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CarGurus Expert ReviewThe Good
Solid construction, available all-wheel drive, some heady towing capacity, multiple wheelbases and potent V8 engines—both gas and diesel—all contribute to the ongoing popularity of the 2012 Chevrolet Express Cargo van.The Bad
A Spartan interior, tepid mileage, no tall roof option, ponderous handling and a lazy V6 may lead some to look elsewhere than the 2012 Express Cargo for their hauling needs.
The CarGurus View
Venerable and dependable, the Chevrolet Express Cargo van has been helping America’s bottom line for some 17 years now. Don’t expect any fluff for 2012, just look for this dependable, cargo-capable, trailer-towing workhorse to keep getting the job done at a reasonable cost and with little fanfare.
At a Glance
The stolid Chevrolet Express Cargo van has been buzzing along roadways for some 17 years in its present iteration. The 2012 version ought to be recognizable for its eerie similarity to the 2011 variation, as well as the ’10, ’09, et al. This 2-passenger full-size workaholic has changed very little over the years, with cosmetic upgrades coming in barely noticeable increments. Upgrades to powertrains and amenities, on the other hand, arrive with some regularity, though the 2012 Express Cargo stands pat from last year’s version. Though not as nimble as some, this no-frills van offers five engine options; six if the available 6.0-liter compressed natural gas (CNG) engine is counted. Then there’s available all-wheel drive (AWD), as well as an extended-length version (Ext.), boasting a 155-inch wheelbase and 244 inches in overall length. Standard-length versions, meantime, offer a 135-inch wheelbase and 224-inch overall length.
As is traditional, the Chevy Express lineup comes in three trims, the half-ton 1500, the three-quarter-ton 2500 and the one-ton 3500. Only the 1500 is available with AWD, while the 2500 and 3500 can each be delivered in extended-length versions, as well as with a turbodiesel V8 or conventional 6.0-liter V8. Cargo area in the standard-length 2500 or 3500 vans is 270.4 cubic feet, while Ext. variants boast 313.9 cubic feet. Where the beef counts, however, is in payload capacity, with the 1500 trim able to carry up to 2,381 pounds, the standard-length 2500 toting up to 3,274 pounds and the standard-length 3500's capacity for a maximum of 4,238 pounds. Though roomy, the Ext. versions slack off on payload, with the 2500 Ext. offering only 3,061 pounds of payload capacity and the 3500 Ext. able to schlep 4,043 pounds.
Old rivals to the 2012 Express Cargo include the Ford E-Series and the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. The former lacks the powertrain choices that Chevy offers, but sports more work solutions, while the latter is roomier and more maneuverable than the Chevy, but can’t match the Express lineup in power or price. Finally, the GMC Savana, an almost mirror image of its Chevrolet cousin, is bound to lure a few tire-kickers from the Express…and vice versa.
For the rear-wheel-drive (RWD) 2012 Express 1500, a standard 4.3-liter V6 engine combines with the standard 4-speed automatic transmission to provide 195 hp at 4,600 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm. Mileage with the six-banger is estimated at 15 mpg city/20 highway, while towing tops out at 6,700 pounds, assuming the proper equipment.
When the 1500 is equipped with available AWD, it will be delivered with a variable-valve-timed (VVT) 5.3-liter, ethanol-capable Flex-Fuel (FFV) V8 engine, again with the 4-speed automatic. This potent V8 turns loose 310 hp at 5,200 rpm and 334 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. Mileage, despite VVT, drops to 13/17, and the AWD system reduces towing capacity to 6,400 pounds, again with the proper equipment. Said AWD system, meanwhile, boasts a viscous limited-slip center differential that ensures power to all 4 wheels all the time.
Moving up to the 2500 and 3500 Express trims, standard power is provided by a 280-hp (at 5,200 rpm) VVT 4.8-liter Flex-Fuel V8 engine. Managed by a standard 6-speed automatic transmission, the V8 puts out 295 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm and should get an estimated 10/16.
An available 6.0-liter Flex-Fuel V8 is also available to 2012 Express 2500 and 3500 trims, with, again, the 6-speed automatic helping it get 324 hp at 4,700 rpm and 380 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm. This big V8, also with VVT, gets an estimated 10/16, and towing is maxed out at 10,000 pounds when properly equipped. The 6.0-liter CNG V8 engine available to the 2500 and 3500 trims is a tweaked version of the gasoline-powered 6.0-liter and also features the 6-speed automatic for, again, 324 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque.
