On the Highway
Because these vans are designed to be road warriors, we spent the majority of our testing time driving identical city/highway loops back-to-back between the GMC and the Ford. Stop-and-go traffic both in town and out on the freeways tested the trucks' interior comfort and ride-quality levels nearly as well as our long stints behind the wheel along mountain byways. We found that both vans require a little climbing to get into the driver's seat, but once in, there's plenty of room in the front footwells. You sit more forward in the GMC, so you have excellent visibility over the road. Both have well designed center stacks, with most controls right at your fingertips. Driving either of these behemoths is surprisingly easy, with lots of V-8 power for merging or passing and well-boosted steering for maneuvering in tight parking spots.
We found the GMC's independent short/long arm front suspension offers a more compliant ride than Ford's trusty twin I-beam, while both vans feature rear leaf springs that feel well-tuned to handle bumps, even with a full complement of passengers. Brakes required light effort and took some getting used to, but even hard stops were surefooted in either truck. Four-wheel ABS is standard on both. With the SLT's unobstructed outward view and a pleasantly smaller turning radius, we found it easier to handle in everyday driving duty than the Ford.
Unlike today's four-door minivans, these vans' passenger exits are only on the curb side via a set of double-hinged doors. We'd have preferred a single sliding door for greater ease of entry and exit, especially when nestled between vehicles in a parking lot. Opening the dual rear doors on either van reveals a large cargo hold behind the third-row seat, with the Ford offering far more room (because of seat placement) than the GMC--or, for that matter, even any full-size seven-passenger SUV.
Of course, you never really get to know a vehicle unless you take it out onto a track for instrumented testing, so that's exactly where we headed next. Here, we found that while horsepower in both vans is identical, the Ford outran the GMC in acceleration runs, sprinting 0-60 mph in just 9.9 sec, while the Savana took 10.3. The Traveler even nosed out the SLT in the quarter mile, 17.2 sec to 17.5. But the GMC dominated the E-Series in braking, stopping 60-0 mph in just 153 ft, while the E-150 took 170.