For the first time in seven years, Chevrolets full-size rear-wheel-drive van has undergone a major redesign. The freshening includes upgraded powertrains, revised features and an all-new look. Chevrolet says the vans have three industry firsts: optional all-wheel drive (AWD), an optional left-side door and unique side access panels for commercial vans. The front-end styling has been revised to give a greater family resemblance to GMs other trucks.
The popularity of full-size vans has been easing, and sales of the Express van plummeted by more than 13 percent in 2001 to barely more than 98,000 units, according to Automotive News. The GMC Savana, which is a close cousin to the Express, has also been redesigned with similar features. The Express outsells its GMC counterpart by a considerable margin.
New H-Series Express vans with full-time AWD join the existing two-wheel-drive G-Series lineup. Equipped with a viscous-coupled transfer case, the AWD van functions on wet or dry pavement with no driver intervention needed. Regular-length passenger and cargo vans can have a 60/40-split left-side entry/load door. The new side access doors with remote releases are limited to work-oriented Express Access models and permit easier accessibility for tools and parts from either side of the van.
A new line of Gen III V-8 engines is available: a 270-horsepower Vortec 4800, a 285-hp Vortec 5300 and a 300-hp Vortec 6000 that GM says leads its segment. Each promises greater performance and economy than the previous small-block V-8s. Light-duty G-Series vans have the Vortec 4300 V-6 as their base engine. The four-speed-automatic transmission gains a Tow/Haul mode.
The new box frame is stiffer than before, and it offers greater torsional rigidity. Both the front and rear suspensions are new and modified from those used on GMs full-size pickup trucks.
The front end of the 2003 Express features a new grille, bumper, fascia, fenders and hood. Designers sought to create a stronger family resemblance to other members of the GM truck family. Revamped taillamps and upscale reflector-type headlights are installed.
Light-duty vans now have rack-and-pinion steering. The rear suspensions use a solid axle with semielliptic, variable-rate multileaf springs and gas shocks. The tires now measure 16 inches in diameter, and the fuel tanks are made of composite material.
Express passenger vans come with a regular-length (135-inch) or extended-length (155-inch) wheelbase and measure 224.1 and 244.1 inches long overall, respectively. The vans are 79.4 inches wide and at least 81.6 inches tall. Cutaways can be specially converted and are available with 139- , 159- and 177-inch wheelbases.
Chevrolets 1500 Series vans are rated with gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWRs) of 6,200 and 7,200 pounds, while the 2500 Series GVWRs rank at 7,300 or 8,500 pounds. Full-bodied vans in the 3500 Series are rated at 9,600 pounds GVWR.
Full-size Express passenger vans can carry eight, 12 or 15 passengers, while Express cargo vans seat only two occupants up front. Restyled interiors feature an upgraded climate-control system and the availability of both Radio Data System technology and GMs OnStar communication system. The use of an advanced Class II electrical system permits the addition of battery run-down protection, delayed accessory power, lockout protection and an expanded number of driver alerts. Occupants get additional cupholders and an extra power outlet.
Under the Hood
Four engines are available for the Express. Light-duty G-Series vans have a 200-hp, 4.3-liter V-6 as the base engine. Three V-8s are offered: a 270-hp 4.8-liter, a 285-hp 5.3-liter and the 6.0-liter Vortec 6000 that generates approximately 300 hp. All engines have new air-filter and oil-life monitors. Each power plant mates with a four-speed-automatic transmission that incorporates a Tow/Haul mode.
All-disc antilock brakes and daytime running lights are standard, but side-impact airbags are not available.