Recently my grandmother decided to move from the house she’s lived in since 1964 into a fancy new senior living facility. Because of the drastic size difference in living space, some furniture items became available. Sadly, while the Mazda3 does have reasonable storage space for a small hatchback, it is insufficient for hauling several book cases so an alternative plan had to be hatched. My father came to the rescue with his newly acquired 2010 Chevrolet Express van.
In its seven year lifespan it has travelled 134,000 miles and was the work van of a local heating and ventilation company – with its on-board air-compressor still in tact. When the truck was ordered, I don’t think many option boxes were checked. The windows go up and down via a lever on the door panel that moves in a circular fashion. The doors lock individually via a strange device known to elders as a “key”! This fabeled “key” looks like a small fob with a strangle metal protrusion. It is this part that is inserted into a hole on the door or the steering column and then turned in order to operate the door locks or the vehicles ignition! Strange stuff! On the steering wheel is nothing but the horn button and the radio does not accept any input types other than “FM” and “AM”. While it was graciously ordered with windows on the rear doors, they’re usefulness was then ruined by the addition of a large metal divider with little holes that significantly impair rearward visibility. A backup camera and a blind-spot monitoring system would make the job of driving easier, but since they weren’t present, nor were they even a passing fancy in the world of cargo vans in 2010, you’ll have to make due with just the enormous side mirrors and sticking your head out the window looking backwards and wishing you had the neck movement of the common owl.
So, it’s not well equipped by normal car standards, but it does have a 6-speed automatic and a V8 engine. And for all the amenities my Mazda3 may have, it certainly doesn’t come with a gas powered air compressor, standing room, or a towing capacity.
I know, I know, zero percent of the world give a rats ass how a cargo van drives. The people that don’t need a cargo van aren’t really shopping for such a thing and the people that do need them are going to fill them with so many tools and other equipment they couldn’t drive well even if they were built by Lotus. Despite all of that however, I’m going to tell you anyway!
You see, it goes something like this: asking this vehicle to do anything aside from “Hold this.” Is going to be met with resistance. Acceleration from a stand still is met with a large hesitation as all the parts realign themselves and eventually allow the ample power from the V8 to reach the rear tires. Acceleration while on the go is met with a large hesitation as the transmission attempts to decide whether it can reach the speed you’ve requested without having to go through the effort of downshifting. Braking unsettles the suspension in such a way that makes you hope you’ll never have to do it with gusto, though while they do require more effort to operate than a sports car, they did feel capable of bringing me to a stop. How can I describe the handling? Well, I was concerned that when I got back into the Mazda I would end up in the ditch at the first sign of steering input.
I should probably explain that. You see, in a normal car you move the wheel in small increments. Those movements translate into a change in the car’s’ direction. In a van like this, you start with the measurable amount of play in the steering wheel which means you have to move the wheel a couple inches in either direction before any movement begins. And then it has to deal with a tall, wide van on fat tires and suspension designed to have a thousand pounds of tools in the back. If you treated the steering wheel of a Mazda3 in the same manner it would instantly make a 90 degree turn and you would be spending the next couple hours explaining to your insurance agent why you need a new front bumper and the undercarriage is caked in mud and grass.
To be frank, I’m being unfair to the vehicle. This was not ever meant to be fun. It’s meant to work. This is not the car the enthusiast drives. This is the car his mechanic drives when the Alfa breaks. And in that regard it’s great. First we loaded it with three cabinets, a drying rack and more camera supplies than any one person should own. The next day we loaded an entire couch into the cavernous cargo area with ease. The last day it was around it had a hutch, chairs, a bed frame, and a desk. And this was while it had a permanently mounted gas air compressor and plenty of shelving inside. And no matter what we did with it, it gave us 15mpg in return.
So, there you go. It’s designed for hauling shit but not hauling ass. And for that, it’s great, simple and I’m sure it’s reliable too!