What's New for 1997
Dual airbags appear on the G3500 model, while daytime running lights and three fresh exterior colors make this van easier to see. (Editor's Note: If you can't see this monster van without DRL's, perhaps you should consider surrendering your driver's license.) Electronic variable orifice steering reduces effort at low speeds for easier parking, and automatic transmissions shift more smoothly.
Last year, for the first time in 25 years, Chevy dealers received a brand new, completely redesigned, full-size van to sell. Well, sort of. The supply of 1996 models was little more than a trickle as the factory suffered through teething problems. The Chevy Van (the cargo hauler) and the Express (the people hauler) were expected to arrive in dealer showrooms last spring. For 1997, the bugs have been worked out at the plant, and consumers might actually find one of these new vans on a dealer's lot. Equipped with dual airbags and four-wheel anti-lock brakes, Chevrolet is looking forward to stealing some of Ford's thunder in the full-size van market.
Rugged full-frame construction replaces the unibody setup of the previous-generation Chevy Van. Preferred by converters, full-frame construction allows for improved stability, ride and handling. Regular-length models carry 267 cubic feet of cargo, and extended-length vans can haul 317 cubic feet of stuff. Trick rear doors open 180 degrees to make loading and unloading the new van easier. Up to 15 passengers can ride in the extended-length Express, which ought to make this new van a hit with shuttle services. Other seating options include five, eight and twelve passenger arrangements. G3500's can tow up to 10,000 pounds when properly equipped.
For convenience, the full-size spare is stored underneath the cargo floor. A 31-gallon fuel tank keeps this thirsty vehicle from frequent fill-ups, but topping off an empty tank will quickly empty your wallet. Engine choices are sourced from the Chevrolet family of Vortec gasoline motors, and, for the first time, a turbocharged diesel can be installed in Chevy's full-size van. Available are the Vortec 4300 V-6, the 5000, 5700, and 7400 V-8's, and a new 6.5-liter Turbodiesel V-8. Standard side cargo doors are a 60/40 panel arrangement, but a traditional slider is a no-cost option on 135-inch wheelbase vans.
Child safety locks are standard on the rear and side doors of the Express. Passenger assist handles help passengers into and out of the van. Front and rear air conditioning is optional. For 1997, G3500 get dual airbags. Also new are daytime running lights, smoother shifting automatic transmissions, and electronic variable orifice power steering that reduces effort at low speeds, making these vans easier to park.
Exterior styling is an interesting mix of corporate Chevrolet, Astro Van and Lumina Minivan. The high, pillar-mounted taillights are odd, but functional. They can easily be seen if the van is operated with the rear doors open. Low-mounted bumpers and moldings make the Express look taller than it is. An attractively sculpted body side gives the van's smooth, slab-sided flanks a dose of character. Three new colors arrive for 1997, in shades of brown, red, and silver.
Overall, Chevrolet's thoughtful rendition of the traditional full-size van appears to be right on target, giving Ford's Econoline/Club Wagon the first real competition it has faced in years.