2008 GMC Savana Passenger Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 24, 2008

The 2008 GMC Savana is a basic workhorse that is capable of getting the big, unglamorous jobs done.

TheCarConnection.com's editors read the latest reviews on the new 2008 GMC Savana to write this comprehensive review. Experts from TheCarConnection.com also drove some versions of the GMC Savana, but there are so many configurations, we haven't driven them all. These experiences enable this team to offer you a definitive opinion on this full-size van. This review also compares the 2008 GMC Savana with other vehicles in its class to give you the best advice even when other reviews present conflicting opinions.

The 2008 GMC Savana is still built on the GMT800 truck platform, introduced in 2003. While GM's full-size trucks have been updated to GMT900 specifications, these vans soldier on, but they know how to get the job done as a commercial hauler, a 15-passenger minibus, or a powerful tow vehicle. It comes in either short- or long-wheelbase lengths and offers a variety of load capacities and engines.

For GMC, 2008 is the year that its full-size vans get a serious makeover under their hoods and in front of the drivers. As far as powertrains go, a 301-horsepower 5.3-liter V-8 is standard on 1500 Passenger Van models, with a 323-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 available optionally. The smaller V-8 is now E85/flex-fuel capable. The torque-rich 6.6-liter Duramax diesel engine is another possibility. A four-speed automatic is standard with all engines. While most versions of the GMC are rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive remains an available option.

If you're shopping for a cargo van, base models can be outfitted with a 4.3-liter V-6 or a 4.8-liter V-8.

Review continues below

The interior of the 2008 GMC Savana also receives significant upgrades this year. Important improvements include a new instrument cluster featuring new major controls for the audio and climate control systems, plus a revised passenger-side airbag. Importantly, tire pressure monitors have been made standard, and new flat and convex exterior mirrors provide better rearward vision. Curtain airbags are now standard, and tougher glass is fitted on the 12- and 15-passenger versions. All center seats get shoulder belts this year as well.

Cargo loading and unloading are aided by rear cargo doors that open almost a full 180 degrees, providing excellent access. Twin cargo doors or a sliding door are available on the passenger side of the GMC Savana.

The 2008 GMC Savana reminds everyone why minivans are called minivans; just park any minivan next to a Savana to see for yourself. One turn behind the wheel of a Savana full-size van will help you understand why minivans are popular; they drive "smaller" than this big bread loaf. Not that the GMC Savana drives badly--it's just big, and drives like it.

Acceleration is more than acceptable with any engine except the economy-minded V-6. The 2008 Savana weighs a lot and carries its weight up high, so there is solid logic to GM making its stability enhancement system standard.

For special applications, work and cutaway van editions await your special duties and/or conversion to school busses or other commercial iteration.

The Dodge Sprinter is a more expensive full-size van alternative. The Dodge is based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and was completely overhauled for the 2008 model year. The Dodge Sprinter approaches cargo and people hauling with a European attitude, so two V-6 engines are the only powertrain options.

Only the 2008 GMC Savana offers all-wheel drive from the factory.

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2008 GMC Savana Passenger

Styling

The 2008 GMC Savana will never win any styling awards, but it scores points for being practical.

Full-size vans are not known for their styling statements, and the 2008 GMC Savana is no exception.

The 2008 GMC Savana comes in a variety of trims and lengths to suit many needs, and Edmunds says that "the standard-wheelbase (135-inch) 2008 GMC Savana full-size van comes in half-ton (1500) and 1-ton (3500) configurations," while an "extended-wheelbase version (155-inch) is available only on the 3500," and "two trim levels," LS and LT, are offered on all versions. Regarding the exterior of the GMC Savana 2008, Kelley Blue Book says the styling is "about as contemporary as a rolling box can be," and the look is characterized by "rounded edges, high-mounted side taillights and flush side-glass." Cars.com adds "the Savana's front end has a trapezoidal grille with a large GMC badge and upscale reflector headlights." Since the GMC Savana's last redesign, new equipment includes "a new grille, bumper, fascia, fenders, and hood," which combine for a look that Motor Trend says "has a strong family resemblance to other GM trucks."

