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2011 GMC Savana 3500 Cargo Van

2,000-Mile Test Of The Only Other Vehicle GM Builds With A Duramax

David Kennedy
Jun 1, 2012
Photographers: David Kennedy
The fullsize van market is an endangered species. Dodge’s Ram van was killed in 2003, and the Ford E-Series is being replaced by the Transit van from Europe. That leaves the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana trucks built in Wentzville, Missouri, as the last two diesel- powered, American-made vans standing.
Photo 2/7   |   2011 Gmc Savana 3500 Cargo Van gmc Cargo Van Front Three Quarter
The stripped-down ’11 GMC Savana Cargo Van we tested came with a shocking price of $44,620, yet the window sticker listed only 10 items: power locks and windows, tilt wheel and cruise control, AM/FM stereo with CD player, locking rear differential, heavy-duty trailering equipment, fixed-glass rear and side doors, custom cloth seats, 9,600-pound GWVR, base equipment group, and driver and passenger high-back seats. For about $8,000 less, you could get a comparably equipped Sierra 2500HD work truck. So what does the van offer that the pickup doesn’t? The two biggest things we noted were the Savana’s storage space and fuel economy advantage.
Photo 3/7   |   The van’s LGH Duramax engine is slightly different than the Duramax used in the pickups. While both engines are based on the same 6.6L long-block, the van’s 260hp and 525-lb-ft trim level gives up 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque to its high-powered big bother. Readers should know, however, the van felt every bit as quick as our ’02 4x4 extended-cab 6.6L Silverado. In fact, during our drag race testing, the Savana beat our LB7 pickup every time.
2,000-Mile Fuel Economy Test
We loaded the Savana Cargo Van with three Allison 1000 transmissions, a Ford F-550 front axle, and another 100 pounds of miscellaneous gear. We then made a roundtrip run from Las Vegas to Denver and back. With a full tank of fuel and our cargo, the Savana weighed 8,260 pounds.
Photo 4/7   |   The Duramax-powered vans use a 6L90E six-speed automatic. While smaller than the Allison, the 6L90E is still a stout unit that’s rated to tow up to 9,600 pounds in the van. We liked how responsive the Duramax felt when matched with the 6L90E’s lighter-than-the-Allison rotating assembly and think this transmission is part of the van’s fuel-economy advantage.
Stage 1 (Freeway traffic mixed with sections of 80-mph highway driving)
  • Road Traveled: I-15 from Las Vegas, NV, to Richfield, UT
  • Distance Driven: 263.7 miles
  • Average Speed: 72.1 mph
  • Fuel Economy: 16.9 mpg
Stage 2 (Open highway, no traffic, some hills)
  • Road Traveled: I-70 from Richfield, UT, To Edwards, CO
  • Distance Driven: 370 miles
  • Average Speed: 67.9 mph
  • Fuel Economy: 21.4 mpg
Stage 3 (Tall mountains, moderate traffic, lots of throttle, short trips)
  • Road Traveled: I-70 from Edwards, CO, To Wheat Ridge, CO
  • Distance Driven: 106 miles
  • Average Speed: 61.8 mph
  • Fuel Economy: 12.14 mpg
Stage 4 (City driving, tall mountains, light traffic, lots of throttle)
  • Road Traveled: I-70 from Wheat Ridge, CO, To Green River, UT
  • Distance Driven: 456 miles
  • Average Speed: 52 mph
  • Fuel Economy: 17.06 mpg
Stage 5 (High-speed driving, no traffic, 80-mph speed limit)
  • Road Traveled: I-70 and I-15 from Green River, UT, To St. George, UT
  • Distance Driven: 289 miles
  • Average Speed: 77.4 mph
  • Fuel Economy: 16.33 mpg
Stage 6 (Moderate traffic, some extended idling time, city driving)
  • Road Traveled: I-15 and I-10 from St. George, UT, To El Segundo, CA
  • Distance Driven: 419.9 miles
  • Average Speed: 66.4 mph
  • Fuel Economy: 18.48 mpg


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