Used 1996 GMC Safari Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

An all-new interior debuts with dual airbags, more leg- and foot room, and a host of other features. Important among them are the availability of dual-integrated child seats and a child-proof lock on the right-side sliding door. Under-seat heat ducts help warm the rear passengers, and new audio systems include a radio that can be tuned independently by rear-seat passengers without disturbing the listening pleasure, or program, that the front occupants are enjoying.

Vehicle overview

Choosing between an Astro and a 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 of long-haul trucking--or even rough living. Climbing aboard either one demands a high step upward, enhancing the impression of entering a truck, not a car.

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 (and Astros) 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.

Front ends earned a facelift last year. This year, the interior is all-new. Dual airbags are housed in an artfully styled dashboard complete with analog gauges and improved switchgear. Integrated child safety seats are available for the center bench seat, and the sliding door gets a child safety lock. Rear seat heat ducts direct warm air to freezing rear passengers, improved storage compartments, and new audio systems make the Safari far more livable, and modern, than before.

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 improved 4300 Vortec V6 is now standard, sending 190 horsepower to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. Long-life engine coolant and 100,000-mile spark plugs are new this year.

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 now standard in Safaris with SLE or SLT trim, and available in the base (SLX) rendition. 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.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.