- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

Call it a stealth limousine.

It's actually a truck, a GMC truck called the Savana SLT Van. But it has or could have everything you'd want in a limo, with far more comfort and convenience.

Limousines are a puzzle. They hang out at the finest hotels and casinos, are used in motorcades by entertainers and dignitaries, and usually are found in large numbers at high school proms.

But except for the ingrained notion that they are somehow classy, or balms for overheated egos, limousines are actually fairly horrible from a comfort and convenience standpoint.

Some are so long, far longer even than the limo used by the president of the United States, that they are nearly impossible to maneuver in tight places.

They usually have only two doors at the back, so passengers must ungracefully contort themselves to crawl into an area that looks somewhat like a long sewer pipe festooned with fancy upholstery, crystal glasses and TV monitors.

Once inside, the inmates are forced to trip over each other's feet to flop into seats that are so close to the floor that knees wind up practically chest high not very elegant for women in skirts. And woe to the passenger sitting toward the front who must exit first. It's like running a gantlet bent over.

Usually, though not always, limousines are custom crafted from Lincoln Town Cars and Cadillac DeVilles by specialty manufacturers, and they cost big bucks. They mostly are owned by companies that rent them out; not by individual owners.So the point here is that, for less money, you can get a GMC Savana Van that offers more comfort, convenience, and ease of entry and exit. The fully outfitted Savana that is the subject here had a suggested price of $37,290.

Okay, so it looks dumb, not much different from those vans that shuttle people around at airports. But if you have even a modest level of self-esteem, you can overcome that and loll around in surroundings that would put any limousine to shame.

The Savana SLT actually is a full-size cargo van that has been outfitted for passenger use. That means it has two swing-open doors on the right side for passengers, and two more swing-open doors at the back for loading cargo.

Right off the assembly line, it comes equipped to seat six in living-room comfort. There are six captain's chairs in three rows, with the two at back joined by a fold-down armrest with a tray and cup holders.

The seats recline and are spaced like first-class accommodations on international jetliners. Cloth upholstery is standard, but you can get leather as on the test vehicle for $1,300 extra.

There's enough head- and legroom for NBA basketball players, and the four passengers in back can look up at two video screens that drop down from the headliner. They are connected to a videocassette player installed in the console beside the driver.

Two wireless headphones are included so passengers can watch movies while the driver and front-seat passenger listen to music on the CD and cassette player. People who are into video games can plug their units into a hookup in back and amuse themselves for hours on a long trip.

Limo aficionados likely would have a chauffeur, but it's not really necessary. The Savana drives surprisingly well. It's long over 18 feet so you do have to exercise some care in turning and parking, but on the highway it doesn't handle much differently from a big pickup truck or sport utility vehicle.

Of course, that means you don't chase two-seat sports cars on winding mountain roads. But the Savana stays planted fairly well in the curves as long as you don't push it too hard. The ride is cushy.

Power comes from a 255-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 engine a new version of the old cast-iron, overhead-valve 350 (cubic inches) that moved many a big American car back in the 1970s. It drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission that knows when to upshift and downshift to keep the power flowing smoothly.

It's raucous when cold, but as soon as it warms up, the engine settles into a quiet mode that doesn't intrude on passenger conversation or the ability to hear whatever audio is being played inside. There also is surprisingly little wind noise, considering the fact that the Savana is a big block of metal moving down the road, with no aerodynamics.

It is true that the standard Savana doesn't offer some limousine amenities. But it wouldn't take much to add a couple of crystal decanters, an ice bucket and a few bottles of liquid refreshment. You could party in comfort and not attract any attention.

And what's so different from the big stars who travel around in buses?

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