The Savana and Express twins haven't changed much in the last few years, and there are no changes for the 2012 model year. But it had been a while since we last tested a Savana, so we were happy to get behind the wheel of this 3500 cargo van. The 3500 package offers a lot of utility for buyers. Its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is an impressive 9600 pounds; it can tow 10,000 pounds; and on the 135-inch wheelbase like our tester's, it has a payload capacity of 4187 pounds. With the 3500, a Duramax turbodiesel is an available option, and that's the engine we tried out.

The Duramax is an excellent engine, getting the van up to 60 mph from a stop in 8.6 seconds. Response is quick, and keeping the Savana at freeway speeds is easy. While it's a shame that this Duramax is a detuned version of the one in the Silverado HD (the van loses 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque compared with the Silverado HD), having the more powerful engine isn't necessary -- but it would be fun. The transmission works well with the turbodiesel, but the van's steering is imprecise. The Savana came to a complete stop from 60 mph in 140 feet.

BARE BONES -- Being that it's a working van, the interior is practicaly devoid of amenities. More room for cargo.

The interior is pretty sparse, as you would expect in a cargo van, but considering its $44,620 as-tested price tag, we would've expected more equipment for the money. It did come with power locks (but there was no key fob control of them) and windows, tilt wheel and cruise control, glass on the passenger side and on the rear cargo doors, disc brakes, heavy-duty tow option, and a locking rear diff. However, there are no tie-down hooks on the cargo floor -- the van has a spacious 284.4-cubic-foot cargo volume, but no way to secure goods to the floor. There aren't power mirrors or a glove box, and that price doesn't include fancy leather seats.

The Express and Savana are some of the top-selling cargo vans out there, with about 39 percent of the segment, but things are changing quickly, with the Ford Transit coming soon and the Ram version of the Ducato on the horizon. In addition, the much more refined NV and Sprinter have already raised the bar for full-size vans. With all the activity, GM risks being the only one that hasn't made any big improvements, and it's going to get tougher to stay competitive.

If GM wants to battle in the rapidly changing van market, one of the things it can do is offer value. While a key aspect of that is to keep the purchase price low (the 1500 vans start at just over $25,000), it's also important to keep option prices reasonable as well. A 3500-series van's price starts at about $32,000. In the case of this van, by the time it was equipped with a diesel and a few convenience packages, that went up to nearly $45,000. What GM has on its side is that its cost of ownership may prove to be lower than that of the newcomers to the van party, and that may be enough to overcome the relatively high price of admission and the onslaught coming from all directions.


2011 GMC Savana 3500 Cargo Van
Base price $42,275
Price as tested $44,620
Layout Front engine, RWD, 2-pass, 3-door van
Engine 6.6L/260-hp/525-lb-ftV-8 turbodiesel, OHV, 4 valves/cyl
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 135.0 in
Length w width x height 224.0 x 79.2 x 81.5 in
Curb weight 6240 lb
GVWR 9600 lb
Payload Capacity 4187 lb
Towing Capacity 10,000 lb
0-60 mph 8.6 sec
Quarter mile 16.6 sec @ 81.9 mph
Braking, 60-0 140 ft
EPA city/hwy fuel econ Not rated
On sale in U.S. Currently