New Car/Review

1997 CHEVROLET EXPRESS VAN

by Matt/Bob Hagin

chevrolet

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 22,270
     Price As Tested                                    $ 28,641
     Engine Type                             5.7 Liter V8 w/SFI*
     Engine Size                                 350 cid/5733 cc
     Horsepower                                   245 @ 4600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               325 @ 2800 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                    135"/79.2"/218.7"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     5127 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                    31 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P235/75R15
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                      Eight-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                N/A percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            13/18/13          
     0-60 MPH                                          9 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17 seconds @ 80.5 mph
     Towing capacity                                 6000 pounds
     * Sequential fuel injection

(Bob Hagin finds it hard to keep his affinity for full-sized vans out of his evaluation of the new Chevy eight-seater Express wagon. His son understands and offers a rationale for his Dad's obvious prejudice.)

BOB - Now this is more my style, Matt. There's no vehicle I like better than a really big, full-sized passenger van that has all the room a guy could ever need to transport or tow anything. This newest Chevy Express weighs in at 5400 pounds and rides on a frame that looks strong enough to serve as a model for the new proposed San Francisco Bay Bridge. The engine is the reliable 350 Chevy V8 that's been tricked out with modern electronics and fuel injection. I think it's a good compromise between the anemic 4.3 liter V6 that's the standard Express powerplant and the giant 454 V8 that could be used in a dragster.

MATT - It's the first Chevy big-van redesign since '71, Dad, and the first thing I noticed is that the engine cover doesn't take up half of the front seat area anymore. This should make it more appealing to mini-van owners who want to step up to a transporter that can carry the neighborhood cheer leaders as well as the soccer team. Our test vehicle rode on a the short wheelbase, but the one-ton extended model with the 155-inch wheelbase can carry 15 with room to spare. This Express is a big truck in a fancy gown. The interior is fully carpeted, the seats are as comfortable as living-room sofas and it's as easy to handle as a sedan - as long as the driver remembers that it's very long, tall and wide. I like the fact that it's rear-wheel-drive and everything underneath is big and beefy.

BOB - It's a good thing that there was an A/C unit both front and back in our Express. There's so much room behind the driver's seat, I don't think a single unit could handle the task of cooling the space. It's got lots of sedan items, too, like tilt steering, power door locks, tinted windows, heated mirrors and alloy wheels, all of which I think are superfluous, but since almost 20 percent of the Express buyers are stepping up from minivans, I guess that there has to be some concessions to style. The four-speed automatic is smooth enough, but I think if a buyer is going to do much heavy hauling, the heavy-duty version would be a good choice. The standard anti-skid brakes are a real plus and the locking differential could come in handy. Also, traction control would be an advantage for slippery pavement, but the Express doesn't have a traction control system available. Chevy has built this vehicle to last, so I understand why the exhaust system is now stainless steel. And although the door into the rear is a slider, I think it would be slick to have the barn-door option that open like the ones into the rear.

MATT - That only comes on the long wheelbase version, Dad, which reminds me of another thing I like about the Express. A buyer can almost custom build one with one of five engines on two different wheelbase lengths. Custom builders use the heavy-duty chassis and running gear to make C-Class motorhomes, and I heard there's even an ambulance package available on special order. A drawback I dislike is its fuel mileage. We could only get 13 to 15 mpg, which is about five less than the average minivan, though the initial price is about the same.

BOB - One of the nice touches I noticed is the step built into the front bumper so you can climb up to clean the windshield. In my view, this Express wagon is lots more practical than the Chevy Suburban. True, the Suburban has optional four-wheel drive but more than 90 percent of its buyers never use it. The van is a practical giant that doesn't have to make a fashion statement.

MATT - And these big van last forever, too. When they're past their prime, they're still useful as a mobile storage shed or for hauling hay and trash. As I recall, you had an ancient Chevy van that served that purpose, but I can't remember what happened to that old thing.

BOB - Matt, one of the things that I forgot to tell you was that even when it's old, you have keep a van licensed. In shuffling everything around after you moved out, I parked it in front of the house, it got towed away and your mother wouldn't let me bail it out.

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