Used 2011 GMC Savana Review
Edmunds expert review
The 2011 GMC Savana is a willing workhorse for buyers requiring the functionality of a full-size van.
What's new for 2011
Often seeing duty as commercial vehicles such as ambulances, airport shuttles and summer-camp transport, large passenger vans are the workhorses for commercial businesses everywhere. Together with the Chevrolet Express (its GM twin), the 2011 GMC Savana represents nearly half of the market for full-size vans in the U.S.
Now in its 16th year, the current-generation GMC Savana passenger van continues to evolve, carrying over the LS and LT trim levels, which offer seating for up to 15 passengers. Both rear- and all-wheel-drive variants are available, and they come rated in half-ton 1500 and heavy-duty 2500/3500 variants. The most notable change for 2011 is a new and more powerful 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 that's available for both passenger and cargo versions of the Savana. It's rated at 260 horsepower and 525 pound-feet of torque and is said to provide better fuel economy and reduced emissions compared to the previous turbodiesel. A 4.8-liter V8, which last year was only available on the cargo van, is also available for the passenger variant this year.
For hauling lots of people, lots of cargo or a combination of the two, the 2011 GMC Savana is tough to beat. That said, it does have a pair of worthy rivals: the Ford E-Series and the 2011 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. The Sprinter (formerly sold as a Dodge, though the engineering comes from Mercedes) is more expensive, yet it is also the most modern and offers better fuel economy, driving dynamics, interior volume and build quality.
The 2011 Ford E-Series matches up well with the Savana in terms of layout, features and function, but it has been 20 years since the design has been comprehensively upgraded. For fans of engine power, the Savana offers the highest-output gas and diesel engines in the segment. Taking that into consideration along with its other updates this year, we strongly recommend you consider the 2011 GMC Savana for your personal or business needs.
Trim levels & features
The 2011 GMC Savana full-size passenger van is offered in basic LS and well-equipped LT trim levels. The regular-length version with its 115-inch wheelbase is available in half-ton 1500 trim and heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 series with seating for eight to 12 passengers. The extended-length version with its 135-inch wheelbase comes only in the 3500 series, and seats up to 15.
Base LS models are modestly equipped and fleet-oriented with 16- or 17-inch steel wheels, 12-passenger seating, passenger-side swing-out doors, front air-conditioning, vinyl upholstery, rubber floor covering and an AM/FM stereo.
The LT trim adds more style, comforts and conveniences like chrome exterior trim, remote keyless entry, rear air-conditioning and heating, full power accessories, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, cloth upholstery, full-length carpeting, visor vanity mirrors and auxiliary lighting.
Many of these features are also available on the LS model. Other Savana options include aluminum alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors (with turn-signal repeaters), a trailering package, eight- and 15-passenger seating, a sliding side door, remote vehicle starting, power front seats, a Cold Climate package, Bluetooth and CD/MP3 audio with a USB port and satellite radio.
Performance & mpg
The 2011 GMC Savana offers four different powertrains depending on payload rating. The 1500 series features a 5.3-liter V8 with 310 hp and 334 lb-ft of torque, backed by a four-speed automatic transmission and standard rear-wheel drive or available AWD.
The rear-drive-only 2500 gets a standard 4.8-liter V8 with 280 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A 6.0-liter V8 generating 324 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque is optional. Both engines are mated to a heavy-duty six-speed automatic. The 6.0-liter V8 is standard on rear-drive-only 3500 series models, and a 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 putting out 260 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque is optional. Both 3500 series engines are also connected to a six-speed automatic.
GMC Savana passenger vans feature standard antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, OnStar communications and head curtain side-impact airbags for the first three rows of seating.
The GMC Savana has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures; however, its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to the new tests) were a perfect five stars for both driver and passenger in frontal-impact testing.
The Sprinter has a more agile driving demeanor, although no one buys these vehicles for their slalom prowess. The 2011 GMC Savana manages to hold its own with respectable on-road behavior: Its standard traction and stability control system helps keep you out of trouble, while the rack-and-pinion steering and coil-spring front suspension on many models offer a perfectly acceptable ride-and-handling trade-off.
A wide range of engine choices lets you tailor power to your particular needs, and acceleration with even the smaller V8s is spirited and inspires confidence with or without a heavy load. The performance of the Savana is generally pleasant, which is saying a lot for a full-size van.
The GMC Savana's cabin is definitely geared for function over form. Controls are well placed and easily operated, but they'll never win an award for style. Because of the forward placement of the front seats, the front wheel humps intrude on the footwells, reducing space and comfort. Rear passengers fare better, with the optional 60/40-split driver-side doors making access to the rear seats much easier.
Eight-passenger seating is standard on 1500 models, while 12-passenger seating is included on 2500 and 3500 series vans. A 15-passenger configuration is available on the extended-wheelbase 3500. The Express offers only one standard roof height, limiting headroom as you enter or exit the rear of the van. The rival Sprinter offers a high-roof option that eliminates this drawback.
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.