What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Chevrolet Express passenger van returns unchanged.
When it comes to moving eight or more passengers down the road in relative comfort, the 2012 Chevrolet Express full-size van is hard to beat. Standard-wheelbase Express models offer seating for eight to 12 passengers, while an extended-wheelbase version seats as many as 15 people. Express buyers can also tailor their van to the job at hand with one of four different powertrains, including a gutsy 6.6-liter turbodiesel engine and a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. As if that weren't enough, a properly equipped Express will tow nearly 10,000 pounds.
Truth be told, however, this isn't exactly a crowded vehicle segment. Besides the virtually identical GMC Savana, competitors include the Ford E-Series (a.k.a. Econoline) and that's about it. Buyers with deeper pockets, however should at least check out the more modern Mercedes Sprinter, which earns extra points for better maneuverability and fuel economy. Its unique high-roof version also provides enough room for 6-foot-tall occupants to walk upright inside. You'd have to be 4 feet tall to do that in an Express.
Yet even if the 2012 Chevrolet Express passenger van isn't the most modern of conveyances, it remains one of the scant few ways to carry a large family, soccer team or group of employees from Point A to Point B.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Chevrolet Express is a full-size passenger van that's offered in basic LS and well-equipped LT trim levels. There are three different load ratings available, including the 1500 and heavy-duty 2500 and 3500. All three are offered in the standard-wheelbase (135 inches) configuration, which seats between eight and 12 passengers. The extended-wheelbase (155 inches) model, which can seat up to 15 passengers, is only available in the 3500 series.
Base LS models are modestly equipped and fleet-oriented, with 16- or 17-inch steel wheels, rear privacy glass, 12-passenger seating, passenger-side swing-out doors, front air-conditioning, vinyl upholstery, rubber floor covering and an AM/FM sound system.
The LT trim adds chrome exterior trim, keyless entry, rear air-conditioning and heating, cloth upholstery, full-length carpeting, cruise control, full power accessories, a trip computer, a tilt-only steering wheel, visor vanity mirrors and OnStar emergency communications.
Many of the LT's standard features are also available as options on the LS model. Other major options include 17-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a sliding side door, a towing package, six-way power front seats, remote ignition, Bluetooth and an upgraded sound system with a CD player, a USB/iPod interface and satellite radio.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Chevrolet Express offers four different powertrains. The 1500 series features a 5.3-liter V8 making 310 horsepower and 334 pound-feet of torque, backed by a four-speed automatic transmission and standard rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy with either drivetrain is 13 mpg city/17 mpg highway and 14 mpg combined.
The rear-drive-only 2500 series gets a standard 4.8-liter V8 with 280 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, or an optional 6.0-liter V8 generating 323 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy with the 4.8-liter is 11/17/13, while the 6.0-liter is 11/16/13.
The rear-drive-only 3500 series comes with the 6.0-liter V8 standard. A 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 that puts out 260 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque is optional. Both 3500 series engines come connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is the same as the 2500 with the 6.0-liter, but the turbodiesel's estimates were not available. Properly equipped, an Express 3500 can tow a maximum of 9,900 pounds.
All 2012 Chevy Express passenger vans come fitted with antilock brakes and stability control as standard equipment. Side curtain airbags and OnStar emergency communications are available as options.
Interior Design and Special Features
As passenger vehicles go, the 2012 Chevrolet Express is a pretty spartan affair. Gauges and controls are straightforward and intuitive. The materials used are nothing fancy, especially the vinyl upholstery and rubber flooring that are standard on entry-level LS models. Legroom for the driver and front passenger is limited by the engine cover that juts out from the center of the dash. Also keep in mind that many of the features most people expect on a modern vehicle, things like power locks and carpeting, aren't included on the base model.
Eight-passenger seating is standard on 1500-series vans, while 2500 and 3500 models seat 12. The 3500 long-wheelbase model can also be fitted with an extra row of seats that bumps capacity to 15. The one thing the 2012 Chevrolet Express doesn't offer is a raised roof, an important extra that makes for easier entry and exit.
This is a large commercial van fitted with seats, so your expectations behind the wheel should be limited to "better than a city bus." Importantly, the Express' standard stability control system should help keep you out of trouble, while the ride is comfortable enough. That's really all you can ask for unless you're willing to pay more for the more maneuverable and refined Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
Even the smaller two V8 engines deliver good performance, at least on regular-wheelbase eight- and 12-passenger models. That said, anyone who plans to regularly carry a full load of passengers, tow a trailer or both will no doubt come to appreciate the extra power offered by the more robust 6.0-liter gasoline V8 or the 6.6-liter turbodiesel engine.