2012 GMC Savana Performance

$11,768 - $20,015

2012 GMC Savana Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 GMC Savana was new.


Performance: 7.3

The GMC Savana is a large, truck-based van, so it isn’t agile. Still, for the class, reviewers say the Savana drives decently, but a few mention that the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Transit Connect are more nimble. They also like the Savana’s powerful engine options and beefy towing and hauling capabilities.

The Savana, Chevrolet Express and Sprinter are currently the only work vans that offer a diesel engine option, but the Savana and its twin, the Express, are the only vans on the market with available all-wheel drive.

  • "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 … Savana's ride and handling characteristics may come as a welcome surprise.” -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "Drives like the giant lunch box that it is, sucks down gas, a bit too unrefined for noncommercial use.” -- Car and Driver

Acceleration and Power

Reviewers appreciate the GMC Savana’s diverse powertrain options, which include a base V6 engine, three different gas-powered V8s and a diesel V8. The base V6 makes 195 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, and test drivers say that you should only stick with this option if fuel economy is your top priority. Otherwise, they say the base engine is underpowered and isn’t the best choice for transporting lots of people or cargo. Instead, most testers think the diesel engine provides the best combination of fuel economy and power. To find out which engines come standard with each model, and how much power each engine makes, see the full list of 2012 GMC Savana specs.

All 1500 models come with a four-speed automatic transmission, while all 2500 and 3500 models come with a six-speed automatic. Opting for all-wheel drive means you automatically upgrade to the 5.3-liter V8 engine.

Depending on which configuration you choose, your fuel economy will vary. According to the EPA, a 1500 cargo van will net 15/20 mpg city/highway with the V6 engine, 13/18 mpg with the 5.3-liter V8 engine and 13/17 mpg if you opt for all-wheel drive. The 2500 passenger vans with a 4.8-liter V8 get 11/17 mpg, and 11/16 mpg with the 6.0-liter V8. From there, fuel economy for both passenger and cargo vans falls off slightly by opting for the more capable 3500 model. These numbers may sound low, but they’re about average for the class. The diesel engine hasn’t been rated by the EPA.

  • “All V-8 engines provide satisfying grunt. The strong turbo-diesel would be our choice.” -- Car and Driver
  • "For fans of engine power, the Savana offers the highest-output gas and diesel engines in the segment.” -- Edmunds
  • "People who buy big vans like this aren't usually that concerned with fuel economy, and that's a good thing, because the Savana isn't particularly fuel efficient, especially with its top-spec V-8 engine.” -- Automobile Magazine
  • "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 a bit more nimble. If you want a work van that’s a bit more nimble, consider the much smaller Ford Transit Connect. The Transit Connect can’t match the Savana's cargo or towing capacities, but most reviewers say it's easier to drive on a daily basis, especially in crowded cities or parking lots.

The Savana comes standard with rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available on regular-wheelbase 1500 models. 

  • "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
  • "The … 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
  • "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
  • "A big beast, the steering is slow and not terribly accurate.” -- Car and Driver

Hauling and Towing

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, which is the same as the Ford E-350. Alternatively, the Savana can haul a payload of up to 4,187 pounds in a properly-configured regular-wheelbase Cargo 3500, compared with the Ford E-Series’ maximum payload capacity of 4,050 pounds. To see exactly how much the Savana you want can tow or haul, see the full list of 2012 GMC Savana specs.

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