2011 GMC Savana Performance

$10,188 - $17,378

2011 GMC Savana Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 GMC Savana was new.


Performance: 7.6

The Savana is a large, truck-based van, so it isn’t agile. Still, for the class, reviewers say the Savana drives decently. They like its powerful engine options and beefy towing and hauling capabilities. But a few point out that the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Transit Connect are more nimble. However, the Sprinter starts at about $10,000 more than the Savana, and the less expensive Transit Connect can't come close to hauling as much as the Savana can. The Savana, Chevy Express and Sprinter are currently the only work vans that offer a diesel engine option, and the Savana and its twin, the Express, are the only vans with available all-wheel drive.

  • "Highs: Broad range of powertrain choices, … good towing capabilities." -- Car and Driver
  • "The performance of the Savana is generally pleasant, which is saying a lot for a full-size van.” -- Edmunds
  • "Like GMC's other body-on-frame vehicles like the Sierra pickup and Yukon SUV, the 2011 Savana's ride and handling characteristics may come as a welcome surprise.” -- Kelley Blue Book

Acceleration and Power

Reviewers appreciate the GMC Savana’s diverse powertrain options. All three gas-powered V8 engines can run on E85 ethanol, and for 2011, GMC added a diesel engine to the lineup. The smallest engine is a 4.3-liter V6 that makes 195 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Few reviewers have driven a Savana with that engine, but those who have driven its Chevrolet Express sibling with an identical powertrain say that the only reason to choose the 4.3-liter is for its fuel efficiency. Otherwise, they say it’s underpowered and isn’t the best choice for transporting people or cargo. This engine is only available on regular-wheelbase Cargo 1500 models.

Regular-wheelbase Passenger 2500 models and all Cargo 2500 and 3500 models come standard with the next-smallest engine, a 4.8-liter V8 that makes 280 horsepower and 296 pound-feet of torque. A 5.3-liter V8 puts 310 horsepower and 334 pound-feet of torque to the ground in Passenger 1500 and certain Cargo 1500 Upfitter vans. Passenger 3500, Cargo 2500 Upfitter models and Cargo 3500 Vans all come standard with a 6.0-liter V8 that makes 323 horsepower and 373 pound-feet of torque. Passenger 3500, Cargo 2500 and Cargo 3500 models offer the option to upgrade to GM’s 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel V8 that makes only 250 horsepower but has the most torque of the Savana’s lineup, with 460 pound-feet.

All 1500 models come with a four-speed automatic transmission, while all 2500 and 3500 models come with a six-speed automatic intended to squeeze the most fuel economy out of these big vans. It’s important to note that opting for all-wheel drive means you automatically upgrade to the 5.3-liter V8 engine. Savana models with the V6 engine get 15/20 mpg city/highway with two-wheel drive and 13/17 mpg city/highway with all-wheel drive, according to the EPA. The 1500 V8 models get 13/18 mpg city/highway, and Cargo 2500 and 3500 models get 10/16 mpg city/highway. Passenger 2500 and 3500 models get 11/16 mpg city/highway. The diesel engine hasn’t been rated by the EPA. 

  • " For fans of engine power, the Savana offers the highest-output gas and diesel engines in the segment.” -- Edmunds
  • "It's best to have one of the Savana's available V8 engines under the hood, as the base V6 is not suitable for anything beyond light-duty work.”-- Kelley Blue Book

Handling and Braking

The Savana's large size and hauling capabilities mean that it’s not very agile, but few vehicles in this class are easy to manuver. For the most part, reviewers are fine with how the Savana drives, but a few point out that the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is more nimble. The much-smaller Ford Transit Connect can’t match the Savana's size, but most reviewers say it's easier to drive on a daily basis.

The Savana comes standard with rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available on regular-wheelbase 1500 models for an extra $5,000. 

  • "The 2011 GMC Savana manages to hold its own with respectable on-road behavior: Its standard traction and stability control system helps keep you out of trouble, while the rack-and-pinion steering and coil-spring front suspension on many models offer a perfectly acceptable ride-and-handling trade-off.” -- Edmunds
  • " Though you won't confuse this full-size van with a sports car, the steering and braking systems are fairly responsive, allowing drivers to feel secure when traveling with heavy loads." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "One thing to keep in mind is that these types of vehicles are inherently top-heavy; taking corners at excessive speeds, even with the G1500 AWD, is, therefore, not a good idea.” -- Car Gurus
  • "Every move is deliberate, and maneuverability is low on the absolute scale." -- Car and Driver

Hauling & Towing

The GMC Savana’s burly towing and hauling abilities make it even more utilitarian for shoppers with fleets or jobs that take them out of the office. When properly configured with a 6.0-liter V8 and regular wheelbase, a Cargo 2500 or Cargo 3500 model can tow up to 10,000 pounds, the same as the Ford E-350. Alternatively, the Savana can haul a maximum of 4,187 pounds in a properly-configured regular-wheelbase Cargo 3500, compared with the Ford E-Series’ maximum payload capacity of 4,050 pounds. A heavy-duty trailering equipment package, including a trailer hitch platform and wiring harness, is available, but costs an extra $265.

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