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2012 Chevrolet Express ReviewThe Good
As a people mover with the capacity to carry up to 15 passengers, the 2012 Chevrolet Express passenger van delivers on both versatility and functionality, and offers the added benefit of a wide variety of customization options.The Bad
The 2012 Express's interior remains essentially unadorned and unexciting, and with a wide turning ratio, the Express can be tricky to maneuver in crowded parking lots and narrow streets.
The CarGurus View
The 2012 Chevy Express excels at carrying large groups of people in relative comfort, but lacks in creature comforts and maneuverability. However, the seats are supportive, the ride is smooth, and Chevy offers owners the ability to customize the Express with a variety of options. While a number of better-equipped family vans and SUVs can carry up to 8 passengers in 3 rows, making them better alternatives for many buyers, the Express serves a specific purpose as a people mover and does its job rather well.
At a Glance
Designed primarily for commercial fleets and work crews, the 2012 Chevrolet Express full-size passenger van comes in a variety of configurations, with a choice of 4 engines, 2 transmissions, 2 wheelbases and available AWD. It can be equipped to carry 8, 12 or 15 passengers in up to 5 rows of seating and comes standard with a swing-out 60/40-split passenger-side door. In addition, Chevy offers an available sliding passenger-side door and an available driver-side swing-out door, as well as a number of optional customization packages that expand the versatility and functionality of the Express.
The Express has been a fixture in Chevy's lineup since 1996, when it replaced the venerable G-Series Chevy Van. It received its last significant update in 2008. For 2012, Chevy offers the Express in base LS and better-equipped LT trim levels, with half-ton 1500, three-quarter-ton 2500 and one-ton 3500 trims available at each level. All 1500 and 2500 trims sit on a standard wheelbase of 135 inches, with an overall length of 224 inches. The LS 3500 and LT 3500 trims sit on either the standard wheelbase or an extended wheelbase measuring 155 inches, with an overall length of 244 inches.
The LS 1500 and LT 1500 trims come standard with front bucket seats and 2 rows of bench seating, providing room for 8 passengers. The LS 2500 and LT 2500, as well as the standard-wheelbase LS 3500 and LT 3500, add a fourth row, with standard seating for 12 passengers, while the extended-wheelbase LS 3500 and LT 3500 add a fifth row with seating for up to 15. All trims comes with standard rear-wheel drive (RWD), though the LS and LT 1500 trims are available with full-time all-wheel drive (AWD) for added traction in wet or snowy conditions.
The Express displays a rather functional exterior design, with standard features like rectangular halogen headlights, daytime running lights, manually adjustable side mirrors and swing-out side-door and rear-door windows with Solar-Ray deep-tinted window glass. Black-painted bumpers are standard on LS trims, while LT trims add a Chrome appearance package, which includes chrome bumpers and a chrome grille with dual composite headlights. Options for all trims include heated power-adjustable folding side mirrors as well as a Tow Package, Roof Rack Package and a Swing-Out Ladder Rack Package.
Competitors for the Chevrolet Express include the GMC Savana full-size van, as well as the Ford E-Series, which seats up to 15, and the 12-passenger Sprinter, now marketed by Mercedes-Benz. The Express and Savana hold the greatest market share in the category.
Chevy offers the Express with a choice of 4 engines and 2 automatic transmissions, starting with the 1500’s 5.3-liter, Flex Fuel-capable (FFV) Vortec V8 engine. Paired with a standard Hydra-Matic 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive and a tow/haul mode, the entry-level V8 puts out 310 hp and 334 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy numbers check in at 13/17 mpg, which dips slightly for the AWD trim. When properly equipped, the Express with the 5.3-liter V8 can tow up to 6,200 pounds.
The LS and LT 2500 trims get a less-powerful 4.8-liter FFV Vortec V8 but a more-efficient 6-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission with a tap-up/tap-down manual shift mode, auto-grade braking and a tow/haul mode. The engine develops 280 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, and can tow up to up to 9,600 pounds in properly equipped Expresses. Mileage dips to 11/17 mpg.
