General Motors has given its full-size van line its first major redesign in seven years.

The 2003 Chevy Express and GMC Savana have a new look, upgraded powertrains, enhanced safety and reliability and new features.

These include three claimed "industry firsts" for the full-size van segment: all-wheel drive models, left-hand-side 60/40 entry/load door option and side access panels on Express Access and Savana Pro models.

The new line shares componentry developed for the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks, allowing all-wheel-drive models to be added with a full-time viscous-coupled transfer case.

The 60/40 left-hand-side entry/load door, available on regular-length passenger and cargo vans, is said to provide the segment's most flexible passenger entry/cargo loading capability while new side access doors with remote release on work-oriented Savana Pro and Express Access models allow access to tools and parts from both sides of the vehicle.

Other changes include claims to the segment's most powerful V8 (Vortec 6000), fastest light-duty acceleration (Vortec 5300) and the highest maximum payload rating (2,430 pounds) of any light-duty, base-model van (6200-pound GVW G1500 Series).

The new vans offer a new range of Gen III V8 engines -- the 275 horsepower Vortec 4800, 285-horse Vortec 5300 and 300bhp Vortec 6000 -- and a new 200-hp version of the Vortec 4300 V6 is now the base engine for light-duty G-Series vans. GM says the fuel-efficient Vortec 6000 has made the Vortec 8100 and 6.5-litre diesel obsolete.

All models have standard four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive and optional tow/haul mode.

New, stiffer box frames deliver more torsional rigidity and are home to new front and rear suspensions, which are modified from those used on GM#;s full-size pickups.

All rear suspensions use a solid axle, with semi-elliptic variable-rate, two-stage multileaf springs and gas-charged shocks.

All models have daytime running lamps, 16-inch wheels and four-wheel-disc ABS brake systems as standard.

Light-duty models now have standard power rack-and-pinion steering and quieter, higher-quality rear axles, improved prop shafts and revised engine mounts.

Full-bodied passenger/cargo vans get composite fuel tanks, and all models have more robust turbine fuel pumps and greater vapour-leak detection capability, as well as expanded alternative fuel options for fleet and commercial use.

Restyled interiors include upgraded HVAC systems, OnStar telematics and optional RDS radios and all models have an advanced Class II electrical system, which allows for the addition of battery run-down protection, delayed accessory power, lock-out protection and an expanded number of driver alerts.

Inevitably on an American vehicle, there are more cupholders, an additional power point and extra storage options.

Express/Savana passenger vans remain available in regular (135-inch) and extended (155-inch) wheelbase lengths and provide eight-, 12- or 15-person carrying capability. Cargo vans, available in the same wheelbase lengths, offer seating for two.

Cutaways, which can be converted to various commercial and RV requirements, are available in 139-inch, 159-inch and 177-inch wheelbase lengths.