1998 GMC Safari

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1998 GMC Safari

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Available in 4 styles:  Safari Passenger Van SLE shown
Asking Price Range
$1,902–$5,506
Estimated MPG

15–17 city / 19–23 hwy

Expert Reviews

By 

The Detroit News

It's easy to overlook - or even have a field day criticizing - the 1997 GMC Safari SLT AWD mid-size van.

The Safari's looks haven't changed much since its original design in 1985 and it has been a bit slow to catch up to competitors. It doesn't have a fourth door and unless you get the all-wheel-drive package that we had on our $30,560 test vehicle, you must settle for rear-wheel drive. And because it's based on a truck chassis, not a car like many minivans, it drives like a truck.

Whew. But don't stop reading. If you're towing a big boat or camper or regularly take your three kids plus grandparents to Walt Disney World on vacation, you may want to take a hard look at the Safari, which can seat up to eight people. We did - and at least half of the family was sold on it.

He: I sure wasn't sold on it and I didn't even have to go as far as Disney World to make up my mind. I drove it from Detroit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The cramp in my left foot from having no space whatsoever on the driver's side was enough to convince me.

She: You're blaming the Safari for your big EEE feet? Now that's fair comment and criticism. I agree that it is a little bit of a squeeze up there in the driver's seat, but if you're a short-legged, 5-3 person like me, you're probably not going to suffer too much. Besides, I've seen the caravans down I-75 at Easter and Christmas vacation. Nine times out of ten, the woman is driving and the guy is snoring in the passenger seat.

He: I'm sorry, but I'm not one of those enlightened buyers who have discovered the dubious joys of owning and driving a Safari or its counterpart, the Chevrolet Astro. OK, the all-wheel-drive option is a great feature and I don't even mind the truck chassis. With the big 4.3 V-6, you can tow a pretty sizable boat or trailer. But I have to tell you, driving the lumpy Ohio Turnpike, it didn't take long for me to develop a case of nausea to go with my leg cramps.

She: I'll admit that I wasn't running out to the driveway to coo over the Safari. It's tall and boxy and doesn't have a lot of personality. But I kept thinking about our neighbor Donna, a person I really admire. She's on her second Safari. I consider her a really salt-of-the-earth person who looks for functionality in a product and wants to keep the family together. That means a van that can not only haul her kids, but their friends, too. When's the last time you tried to cram seven or eight people in a Caravan?

If you don't believe me, look at the stats. The shoulder room alone in the center and rear of the Safari is 67 inches! That's spread-out time.

He: I remember driving our family of four plus your parents and all our luggage in a competitor's vehicle - one of those front-wheel-drive car-based minivans. I think we were pretty miserable and cramped after just a couple hundred miles, weren't we? So the passengers will probably appreciate the extra space in the Safari, even if the driver has no place to put his or her feet. Another gripe I have is with the step-in height. I'm over 6 feet tall and it's still a chore to climb in and out of the Safari.

She: You need to exercise more. You know what they say, climb stairs and you'll stay out of the nursing home. I didn't have any problem and neither did great-grandma, who is almost 96. Besides, I loved riding up higher than a typical minivan. But you do have to adjust your driving a bit because this is not a car. I noticed it going around curves. If you're not cautious, it does feel tippy.

He: Another problem I noticed was passing trucks on the turnpike. I'd stomp on the accelerator and there'd be a noticeable lag before the V-6 kicked in. The 4.3 is a pretty powerful engine. It makes 190 horsepower, but I wonder if you really need the extra space and the towing capacity, why wouldn't you just buy a full-size van? You can get a V-8 in one of those and I'll bet the sticker price would actua be less. A lot less than the $30,000 sticker on our Safari test vehicle.

She: That was a bit pricey, I agree. But most Safari buyers settle for the slightly less deluxe SLE package that costs around $25,000. You'll just have to figure out if you really can't live without the $950 leather seats or the $309 heavy-duty trailering equipment.

Thank God GMC included antilock brakes as standard. If they are committed to families, though, I admit I was a bit disappointed that they'd make them pay extra for stuff like rear air conditioning and even earphone jacks. To me, earphone jacks, which basically keep your teen-agers happy with their music while you listen to Dr. Laura, are standard items, not options.

He: Anybody who is goofy enough to listen to Dr. Laura probably won't mind paying all those thousands of dollars extra.

GMC Safari SLT AWD

Type: All-wheel drive, seven-passenger mid-size van

Price: Base, $21,902; as tested, $30,560 (includes $585 destination charge minus $700 option package discount)

What's new for '97: Leather seat option with SLT package, illuminated entry system, daytime running lights, speed-sensitive power steering, new exterior colors, optional Homelink three-channel door opener transmitter

Standard equipment: Front air conditioning, driver and front passenger lumbar adjuster, power rearview mirrors, AM/FM stereo, digital clock, energy-absorbing steering column, 15-inch aluminum wheels, trip odometer and tachometer, intermittent wipers, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power door locks, power windows, remote keyless entry, tilt steering wheel

Safety features: Dual air bags, seat belts, side-door guard beams, daytime running lights, antilock brakes, child lock for sliding side door

Options on test vehicle: Marketing option package-1SF ($5,646) includes SLT decor, roof-mounted luggage carrier, six-way power driver's seat, lower swing-out rear Dutch doors with liftgate with remote release and rear washer/wiper, seven-person seating arrangement; leather seating ($950); front and rear air conditioner; AM/FM stereo/cassette ($507); heavy-duty trailering equipment ($309); locking rear differential ($252); 6-way power passenger seat ($240); rear-window defogger ($154); rear radio control and earphone jacks ($125); Homelink three-channel door opener ($107)

EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city/19 mpg highway

Engine: 4.3-liter V-6; 190 hp at 4400 rpm; 250 lb-ft torque at 2800 rpm

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Competitors: Ford Aerostar, Ford Windstar, Dodge Caravan

Specifications: Wheelbase, 111.0 inches; overall length, 189.8 inches; curb weight, 4,427 pounds; legroom, 41.6 inches front/36.5 center/38.5 rear; headroom, 39.1 front/37.9 center/38.7 rear; shoulder room, 64.0 inches front/67.1 center/67.1 rear.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $926.

Where built: Baltimore

* Rates based o n an average family of four from the Livonia area whose primary driver is age 40 with no tickets who drives 3-10 miles each way to work. Rates reflect multicar discount and, where appropriate, discounts for air bags and seat belts.

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