter V6 are paired to an 8-speed automatic, this new V8 uses a 6-speed automatic. The new V8 increases the hauling capability of these vans, too. A Savana Cargo Van with this engine option is rated to tow up to 10,000 lbs and handle a payload of over 4,000 lbs. That’s impressive.
What We Like
- Potent optional engine
- Small footprint compared to some vans
- Ease of repair and parts availability
- Strong value
What We Don’t
- Dated inside and out
- Limited cargo space
- No 4WD option
- Lacks some safety tech
$33,795-$37,695 (Cargo Van)
$37,695-$39,695 (Passenger Van)
The GMC Savana is technically a commercial vehicle, so the EPA doesn’t issue fuel economy ratings or estimates. However, it’s probably safe to say that the 2.8-liter turbo-diesel powers the most frugal of these vans, and the thirstiest will have the 6.6-liter V8 under the hood.
The GMC Savana comes standard with a 4.3-liter V6 that generates 276 hp and 298 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
An optional 2.8-liter turbo-diesel 4-cylinder is mated to an 8-speed automatic and delivers 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.
The new 6.6-liter V8 generates 401 hp and 464 lb-ft of torque and connects to a 6-speed automatic.
Standard Features & Options
The Savana 2500 and 3500 Passenger Vans are available with two wheelbases, three engine options, and in two trim levels: LS and LT. Upgrading to the 6.6-liter V8 on either trim will cost around $1,800, and moving to the 2.8-liter diesel will add $4,000 to the price.
2500 LS ($37,695) includes 16-inch steel wheels, 4.3-liter gas engine, 8-speed automatic, 12-passenger seating, 3.42:1 axle ratio, ABS, stability control, AM/FM MP3 audio system, inside rearview mirror with rear-vision camera display, tire pressure and oil life monitoring, front and rear air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cloth headliner, interior lights, manual exterior mirrors, hill start assist, and more.
2500 LT ($39,795) adds a tilt wheel and cruise control, remote keyless entry, cloth seating, color-keyed carpeting, forward collision alert and lane departure warning, a deluxe center console, and chrome package.
The GMC Savana 2500 and 3500 Cargo Van is available in a single Work Van trim level ($33,795).
Work Van Options include cloth bucket seats, rear air conditioning, Ambulance Package, Hotel Shuttle Package, Driver Convenience Package (cruise control and tilt steering wheel), Chrome Appearance Package, automatic locking rear differential, rear door and side quarter window glass, rear park assist, and a host of minor mechanical upgrades like a 150-amp alternator.
The GMC Savana is a commercial vehicle and has not been crash-tested by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The Savana Cargo and Passenger Vans are offered with some advanced safety gear. All vans come standard with driver, passenger and side-impact airbags, ABS, and stability control. On passenger models, the LT has the most safety equipment and comes standard with lane departure warning and forward collision warning. Side blind-zone alert is an option.
Cargo vans only come in one trim level, so they offer all this tech as stand-alone options.
Behind the Wheel
Climb up into the Savana and the experience is decidedly retro. It feels every bit like a van from decades ago. GMC even offers a CD player option for those who really want to travel back to the 1990s.
But the new 6.6-liter V8 alters the experience somewhat. Unlike some new full-size vans that struggle to move their loads, the new V8 has no trouble. When the van is empty, it can be downright quick. And if you need to tow a trailer behind this van, the 10,000 lb towing capacity is impressive.
The Savana is a body-on-frame van that was last made new more than 20 years ago. So don’t expect this truck-based van to ride or handle with the precision of fresher competitors. The commercial industry has advanced quite a bit since the Savana was designed, so it’s not surprising that its dynamics feel dated. Still, as a potent and capable cargo hauler with a slightly smaller footprint than the competition, the Savana could be just the right formula.
Other Cars to Consider
2021 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: The Sprinter is, in many ways, the commercial van gold standard. It’s offered in configurations that will support payloads of over 3 tons, offers 4WD as an option, and carries the excellent build quality and safety reputation of Mercedes-Benz.
2021 Ford Transit: The Transit is the do-it-all van, so it’s no surprise why it outsells the competition. Under the hood, the Transit can be optioned with a potent EcoBoost engine with over 400 lb-ft of torque. And it’s paired to a 10-speed transmission. All-wheel drive is on the options list, too. Next year Ford will debut the E-Transit — a fully electric van.
2021 Nissan NV: The NV is based upon the Nissan Titan truck platform, so it’s sturdy. The standard V8 engine is very strong. too. However, like the Savanna, its ride and handling balance is less refined than some. However, unlike GMC, Nissan does offer a tall-roof version so it aligns better with the Ford, Mercedes and Ram competition. Know, however, that the NV is being discontinued after this year.
Used Ram ProMaster: The ProMaster is unique among these heavy-duty full-size vans because it’s front-wheel drive. That allows the Ram to offer a lower and flatter floor. That’s a big benefit for loading heavy cargo. Second-hand ProMasters should be easy to find, considering they’ve been on sale here relatively unchanged since 2013.
The GMC is a utilitarian machine that needs a significant redesign to remain competitive. Its peers offer far more space, flexibility, and valuable features. That said, the new 6.6-liter powertrain should make this van compelling for those that absolutely must tow heavy loads. It’s a workhorse at heart. But it’s time for GMC to mix in some modernization and innovation. Find a new 2021 GMC Savana 2500 for sale or Find a new 2021 GMC Savana 3500 for sale