Interested in a time capsule? One you can drive right off the dealer’s lot?
The 2023 GMC Savana van fits the bill. It hasn’t been changed much since 1996, making it the only almost-30-year-old brand-new vehicle on the market.
But why would you want to buy it?
Maybe because it is literally built like they used to make ’em.
What It Is
The Savana is a full-size van, not a minivan. It differs chiefly from the latter in that it’s built on a much heavier-duty (rear-wheel-drive) foundation and is available with a V8 engine, something no minivan has ever offered. It can also pull up to 10,000 pounds, which is more than twice as much as any minivan can handle.
It is also a spartan van, relative to what you’d find in a minivan.
The base 2500 series (and standard wheelbase) Work Van that stickers for $44,095 to start only has a driver and front passenger seat, with everything aft of that being open space for whatever you’d like to put there. It is why this van is so perennially popular with electricians, plumbers and other business owners who need something that can carry the tools of the trade to where their trade is practiced. But it can also serve as a passenger van — up to 15 of them — or even as the basis for an RV.
It’s a blank canvas for you to paint as you like.
A top-of-the-line, long-wheelbase 3500 Series Passenger Van with a 6.6-liter V8 engine in place of the otherwise standard 4.3-liter V6, paired with a heavier-duty automatic transmission, stickers for $46,095.
What’s New for 2023
Though the Savana is literally a new antique (in most states, a vehicle qualifies for that status once it reaches 25 years old), the ’23 model comes with many features that were inconceivable 27 years ago, including standard Wi-Fi connectivity, Bluetooth and a number of modern electronic safety systems such as Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure and Blind Spot Warning; the latter two are standard in all trims.
Simple, tough, capable and configurable.
Massive cargo (and towing) capacity.
Costs about the same as a much smaller, far-less capable minivan.
What’s Not So Good
No factory high roof option. (Newer large vans such as the Dodge ProMaster and Mercedes Sprinter offer this.)
No more diesel engine option.
Doesn’t ride like a minivan.
Under The Hood
GMC offers the Savana with either a 4.3-liter V6 that make 276 horsepower or (optionally) a 6.6-liter V8 that makes 401 horsepower and a very stout 464 foot-pounds of torque.
The V6 comes paired with an eight-speed automatic; the V8 comes with a heavier-duty six-speed automatic.
Equipped with the V8 engine, a Savana can pull a 10,000-pound trailer and carry as much as 3,280 pounds of payload inside the cargo area.
Most minivans have a maximum tow rating of 3,500 lbs.
Sadly, the third engine that was available in the Savana until this year — a 2.8-liter turbo-diesel — no longer is. This engine produced much more torque (369 foot-pounds) than the gas 4.3-liter V6 (just 298 foot-pounds) while using considerably less fuel than the 6.6-liter gas V8.
On The Road
The Savana feels solid and heavy and powerful, which it should — because it is.
Empty, the thing is pretty fast, too.
Zero to 60 in about 7.3 seconds, which would have almost kept pace, 27 years ago, with a Mustang GT. It sounds faster — because the engine is right there by your right leg, under that big hump that partially separates the driver’s area from the front seat passenger’s area.
Back in the day, sometimes people would remove the cover so the engine was literally right there and, if the engine had a big, four-barrel carb, you could watch (and hear) the secondaries open up when you floored it.
In these times, what you’ve got is what you had 27 years ago: a simple machine that’s as straightforward to drive as vehicles were back then. There is a column shifter, not a toggle or wheel. There is no LCD display, not even in the center stack. There are knobs to control the air conditioning. It even still has a key — and an ignition switch — rather than an electronic fob and a “start” button.
It is almost like going to a car museum and being allowed to take some of the antiques out for a spin.
At The Curb
Even the standard wheelbase 2500 Savana is nearly as long as a full-size, half-ton pickup like the Chevy Silverado with an eight-foot bed. The long wheelbase Savana is longer — by almost a foot. That’s how you carve out 283.6 cubic feet of cargo space inside the latter, which, to give you some sense of just how much that is, is nearly three times as much cargo space as you’d get inside a “full-size” minivan like the Toyota Sienna (101.1 cubic feet).
There is enough space to create a home on wheels, with a kitchenette, lounge area, sleeping area and even a bathroom. This is a fairly common thing that people do with these big vans, and the Savana’s only failing here is you cannot quite stand up inside it without crouching down a little, on account of the roof height.
Some of the others in this class, such as the Ram ProMaster and Mercedes Sprinter, do offer high-roof versions, and that makes them more amenable to being converted into homes on the go.
If you opt for the passenger van, the maximum tow rating dips slightly to 9,600 pounds. But you also get passenger-friendly swing-out side doors and door glass; the Work Van does not. However, the latter does come standard with power windows (for the driver and front seat passenger) as well as AC, a two-speaker stereo, Fleet Management connected services and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The Bottom Line
Cher sang about turning back time. Here’s a way to drive it.