Finally, a 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 powerplant is, once again, available to both the 2500 and 3500 Express Cargo versions, with the standard 6-speed automatic transmission managing 260 hp at 3,100 rpm and 525 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm. Expect an estimated 10/16 with the turbodiesel and, when properly equipped, 10,000 pounds of towing capacity.
Where the 2012 Express Cargo van has an edge in the market is in its engine choices. Reviewers call the V6 a bit underpowered for heavy-duty lifting, but all the rest are touted as more than adequate for the big jobs—towing, hauling or cruising. The only engine tested for acceleration, the 5.3-liter V8, scooted from 0-60 in 7.9 seconds, which may not scorch the asphalt, but gets merging and passing done quite well. The 4-speed automatic common to the 1500 trims may be dated, but reviewers note that though it will struggle at times in hilly terrain, it handles normal driving conditions more than adequately. The 6-speed automatic, on the other hand, is touted in virtually all reviews as smooth, efficient and intuitive.
Ride & Handling
Compared to the typical family sedan, Chevy’s 2012 Express Cargo lineup will feel ponderous and downright clumsy, though reviewers do note a certain dignity in its not-so-work-truck-like ride. The 1500 sports 17-inch steel wheels, and the 2500 and 3500 trims each mount 16-inch steel wheels, which, in combination with the Express lineup’s obvious heft, results in a ride whereby bumps are reasonably smothered and, according to most reviewers, can be fairly refined.
Due to its non-competitive nature, this hefty hauler sports a short and long arm front independent suspension bolstered by a solid live-axle rear end, as well as front and rear stabilizer bars. Steering is tight enough, if a tad clumsy, according to reviewers, but a massive turning radius means some challenges will be found in city traffic and crowded parking lots, especially in Ext. versions. The 1500 is the only trim to feature rack and pinion steering, thus, in the opinion of virtually all reviewers, may be the most nimble—if it can be called that—of a decidedly elephantine lot.
Cabin & Comfort
Make no mistake: The 2012 Chevrolet Express Cargo, in all trims, is presented as a no-frills work van. Thus vinyl upholstery is standard, with cloth upholstery a standalone option. Air conditioning, meantime, is also standard, along with a trip computer, two speakers and phone pre-wiring.
There are, however, a number of appearance amenities and creature comforts that are optional for all three versions. For instance, the Express Access Package offers remote-opening side tool bins, remote engine start and remote keyless entry, while adding the Enhanced Lighting Package gets additional cabin and panel lighting. The Chrome Appearance Package adds on a slew of exterior chrome accents, while the Convenience Package and Power Package tack on power windows, power door locks and turn-signal-integrated, heated power-adjustable side mirrors.
Standalone options include tilt-wheel steering, a power adjustable driver’s seat and rear climate control. A couple of techno-goodies that are available to Chevy’s full-size Cargo van include a single-CD player with AM/FM stereo and Bluetooth-integrated OnStar Directions and Connections service.
For additional workload needs, heavy-duty trailer-towing equipment as well as a 3.73 rear axle ratio and heavy-duty locking rear differential are all available lineup-wide, and the Express is additionally eligible for a swing-out driver’s-side rear access door, sliding passenger-side rear access door and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
A number of reviewers say something ought to be done to upgrade the low-rent plastics common to this work-oriented van, but otherwise, gauges are large and easy to read, most controls are well-placed and legible and entry and exit are facilitated by large front doors.
Sheer size is the most noticeable safety feature for the 2012 Express Cargo lineup. However, this big van additionally sports standard 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control, GM’s touted StabiliTrak stability control system and front head airbags. Additional standard safety equipment includes daytime running lights, dusk-sensing headlights and a vehicle antitheft system.
Because of this Chevy work truck’s bulk, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) find it necessary to rate the Express Cargo.
What Owners Think
Owners of 2012 Express Cargo trims would much prefer to work their vans rather than talk about them. Suffice to say that the number of Express Cargo vans eminently noticeable along the highways and byways of the U.S. are a fitting tribute to owner satisfaction and loyalty. It would stand to reason this behemoth wouldn’t be around for 17 years if folks found it seriously wanting in performance or utility.
by Eric Tallberg
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Chevrolet Express Cargo Questions
Interior Condensation On Cargo Express Awd?
Is anyone having problems with interior condensation? I have a brand new Express Cargo AWD with a front headliner. I have had it for a month and I live in a wet climate. But just recently I went to ...