Review: 2006 Chevrolet Express

All Expresses get dual-stage front airbags and four-wheel disc brakes bundled not only with ABS but also Dynamic Rear Proportioning, which modulates the braking force between front and rear wheels depending on how much cargo is being carried. Twelve- and 15-passenger vans come with StabiliTrak, GM's electronic stability-control system. Because large vans like this are tippy and often driven by folks with little or no large-vehicle experience, the availability of stability control makes the Express a far safer choice than the Ford Econoline, which doesn't offer the feature.

Like almost all GM trucks, the Express is powered by the Vortec series of pushrod engines. These engines may not be topped with the latest valvetrain technology, but they are proven powerplants with ample horsepower and abundant, low-rpm torque. The 1500 comes with a 4.3-liter V-6 rated at 195 horsepower, which sounds a tad underpowered, but it delivers 260 lb-ft of torque virtually at idle. If this isn't enough grunt, you can upgrade to a 5.3-liter V-8 with 295 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque--the standard engine for the all-wheel-drive model. The 2500 is equipped with a 4.8-liter V-8 that produces 285 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. There's also an optional 6.0-liter V-8 that makes 345 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. This 6.0-liter engine is standard equipment in 3500 models. By the way, it's available with slightly less power in bi-fuel or dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) form. All engines are mated to smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmissions that feature a towing mode for carrying heavy loads. Even the smallest engine is stout enough to tow 6,600 pounds. As for the honking 6.0-liter V-8, it can haul a mobile home or 10,000 pounds, whichever comes first.

New for 2006 is the application of the might Duramax 6.6L diesel that has seen service in the heavy-duty Chevrolet and GMC pickups. While it matches the 6.0L for tow capacity, the diesel engine does have advantages in fuel economy and expected service life. Power output is down noticeably from the pickup trucks, with 250 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Gasoline engine fuel economy pays the toll for all that power and brick-like aerodynamics; the V-6 gets 14/18 city/highway miles per gallon, and it's better than the V-8s. Then again, this is roughly what you can expect from the Ford Econoline. And while the Dodge Sprinter is much more fuel efficient, it's underpowered for the sort of heavy-duty hauling and towing work expected of an American full-size van.

Pure and simple, the Chevy Express is a truck. It rides on a three-piece, fully boxed truck frame with a solid rear axle, sharing basic chassis engineering with GM's full-size pickups. The resultant solid platform benefits from solid steering and good braking feel. It weighs in at more than three tons (in 3500 form), however, and its height contributes to a top-heavy feel. Awkward to maneuver and virtually impossible to park, the Express is best described as ponderous. This can be mitigated to some degree by opting for the all-wheel-drive model. The full-time viscous-coupling transfer case routes 35 percent of the power to the front wheels under normal conditions, but splits torque as necessary to minimize tire-slip and maximize performance. AWD is a distinguishing feature, as Dodge and Ford don't offer this handling and safety aid. The Express possesses expected dynamic compromises given its mass, girth,

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