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A minivan with truck capabilities ... and refinement ... and ride quality.
Standard eight-passenger seating, 6,000-pound trailer rating, torquey V6.
Boxy design, poor fuel economy, intrusive engine cover makes for small footwells.
Safari gets still more engineering enhancements for its 4.3-liter V6, and higher-output alternators. Door locks have been improved for increased security and remote keyless entry has been made standard on passenger van models. To reduce build complexity, preferred equipment groups have been revised and trim levels cut from three to two.
Because of their traditional-type full-frame construction and standard rear-drive layout, Safaris are most adept at heavy hauling and burly trailer towing. This is one of the very few minivans (GMC calls it a midsize) on the market that can combine over 6,000 pounds of trailering capacity with room for eight people. That's also a good reason why a Cargo Van model is offered, with stripped-out interior ready for upfitting into a workhorse service van -- complete with tool racks or parts bins. Not everyone will relish the truck-like ride over harsh road surfaces, but it's not bad when the highway smoothes out. Don't expect top-notch fuel mileage, though, despite a continually improved powertrain.
GM's 4300 Vortec V6 is standard, sporting more durable camshaft bearings, a lighter starter that requires less current from the battery to crank the engine and a new, more advanced powertrain control module. The 4.3-liter sends 190 horsepower and a healthy 250 foot-pounds of torque to an electronically controlled, four-speed automatic overdrive transmission, equipped with a tow/haul mode for improved performance under loads. Long-life engine coolant and spark plugs help keep maintenance costs to a minimum. All-wheel-drive versions have GM's AutoTrac transfer case, which automatically transfers power to the front axle when rear-wheel slippage is detected.
While the base Cargo Van is the darling of commercial and fleet customers, the Passenger Van is what draws retail buyers. Thanks to some repackaging to reduce the number of build combinations, Safaris now come in just two trim levels, a well-equipped SLE and top-of-the line SLT, with a third-row bench and eight-passenger seating standard (though opting for center-row buckets cuts seating to seven). Instead of the typical minivan lift-up rear door, GMC offers right- and left-hand rear load doors, with the option of choosing "dutch" doors (standard on SLT), which feature a liftglass and a split tailgate. Three different preferred equipment groups now contain 34 distinct features as standard or optional equipment, helping make the long-aging Safari a solid value.
Dual airbags are housed in an artfully styled dashboard, and four-wheel disc/drum antilock brakes are standard. So are features such as speed-sensitive power steering, delayed interior lighting, twin under-seat rear-passenger heating ducts, overhead reading lamps, various built-in cupholders and storage bins and three power outlets.
Insiders say that Safari's days (and those of its Chevy Astro sister) are numbered. But for now, whether your choice is simple rear-drive or full-time all-wheel drive, Safaris still enjoy the rare ability to handle the kinds of towing/hauling tasks that pose problems for modern front-drive minivans. And when the need to transport people dictates that eight is just enough, the Safari is packaged to be just right.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.