Climbing into the cockpit, we immediately noticed the restyled interior and IP, featuring more supportive seats and upgraded HVAC operation. All models also tout an advanced, Class II electrical system, which through new multiplexing technology allows for the addition of battery run-down protection, delayed accessory power, lock-out protection, and an expanded number of driver alerts--including cost-saving oil-life and air-filter monitors. Convenience improvements include more cupholders, an additional power point, and storage options. There's even OnStar and RDS Radio System availability.

Our goal was to spend as much time as possible sampling the three segment-busting features in the new vans. First on our list was the all-wheel-drive "H-model" that's been added to the 2WD "G-model" lineup. Surely any number of service, delivery, and transport companies who operate in wet and/or snowy climates would find many advantages, not the least of which safety-related, with an all-wheel-drive full-size van. GM's new H-models employ a full-time viscous-coupled transfer case to seamlessly deliver what can honestly be described as the best on-road, wet- or dry-pavement handling and traction ever engineered into a full-size van.

Also impressive was the obvious usefulness of the industry's first 60/40 left-hand-side hinged door (available on regular-length passenger and cargo vans), especially when flexible passenger-entry/cargo-loading capability is needed. Contractors are sure to love the new side-access doors, with remote release on the work-oriented Savana Pro and Express Access models, which allow street-side access to tools and parts. But more on that later.

We were already intimately acquainted with the Express/Savana's ride-and-handling dynamics and how they stack up against Ford's Econoline, thanks to our head-to-head comparison test in the Nov./Dec. '01 issue of Truck Trend. That's why it didn't take more than a single lap around the test track to see that the '03 vans accelerate smoother, handle tighter, ride quieter, and steer more precisely than the current models, which had already enjoyed a ride advantage over their Ford counterparts.

Part of the improvement can be traced to the new vans' stiffer box frames that deliver more torsional rigidity and a solid foundation on which to mount new front and rear suspensions, modified versions of those on GM's successful full-size pickups. In fact, except for its cast-iron lower control arms, the independent-front short/long arm coil-spring suspension on G-Series models is essentially the same as on 2WD full-size pickups, and the torsion-bar H-Series front-suspension system is practically identical to that of K1500 full-size pickups. All rear suspensions use a quieter, higher-quality solid axle, with semi-elliptic multileaf springs and gas shocks.