Like the similar Chevrolet Astro, the Safari is GMCs long-lived midsize van. Both vehicles were introduced back in 1985 as GMs response to the debut of Chryslers front-wheel-drive minivans a year earlier. The truck-based Safari remains available in passenger and cargo-carrying versions, in SLE and upscale SLT trim levels and with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Chevrolet also offers the front-drive Venture minivan, but GMC has nothing smaller than the Safari.
For 2002, the Safaris 4.3-liter V-6 engine has gained a new multipoint fuel injection system and lost its exhaust gas recirculation system. A rear heater, gray cloth seats and remote keyless entry are now available for cargo versions.
GMC sells far fewer Safaris than Chevrolet does with its Astro, but GMC fans tend to be loyal to the brand. Sales dropped dramatically in 2001 to just 18,533 units a decrease of 43 percent.
All Safaris ride a 111.2-inch wheelbase and measure 189.8 inches long overall the same size as the Astro. A regular-length Dodge Caravan is nearly as long as the Safari, while the Dodge Grand Caravan measures 11 inches longer. But at just under 75 inches high, the Safari is 6 inches taller than either Caravan model.
A sliding door is installed only on the passenger side of the Safari. Side-hinged, swing-open cargo doors at the rear are standard. Rear Dutch doors, which are standard on the passenger-carrying SLT and optional on the SLE edition, consist of a swing-up rear window on top and twin, swing-out, half-height doors below. A rear defogger is included with the Dutch-door arrangement.
Eight-passenger seating is standard in the SLE and SLT. Rear occupants get a pair of three-passenger benches in the SLE, while the step-up SLT edition is equipped with split-back bench seats with folding armrests and a center console. An optional seven-passenger configuration for the SLT puts two second-row buckets in place of the bench, and a bench seat at the rear. The Safari offers 170.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the second- and third-row seats removed.
All versions have power windows, door locks and mirrors, as well as a tilt steering wheel and cruise control. Vans equipped with automatic power door locks also have remote keyless entry. The SLT adds aluminum wheels, as well as such convenience features as rear air conditioning and a six-way power drivers seat.
Under the Hood
All Safaris carry a 190-horsepower, 4.3-liter Vortec V-6 engine that mates with a four-speed-automatic transmission. A Tow/Haul mode in the transmission promises the best shift points when hauling heavy goods or towing a trailer or boat. Safaris have payload ratings between 1,527 and 1,677 pounds, which depends on the model. Towing capacities range from 5,200 to 5,800 pounds.
Optional AWD ordinarily sends full engine power to the back wheels. When the wheels begin to slip, the system automatically delivers power to the front wheels until the Safari is able to regain traction. Antilock brakes and daytime running lights are standard. Side-impact airbags are not available.
Because of their size and configuration, the Safari/Astro duo occupies a distinctive niche in the minivan market. Evaluated by size and overall driving feel, the Safari and Astro look and behave more like a scaled-down GMC Savana or Chevrolet Express full-size van than front-drive minivans. Despite recent refinements and a healthy helping of comfort and convenience features, their RWD or AWD layouts inevitably produce more of a trucklike sensation than youd experience in a front-drive minivan.
For burly hauling capacity and a spacious cargo hold, the Safari serves as a useful compromise. But for everyday driving, most people would be more at ease in a conventional, front-drive minivan.