I greeted my temporary assignment to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada with joyful anticipation. After numerous hours in an E-3 looking for simulated bogeys over the Mojave Desert, the proximity to Sin City was a welcome reprieve. Stepping down from my jet, Technical Sgt. Peters handed me a set of keys and pointed to the terminal's parking lot. Examining the plate number on the tag, and seeing a Chevy emblem on the key, I expected a minivan. Instead, a ginormous Express 3500 15-Passenger van assaulted my vision. For this I defend my country?
A van can't look beautiful- any more than a Victoria's Secret model can negotiate an Israeli – Palestinian ceasefire. At best, a van can look conservatively handsome. At worst, it looks like this. The Express' cheap grey plastic grill, cheap black headlight surrounds, and flanking black plastic taillights could be described as a rolling trailer park refrigerator. Did you notice the side strakes? Why would you?
All Express vans have dents in the passenger rear side doors. We finally solved the riddle when we realized that GM forgot to put a detent stop on the door, letting it swing open fully into the front passenger door, leaving a series of scars on both.
When I opened said doors, I reeled back in terror. The van's interior is an unattractive, poorly-built ergonomic disaster zone. My cohort, Captain Alfred, displayed his usual flair for automotive insight. "What a piece of crap." That's an affirmative sir!
The Express "boasts" acres of cheap beige plastic, spread throughout the cabin like polymer kudzu. I'm not saying the van's panel gaps are large, but I wouldn't let Paris Hilton ride in it lest her chihuahua fall into one of the gaps and disappear forever (perish the thought). The Express' plastic flash seams ripped my flight suit as I hoisted myself into the driver's seat- an extremely difficult not to say pointless maneuver, as there are NO grab handles ANYWHERE in the van. In fact, I nearly fell right back out (thigh bolstering need not apply. And doesn't.)
The Express' driver's seat slides forward and aft. And that's it for any pretense of driver comfort from GM. No tilt or telescopic wheel adjustments, no electric side mirror or seat recliners. At least our 1LT optioned van had armrests– swathed in cloth so rough my elbow left enough skin for a burn victim. The air conditioner coughed cool air at us and the AM/FM radio crackled out the signal from an eight bazillion watt stations.
The Express' crank window levers are so flimsy that a gap appears between the knob and the arm, pinching the webbing between your thumb and finger every time you roll down the window. Now that's cheap.
At least the Express seats 15 people. Luggage? Not so much. The idea of driving an Express with MORE weight on top or towing a trailer does not fill me with confidence (as in scares me to death). In our tester, the Express' spare stood upright IN THE MIDDLE of the cargo area. Did I want to know what chain of events led to this situation? Uh…
Equipped with Ye Olde 6.0-liter Vortec V8 engine groaning out 300bhp, "my" Chevrolet Express should have driven con brio. If we're talking about Brio wooden toy trains, then yes. Otherwise, no. While the transmission shifts decently for a truck, the engine roared like a jet belching turbine blades out the back end. Three-hundred bhp my ass. The Express drives like there's 150bhp on tap, at most.
Turning corners turns the word "Express" into a cruel joke. There's no steering feel. The ride's bouncy enough to make Tigger nauseous. And the brakes are mushier than English peas. The Express' tendency to leap into the air, jiggle the front wheels and then crash back on the pavement is a direct challenge to a jet pilot's hand – eye coordination, especially at 70mph.
Truth be told, the ABS-equipped Express van very nearly killed me. When a Dodge Neon pulled out in front of me (oh the ignominy), the Express' ABS failed to even-out the braking force. The Express yawed to one side, and then the other, as the computer "compensated" noisily. The "moment" destroyed any feeling of safety for myself and my passengers, confirmed by screams from people who routinely face death by terrorist attack.
The number of quality issues on a 2007, 30k mile Express van- from side mirror that jiggled so much they were rendered useless, to rotting window seals– is astounding. If your church/team/organization owns a Chevrolet Express, SELL IT NOW. After spending three weeks with an Express, I am morally obliged to tell you that you are FAR better off walking than driving this rolling death trap.
Note to GM: fire the engineers responsible for the Chevrolet Express 3500 15-Pax van and remove it from sale. Anything less is an insult to the intelligence– and ongoing health– of the people who pay your salary.