The original Chevrolet Express debuted way back in 1965, when sex was safe and cars weren't. At the time, vans came in only one size--gargantuan--and the idea of parking a van inside a residential garage hadn't been taken seriously yet. The van world changed irrevocably with the arrival of the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager in 1983, and as minivans proliferated, full-size vans fell into disfavor with everyone except commercial customers. Aside from the Express and its corporate twin, the GMC Savana, there are only two other maxivans left on the market--the aging Ford Econoline and the sprightlier Mercedes-Benz-built Dodge Sprinter.
In 1995, the Express was the beneficiary of a stem-to-stern overhaul--its first in three decades. Two years ago, it was freshened substantially to upgrade its mechanical components and bring its styling in line with the rest of the Chevy corporate family. The Express is sold in a dizzying array of iterations, several of them earmarked for fleets, commercial use, and van conversion companies. Passenger models come in half-ton (1500 Series), three-quarter-ton (2500 Series), and one-ton (3500 Series) varieties. The 2500 and 3500 can be configured with an extended wheelbase, and the 1500 is available with all-wheel drive (known as the H-Series, as opposed to the standard rear-wheel-drive G-Series). As if those aren't enough choices, a base V-6 and four V-8s are available.
In design-speak, a sedan is a three-box design (front engine segment, passenger cabin, and trunk). A sport/utility vehicle is a two-box. The Express is a BIG-box, which is among the reasons it's so popular with building contractors and shuttle services. The 2003 facelift gave the van semi-stylish headlamps and softened its edges, but it still looks like a refrigerator wheels. Passenger models come with either sliding or 60/40-split passenger-side doors that swing out on hinges, and a useful swing-out 60/40 left-hand door is available. A pair of hinged rear doors is standard across the board. All Express vans ride on 16-inch wheels, and alloys are available for those determined to add some bling to their ride. (Factory-tinted glass is one of the few other cosmetic options.) Tires on the 1500 are conventional P235/75s, but the 2500 and 3500 are fitted with heavier-duty LT-class rubber.
Look, it's a work truck. The controls are straightforward, the materials--hard plastics and subdued cloth, mostly--are decent, and fit and finish are fine. But don't expect the user-friendly grace of, say, a Honda Odyssey or even an upscale pickup. The Express is a size-matters proposition: It's as big as some studio apartments, and even the standard-length model can accommodate a whopping 204 cubic feet of cargo. All Express vans are equipped with a pair of front bucket seats. Passenger vans are fitted with surprisingly comfortable and removable benches. (Cargo models are left barren.) The 1500 comes with two rear bench seats to hold a total of eight passengers, while the 2500 can be configured with a third rear row to carry 12. The 3500 is also offered in an extended-wheelbase model, and the 20 additional inches provides room for yet another bench, which brings seating capacity to 15.
Of course, getting to the back row isn't easy. In fact, getting into ANY part of this van is a bit of a challenge, thanks to the elevated step-in height and heavy doors. Also, don't bother looking for a child-pacifying rear-seat DVD entertainment system or any other lux touches. Although several option packages are available to upgrade the amenities, the standard features in the base model are limited pretty much to front air conditioning, an AM/FM radio, and a digital clock.