1995-2005 Chevrolet Astro / GMC Safari | Spotlight on used vehicles
We often use this space to highlight fun or quirky options in the hopes that we can help enthusiasts make choices that will scratch a weird car itch, but even among the weird, the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari (we will refer to them collectively as “Astro” for simplicity here) is a bit of a weird duck. This six- or eight-passenger van (a cargo model was also sold) was not quite a full-size van, nor a “real” car-based van, but some buyers find the preteen’s imprint of the Astro is just to the right.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been highlighting a minivan in this featurette, but the Astro is definitely not a Mazda5. In fact, even by ’90s minivan standards, the Astro was quite slow and heavy, and it was never known to be a fuel miser. Oh and it was about as safe Like tying yourself to the front of a shopping cart powered by a lawnmower engine, then tying your hands behind your back.
But at the expense of fuel economy, it offered all-wheel drive and a slightly larger form factor that made it perform better as a tower and transporter than car-based minivans. It also borrowed some of its basic powertrain components from GM’s small trucks and vans, which made it a bit more rugged.
Why the Astro?
The image above really tells the story. While the Astro may have been largely tinkered with from items acquired from various existing GM trucks and vans, it wasn’t just a bucket of aftermarket parts without a cohesive mission. The Astro was designed to be tough and durable, with side sills designed to resist corrosion. The above is a photo of a 2005 model that has spent time both on the East Coast and in Illinois, and was on sale in Michigan at the time of this article’s publication. Not bad huh ?
Other than that, its usefulness really speaks for itself. Depending on the year and equipment, some Astros have been rated to tow over 5,000 pounds. Their truck-based underpinnings, available all-wheel drive, and extra ground clearance make them excellent candidates for smooth overland expeditions, as many hikers in the Pacific Northwest (where the Astros seem to be popular scouts at the start of budget trails). They are also excellent truck replacements in a pinch. With the seats removed, long-wheelbase models (later model years, essentially) can contain 4×8 sheets of plywood even with the rear doors closed.
What options should I look for?
It really is a matter of personal preference. It seems pointless to go for a model without all-wheel drive, as an example of a two-wheel-drive minivan would be much more efficient and comfortable for everyday driving. The Astro is perhaps best known for being offered with a “Dutch” door option for the tailgate, replacing the standard barn door configuration with a three-piece arrangement (as pictured above). The separate doors allow more flexibility when accessing the rear cargo area. We wouldn’t call this a must have feature, but some buyers may find the perk worth it.
The Astro was also offered to designers, which means there are plenty of custom examples with more luxurious interiors or cargo area upgrades. Make sure to check them carefully to make sure all additional features are secure and working as expected.
Availability and announcements
Thanks to its sturdy bodywork and truck-based undercarriage, the Astros are pretty solid survivors, and finding them in decent shape for a reasonable price is pretty easy to do. Cleaner, lower mileage examples tend to be found in the mid-high four-digit range, as evidenced by those found in Autobloglocal listings of. Narrow down offers by a radius around your zip code and pay attention to the offer score on each ad to see how one vehicle compares to others in a similar area.
Note that if you broaden your search to include model years prior to the range suggested here, you will only find rear-wheel-drive models prior to 1990, which was the first year that all-wheel drive was offered as an option.
What else should I consider?
Besides its GMC Safari clone, the only van that really matches the size, build, and drivetrain setup of the Astro is the Ford Aerostar. However, this was withdrawn for 1997 when the Astro was just starting its second life. As such, for the period we’re looking at, there really isn’t much. For those who absolutely need the most passenger capacity possible, a larger van based on the Chevrolet Express or the GMC Savana would probably be the best buy. A smaller, more fuel-efficient van would be a better everyday vehicle, and in this case, you’ll probably want a Dodge Caravan or Chrysler Town & Country, Toyota Sienna, or Honda Odyssey, especially if you’re shopping for newer examples.
Of course, if you just want something that doesn’t have the structural integrity of rotten leaves, literally choose anything else.