What's New for 1997
Illuminated entry and daytime running lights debut this year, along with a couple of new colors and automatic transmission improvements. SLT models can be equipped with leather seating, and a HomeLink three-channel transmitter is optional. Speed-sensitive power steering makes parking easier.
Choosing between a Chevrolet Astro and a GMC Safari is more a matter of image than necessity. Do you want to see Chevrolet's badge every time you approach? Or would it be viscerally satisfying to face those bold "GMC" block letters, with their implication, as brand managers hope, of upscale luxury?
Tangible differences between the two are modest--a fact that's true of most Chevrolet and GMC cousins. Once you've decided that a rear-drive (or all-wheel-drive) General Motors midsize van is the rational choice, you'll likely be satisfied with either one.
Because of their traditional-type full-frame construction and rear-drive layout, Safaris are most adept at heavy hauling and burly trailer-towing. Not everyone will relish the truck-like ride over harsh surfaces, but it's not bad at all when the highway smoothes out. Don't expect top-notch fuel mileage, though.
Dual airbags are housed in an artfully styled dashboard, and antilock brakes are standard. For added safety and visibility, daytime running lights have been installed this year. Integrated child safety seats are available for the center bench seat, and the sliding door has a child safety lock. Rear seat heat ducts direct warm air to freezing rear passengers. For 1997, SLT models can be equipped with leather seats, and Safaris with SLE or SLT trim offer an optional HomeLink three-channel transmitter. Illuminated entry lighting is a new standard feature for all Safari passenger vans.
One slick feature sure to be appreciated by the parents of teenagers is the middle radio option. The driver and front passenger can listen to Casey Kasem up front, or nothing at all, while Junior blasts the local alternative music station into his eardrums via a set of headphone jacks that plugs into a separate radio unit in the center row. This option alone is worth the savings in family therapy, don't you think?
GM's 4300 Vortec V6 is standard, sending 190 horsepower to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. Long-life engine coolant and 100,000-mile spark plugs help keep maintenance costs to a minimum. This year brings transmission refinements that result in smoother shifts and improved efficiency, and all-wheel drive models get new plug-in half shafts that improve serviceability and save weight. Speed-sensitive power steering now makes parking the Safari easier.
Safaris come in three trim levels. The FE2 touring suspension option has stiffer shocks, a rear stabilizer bar, and grabby Goodyear rubber for a firmer, controlled ride. Eight-passenger seating is standard in Safaris with SLE or SLT trim, and available in the base SLX rendition. Two new colors are available for 1997, and the remote keyless entry key fob is redesigned.
Whether rear-drive or running full-time all-wheel drive, Safaris serve the muscular tasks that a front-drive minivan just cannot handle--yet convey a family in a fashion that won't produce pangs of pain.