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2009 GMC Savana Cargo ReviewThe Good
The 2009 GMC Savana Cargo may just represent the best of the full-size van market, with great engines and standard-setting ride quality.The Bad
The '09 Savana Cargo is a big van, and that means big van issues with parking, maneuverability and fuel efficiency.
The CarGurus View
The 2009 GMC Savana Cargo and its model brethren hold almost 45% of the van market, and it’s easy to see why. The ride is possibly the best in the class, the engines are all stellar, and the options mean you can create a van that fits exactly what you need. Check off what you need, and start hauling.
At a Glance
The GMC Savana Cargo is a full-size van available in half-, three-quarter- and one-ton versions, the 1500, 2500, and 3500, respectively. With three available engines across six trims, two drivetrains, and two wheelbase lengths, the Savana Cargo provides a large range of configurations depending on your application. As opposed to the Savana Passenger van, the Cargo has replaced the side and rear windows with metal panels, or in versions not equipped with the optional driver’s side 60/40 doors, optional access panels.
While a carryover year, the Savana Cargo saw some much needed additions and changes in 2008, including a low-tire pressure monitoring system and an expanded info display that notifies the driver of general vehicle status and maintenance scheduling. This was part of the new interior that the Savana received last year as well.
Configuration options vary across platforms, with 1500s available in the standard wheelbase of 135 inches, while 2500s and 3500s are additionally available in the extended, 155-inch wheelbase. Additionally, 1500s are available with all-wheel drive.
Available engines, all mated to a four-speed automatic, include a 4.3-liter, 195-hp V6; a 5.3-liter, 295-hp, E85-friendly V8; and a 6.6-liter, 250-hp, turbodiesel V8. Maximum towing capacity is 5,900 pounds for the 4.3, 6,500 for the 5.3, and 10,000 pounds for the 6.6. While EPA estimates have yet to be released for the 6.6, the 4.3 achieves 15/20 mpg and the 5.3 manages 10/12.
None of these figures are especially impressive, and even the V6 fails to even approach what would be considered “fuel efficiency,” which is especially disappointing considering it also fails to provide adequate power, specifically off the line. The other engines produce substantial power, with the 6.6 receiving particularly significant praise. The four-speed automatic shifts with precision and ease, too, never leaving you wondering when it will up- or downshift.
Ride & Handling
For a large van, the Savana Cargo's handling and ride are actually better than most competitors'. Expect the usual lean in corners, and practice your K turns, but these are givens. Testers have rated the ride of the Savana as better than the class average, and some have called it best in class, with less float and wallow than other entries. However, as these vans are made to be heavily laden, drivers should expect some abrupt response to rough road when it's empty.
The trims equipped with the longer 155-inch wheelbase are even more composed over bumps and ripples, and the AWD provides an added level of security that has been very well received.
Cabin & Comfort
The word here is “huge.” The van is huge, the inside is huge, the door openings are huge, and the gauges are huge and easy to read. There’s plenty of leg- and headroom front and back as well. Depending on how you equip, there are plenty of options to create a van that’s anything from sparse to special.
Standard options are front air-conditioning, vinyl upholstery, front bucket seats, a center console, integrated trip computer, and black vinyl floor covering, which makes cleaning much easier and also serves to keep cargo in place. A theft-deterrent system is standard as well. Passenger seating is covered by two rows of bench seats.
The LT option package adds rear air-conditioning and a rear heater to regular-length trims, a tilt steering wheel and cruise control for 1500 and 2500 trims, custom cloth upholstery, heated power mirrors, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, illuminated visor mirrors, a compass, deluxe console, auxiliary lighting, carpeting, floormats, a chrome grille and bumpers, and chrome wheel center caps.
All Savana Cargo trims come with antilock brakes and antiskid, as well as dual front and side curtain airbags. Additional standard safety features include a tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights. NHTSA ratings show five stars excepting rollover and rollover resistance, which get three stars.
What Owners Think
Owners have been especially pleased with the versatility and superior ride of the Savana. As the model has changed relatively little over the years, refinements have had to count. Since the model refresh in 2003, owners have been very pleased with updates, both inside and out, with the gauges and controls gaining special attention, as well as the addition of the optional flip-up panels as a replacement for side windows last year.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.