What's New for 2009
The 2009 GMC Savana receives no notable changes other than an available "fast idle" option for the 6.0-liter V8, which supposedly facilitates the use of accessories while the vehicle is idling.
In full-size-van years, 13 is on the young side. That's how long it's been since the GMC Savana last received a full redesign, which makes it considerably younger than the hoary Ford E-Series. As such, we're not going to give GMC a hard time for letting its full-sizer stand pat for this model year. The 2009 GMC Savana does just about everything a big van should, lacking only the Dodge Sprinter's tall-roof option and superior fuel economy.
There have been numerous updates over the course of the life cycle of General Motors' full-size vans, the Savana and the Chevrolet Express. Notably, '03 saw the arrival of updated V8 engines, available all-wheel drive, upgraded brakes, a stronger frame and various interior improvements. Though the interior materials and switchgear are still nothing to write home about, they did receive some refinements last year. Short of a complete overhaul, the 2009 GMC Savana is about as good as the General's full-size van is going to get.
With room for up to 15 passengers, beasts of burden like the Savana are ideal for those who want to ferry around large numbers of people without going all-out and buying a bus. As such, the Savana is a logical choice for churches, schools and other institutions with large-scale transportation requirements. The more modern Dodge Sprinter makes for a superior shuttle, however, thanks to its taller roof, better road manners and superior fuel efficiency. It's more expensive, though, so if you don't want to break the bank, the Savana should be fully up to the task.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The standard-wheelbase (135-inch) GMC Savana full-size van comes in half-ton (1500) and 1-ton (3500) configurations. The extended-wheelbase version (155-inch) is available only on the 3500. There are two trim levels: LS and LT. LS models are geared toward fleet service, so standard equipment is limited to features such as air-conditioning, an AM/FM stereo and a theft-deterrent system. The more livable LT models include auxiliary rear air-conditioning and heating, power windows and door locks, cloth upholstery, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel and keyless entry. Optional equipment groups are extensive, with features like power driver and front passenger seats, alloy wheels and an upgraded audio system with an in-dash six-CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard engine in Savana 1500 models is a 5.3-liter V8 making 301 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. A 6.0-liter V8 rated at 323 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque is standard on 3500s. All 1500 models use a four-speed automatic that sends power to the rear wheels, while 3500s get a heavy-duty version of that transmission. An all-wheel-drive configuration is also available for the 1500. The maximum towing capacity on 1500 models is 6,300 pounds, while the heavy-duty 3500 can pull up to 7,600 pounds when properly equipped.
All models have standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control and side curtain airbags (for the first three rows of seating). In frontal-impact crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2009 GMC Savana scored a perfect five stars for both driver and front-passenger protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The GMC Savana's interior is built for functionality, not fashion. All controls are simple to use and well within reach of the driver, but they're far from stylish. The front footwells remain as cramped as ever. On the bright side, the optional 60/40-split driver-side doors facilitate access to the rear seats. The standard configuration seats 12, with 8- and 15-passenger arrangements also available, depending on which model you choose.
A robust frame, rack-and-pinion steering (half-ton models only) and standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes give the 2009 GMC Savana respectable ride and handling characteristics. With a pair of strong V8 engines to choose from, merging and passing maneuvers are easily accomplished, even when you're hauling a heavy load of passengers and cargo. As full-size vans go, the Savana is pleasant to pilot -- just don't expect it to match the European-style driving dynamics of the Sprinter.