The top-of-the-line LS and LT 3500 get a standard 6.0-liter FFV Vortec V8 powerplant and the 6-speed automatic, which work together to produce 324 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque. That's good for a towing capacity of 9,700 pounds on properly equipped trims, with mileage numbers of 11/16.
Finally, both 3500 trims can be delivered with a 6.6-liter turbocharged Duramax diesel V8, which was introduced in 2011. Paired with the 6-speed automatic, the diesel V8 puts out 260 hp and a whopping 525 lb-ft of torque. As a result, these 3500 trims can haul up to 9,900 pounds on properly equipped trims. Chevy notes that the diesel engine delivers 11 percent better fuel economy than the diesel engine it replaced and reduces harmful emissions by up to 63 percent. However, the automaker does not make specific mileage figures available for the diesel.
Ride & Handling
While the Express handles relatively well for a tall, boxy van, it's not the most nimble vehicle on the road. Designed primarily as a people mover, the Express tends to lean in corners, and a wide turning ratio can make it difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. Some testers also note a lack of feedback from the steering system. On the plus side, owners and reviewers like the Express's smooth ride, and the V8 engines move the van along at a good clip, with plenty of power during acceleration.
The Express van sits on a ladder-type frame, with an independent front independent suspension with coil springs and a rear hypoid-drive axle with multi-leaf springs. The 1500 trims feature a 33mm front stabilizer bar, which increases to 35mm for the 2500 and 3500 trims. Chevy offers an available locking rear differential on all trims. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering comes standard. The 1500 trims ride on 17-inch steel wheels, while the 2500 and 3500 trims get 16-inch sport steel wheels.
Cabin & Comfort
While standard features are limited on the base LS trims, Chevy offers a wide range of options for owners who want to upgrade their vehicles. Such features as vinyl upholstery, air conditioning with front vents and a 2-speaker AM/FM stereo come standard on LS trims, while LT trims add cloth upholstery, rear air conditioning vents, a tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry, a digital compass and power windows and door locks. In addition, all Express trims come equipped with standard OnStar, which includes turn-by-turn navigation and 6 months of the Directions and Connections plan.
Comfort and convenience options across the Express lineup include 6-way power-adjustable front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, custom cloth or vinyl upholstery, remote engine start, steering-wheel-mounted controls and an upgraded AM/FM audio system with a CD player and SiriusXM satellite radio.
Most testers agree that the front seats are comfortable, with good support for longer trips. However, comfort is limited in the rear bench seats, although for the most part they offer adequate legroom and plenty of headroom. A number of testers and owners have noted tight footwells in the front, which might feel restrictive for some drivers. Rear seats are removable, although they're too heavy for one person to remove alone. Gauges and controls on the dash are well laid out and easy to access, although they're fairly simplistic in design and appearance.
All Express trims come equipped with GM's StabiliTrak electronic stability control system, as well as 4-wheel antilock disc brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system. Front airbags and side-curtain airbags for the first 3 rows of seats also come standard. In addition, the OnStar system includes such safety features as automatic crash response, stolen vehicle assistance, remote door unlock, crisis assist, vehicle diagnostics and roadside assistance. Optional for all trims are turn-signal-integrated outside mirrors. The Express has not been safety-tested by the IIHS or the NHTSA.
What Owners Think
Since the 2012 Express passenger van is used mostly for commercial purposes, few owner comments are available. However, those who have commented like the Express's functionality and passenger capacity, but find fault with its poor fuel economy numbers and lack of maneuverability, which can make it difficult to navigate crowded parking lots and narrow streets. Some reviewers note that a number of family vans and SUVs offer room for up to 8 passengers in 3 rows of seats and come better equipped than the Express, making them good alternatives for owners who need to move large groups of people. However, if you're transporting a work crew or passengers for a commercial enterprise and require room for 12-15 passengers, the Express definitely deserves a look.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.