Inside the GMC Savana 2008, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that form definitely follows function. Edmunds reviewers write that the GMC Savana's "interior is built for pure functionality, and while it may not be pretty, it gets the job done." To that end, ConsumerGuide finds that "the dashboard features legible round gauges and simple, mostly handy controls." When first climbing into the GMC Savana 2008, Motor Trend reviewers "immediately noticed the restyled interior" compared to the early 2000s-model GMC Savanas. Automobile adds that "the controls are straightforward," but warns not to "expect the user-friendly grace of, say, a Honda Odyssey or even an upscale pickup."

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2008 GMC Savana Passenger

Performance

The 2008 GMC Savana moves well enough, but fuel economy is very poor.

The 2008 GMC Savana comes with a wide range of available engines, but all of the drivetrain combinations offer commendable performance. Handling, however, is subpar on the GMC Savana.

GMC's big van, the 2008 GMC Savana, "can be equipped with one of five engines," according to Cars.com. Kelley Blue Book says that the engine lineup begins with a "4.3-liter V6" that produces "195 horsepower" and "260 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2800 rpm." Moving up to the four available V-8 engines, Edmunds reviewers find "a 5.3-liter V8 making 301 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque," along with a "6.0-liter V8 rated at 323 hp and 373 lb-ft"; Consumer Guide states that a "4.8-liter V8" is available on 2500 Cargo extended versions. Kelley Blue Book rounds out the engine list, revealing that a "6.6-liter Turbodiesel V8" is also available. Edmunds declares that the V-8 engines mean "merging and passing maneuvers come easily, even when you're hauling a heavy load of passengers and cargo." Kelley Blue Book also praises the V-8 options on the GMC Savana 2008, noting that "buyers who must haul heavy loads will probably opt for the new Vortec 5300" 5.3-liter engine.

Despite having a multitude of available engines, all versions of the 2008 GMC Savana feature a "four-speed automatic transmission that incorporates a tow/haul mode," says Cars.com, though they also attest "rear- and all-wheel-drive models are available." Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com praise the available all-wheel drive, which Car and Driver praises as "particularly helpful in a rain-soaked grass paddock" during their test drive. Motor Trend reviewers add that "any number of service, delivery, and transport companies who operate in wet and/or snowy climates would find many advantages" with the "all-wheel-drive full-size" GMC Savana.

Unfortunately for fleet buyers and anyone else interested in a GMC Savana 2008, the van doesn't offer spectacular fuel economy with any engine choice. The official EPA estimates range from 12 mpg city and 16 mpg highway with the 5.3-liter V-8 in AWD mode to 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway on 2WD V-6 models.

Handling and other performance aspects of the GMC Savana 2008 lineup are unremarkable. When stopping the GMC Savana, Car and Driver says "braking performance was rather ordinary -- 214 feet from 70 mph to a standstill," though they were "favorably impressed by the improved pedal feel" and "the system's resistance to fade." In terms of handling and steering, Automobile writes that the GMC Savana is "awkward to maneuver and virtually impossible to park." Fortunately, ride quality is commendable, as ConsumerGuide quips "these GM rigs display little rough-road harshness and only minor float over crests and dips."

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2008 GMC Savana Passenger

Comfort & Quality

If cargo and passenger space are what you need, look no further than the 2008 GMC Savana.

When it comes to interior room, the 2008 GMC Savana is a true standout, even offering pretty comfortable seating. However, the quality of the interior materials isn't the best in the industry.

The 2008 GMC Savana comes in a variety of trims with different capacities, but in its highest-occupancy models, the GMC Savana has "available for seating for 15," which Kelley Blue Book says "makes the Savana one of the most desirable commuter vehicles on the road," although Cars.com notes that "cargo vans seat a maximum of two people." On both commercial and passenger models, ConsumerGuide notices that the front seats offer "plenty of leg space," thanks to front footwells that "are long but not that wide." Many reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that the rear seats on the GMC Savana 2008 are surprisingly comfortable, and Consumer Guide enthuses "passenger models offer generous room in all positions and firm, supportive seats." Automobile adds "passenger vans are fitted with surprisingly comfortable and removable benches."

