1996 GMC Safari Review
Pros & Cons - Not Available
Edmunds' Expert Review
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.