Aside from the ability to carry up to 15 passengers, the large GMC Savana boasts impressive cargo room. ConsumerGuide reviewers find that the "wide-opening rear cargo doors ease loading," and "maximum available cargo volume is a whopping 316 cubic feet on extended models." Car and Driver also writes that the 2008 GMC Savanas are "useful for carrying lots of stuff," and Edmunds says "Savana buyers can opt for 60/40-split driver-side doors for easier passenger access to the rear seats."

The GMC Savana 2008 isn't made with the highest-quality materials, but nobody who purchases a GMC Savana expects that anyway. Automobile reviewers find that the interior materials consist mainly of "hard plastics and subdued cloth," but they write that those materials "are decent, and fit and finish are fine." However, those same reviewers also list the "commercial-grade interior" as one of the low points of the GMC Savana.

Noise reduction on the GMC Savana 2008 is admirable for such a large vehicle, and passengers aren't likely to be bothered by ambient noise. ConsumerGuide says that although "mechanical ruckus is noticed because engines protrude into the front-seat area," overall they find that "wind and road noise are acceptably low up to 65 mph."

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2008 GMC Savana Passenger

Safety

While it might not stack up well against the latest and greatest in the mainstream auto market, the 2008 GMC Savana holds its own against other vans.

Few crash tests have been conducted on the 2008 GMC Savana, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has completed a few impact and rollover tests. The results are heartening, at least when it comes to the impact tests. The NHTSA gives the GMC Savana 2008 a perfect five stars for front impact protection for both drivers and passengers. However, the GMC Savana also earns a meager three-star rating for rollover protection, though that is not entirely unexpected in a vehicle so large. Unfortunately, the 2008 GMC Savana does not offer any side impact test results from the NHTSA.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the other major crash tester in the U.S., has not had a chance to test any GMC Savanas.

In addition to a five-star rating for front impact protection, the GMC Savana 2008 offers several features to satisfy the safety-conscious buyer. While the van's safety features list is nowhere near that found on most consumer vehicles today, Edmunds attests that on the GMC Savana, "all models have antilock disc brakes, stability control and side curtain airbags (for the first three rows) as standard equipment." ConsumerGuide adds that "daytime running lights" are standard, while an "OnStar assistance system" from GM is available on passenger versions of the GMC Savana 2008.

One area where reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the 2008 GMC Savana exceeds expectations is in terms of driver visibility. Kelley Blue Book reviewers are pleased that the "large side mirrors aid in parking and lane-change maneuvers and the tall side glass makes it easy to see vehicles traveling close by."

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2008 GMC Savana Passenger

Features

The 2008 GMC Savana comes as a bare-bones model, but it is available with an extensive options list, especially for Cargo models.

The 2008 GMC Savana is designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of users, and its optional features list is, accordingly, quite extensive. For those who just need a big, moving box to haul stuff, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the standard features on the GMC Savana 2008 are minimal.

Standard features on the 2008 GMC Savana vary according to the two trim levels, but both are rather Spartan. Edmunds writes that the "LS models are geared toward fleet service, so standard equipment is limited to air-conditioning, an AM/FM stereo and a theft-deterrent system." On the LT trim of the GMC Savana, Edmunds says that standard features "include auxiliary rear air-conditioning and heating, power windows and door locks, cloth upholstery, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel and keyless entry."

While the standard features list is small on the GMC Savana 2008, the options list stretches for quite a while. ConsumerGuide lists some of the more noteworthy options packages as the "PRP Pro" package for the Cargo models that includes "three side access panels w/keyless remote release," a "driver-side rear door," and a "sliding passenger-side door." Also on the Cargo version, a "Chrome Appearance" Package that adds a "chrome grille and bumpers" is available for those who want to make a statement with their GMC Savana, ConsumerGuide says. Automobile predicts most consumers "will probably opt for an option package" that can include "a left-side passenger door, CD player, rear defogger, and OnStar," though they note that "this is just the tip of an options iceberg that favors business applications" for the GMC Savana 2008. Indeed, most of the options noted by ConsumerGuide are for the Cargo models, including "deep-tinted glass" and "full body glass" options on the 2008 GMC Savana.

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6.0
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 4.0
Performance 5.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 7.0
Features 7.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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