Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
It's a truck.A real truck.Slammed for attention.
Once upon a time, a pickup could be a truck and just a truck. No longer. Today, pickups are being used as cars with big open trunks. Sure, you can still by a base Chevrolet S-10 with vinyl seats and full-floor vinyl covering, and many are purchased just that way for the hose-out convenience of commercial users.
But most Chevy S-10 buyers gravitate to the LS model. With its full carpeting and velour 'Deluxe Custom Cloth' seats, it's much more like that 'other' car in the driveway, except that other car won't bring home sacks of manure or carry an ATV in its trunk. The S-10 LS can do either and still provide car-like comfort - or close to it - even with four-wheel drive. Chevy's Xtreme attracts attention everywhere it goes. Whenever we're driving this slammed S-10 pickup, young dudes shout 'Nice truck!' Or give us the thumbs up or otherwise express their approval. No question, it's the lowered stance, ground effects bodywork, wide tires and general street rod appearance.
Just as important, its price puts it well within grasp, making it a popular choice for lovers of hot-rod trucks.
There are two basic models in the S-10 pickup line, the rubber-floormat base model and the LS, which offers full civilian comfort.
That's only the beginning, however, as the S-10, like most pickups, comes in a variety of configurations. Both are available with either conventional rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The regular cab 2WD S-10 is available with in short box, long box and extended cab versions that span wheelbases of 108.3 inches, 117.9 inches and 122.9 inches respectively. The 4x4 models come in regular cab short box or extended cab models only. The standard engine on 4x2 models is a 120-horsepower 2.2-liter four-cylinder with a 5-speed manual transmission. A 180-horsepower 4.3-liter V6 is an option on 2WD S-10s; all 4WD S-10s come standard with the V6, which is tuned to produce 190 horsepower. A 4-speed automatic is optional with either engine.
Two option packages are, as far as we are concerned, separate models unto themselves: the Xtreme, a low ride-height highly styled cruising truck, and the ZR2 Wide Stance Sport Performance Package that, with a higher ride height, wider track and even a stronger frame, is ready for the toughest of off-road duties. The Xtreme is essentially a rear-wheel-drive S-10 pickup that's been lowered two inches; it comes with the ZQ8 suspension and ground effects bodywork. (Look for our review of the standard S-10 pickup.) The Xtreme Sport Appearance Package is available with Base trim or LS trim. You can order it as a Regular Cab or Extended Cab in either Fleetside or Sportside body styles. (Sportside bodies feature stylish exposed fenders and a narrower pickup box. Fleetside bodies offer a standard-size bed with internal fenders. Base trim is only available with a Regular Cab Fleetside body.)
The Xtreme package includes the upgraded dash package with a tachometer and a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Preferred Equipment Group (which retails for $3,236) bundles the Xtreme package with floor mats and an AM/FM stereo; a CD player can be added for $180. High-back bucket seats are a $291 option, as are tilt-wheel and speed control ($395). A third door is available for extended cab bodies for $295 and sliding rear window is available for $120. A Power Convenience Group, including power locks, mirrors and windows, remote keyless entry and content anti-theft are another $795.
A well-optioned Xtreme with the 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine ranges from $15,199 to $18,624. A V6 adds about $1,350 and we drove one equipped this way that retailed for $23,422.
With all the options and various configurations, it's difficult to pick a 'typical' S-10 pickup. We decided, however, to test the 4x4 LS with an automatic transmission. The 4x4 mode gives the S-10 added traction in slippery conditions and makes it more capable in mild off-roading, though its primary use is intended for paved or gravel roads. It also helps getting back up slippery boat launch ramps, and is recommended for heavy-duty hauling.
The 4x4 doesn't shout its identity. The P235/75R15 on/off road tires are a hint. And if you know your S-10 wheel availability chart, you'll know that these five-spoke aluminum wheels are available only with four-wheel drive. Our test truck came with the Chrome Appearance Group, which includes front and rear chrome bumpers with rub strips, body side molding with bright inserts and bright wheelhouse moldings. ('Bright,' of course, is car company talk for 'shiny but not really chrome.')
The S-10 mimics the big Chevy pickups with the horizontal bar grille, and has nicely rounded contours that are inoffensive overall but are straightforward truck. No trick, no gimmicks, just sincere serviceability. Our test truck had an accessory bedliner available from dealers, good for keeping the double-wall pickup box safe from dents and scratches. The bed has four tie-downs, one at the upper edge of each corner. More would be helpful, actually, in securing loads of various sizes. The tailgate drops for a 27.2-inch lift-over height, actually lower than the long box and extended cab 4x2 S-10s. It's amazing how just a few cosmetic changes can make such a huge difference in how a truck looks. The Xtreme barely proclaims it's a truck: Xtreme logos replace S-10 logos everywhere but the panel in the front spoiler -- and that's supposed to be removed for states requiring front license plates.
The Xtreme package includes a body-color grille and bumpers, front spoiler with integrated foglights, wheel-opening flares and rocker panel extensions, unique 16-inch aluminum 5-spoke wheels, P235/55R16 blackwall tires, and a special ZQ8 suspension that lowers the truck for a street rod look.
A 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine is standard and it's the most popular choice. The Vortec 2200 inline-4 generates 120 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 140 foot-pounds of torque at 3600 rpm and gets about 19 mpg city, 26 mpg on the highway.
The 4.3-liter V6 delivers 180 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 245 foot-pounds of torque at 2800 rpm. Towing is not recommended with the Xtreme package, and gross vehicle weight is limited to 4400 pounds. That's plenty for light chores, but this is not designed to be a hard-working truck.
The interior is nicely finished in a premium cloth that resembles velour. Our truck had a charcoal interior theme that looked like it would hold up to regular use. The door panels included cloth sections, but frequent touch areas around the door controls and rear sill area were covered in vinyl. The cloth feels good to the touch. From the radio dials to the dashboard, it's obvious Chevrolet spent a lot of time and energy into getting the appropriate feel, mostly soft-touch, for the interior appointments. Our test truck had the optional leather-wrapped steering wheel; it has the minipack airbag that not only give a better view of the gauges but also lets the steering wheel look like a steering wheel, not a pillow with a hand grip.
The S-10 has full instrumentation that's easily legible day or night. The four-wheel-drive controls are fully electronic, push buttons easily reached on the dash. Although the system is part-time only, the system allows shift-on-the-fly into and out of 4-high.
The truck must be stopped to shift the transfer case into 4-low, of course, but it still only requires pushing a button. A neutral position is also available that allows the truck to be flat towed without disconnecting driveshafts.
The radio and heating and air conditioning controls are large, legible and so easy to use that their respective sections in the owners manual may never be read.
Our S-10 had the $295 optional third door. Chevrolet puts the third door on its full-size pickups on the passenger side, presuming that the rear door will more often be used by passenger who will wish to exit on the curb side. The S-10, on the other hand, has its third door on the driver's side, the logic being that it would more often be used by the driver for stowing extra gear. But when dropping off someone at the curb, it means they must venture into traffic to get to any cargo. Chevy is correct, however, in presuming that the jump seat in the extended cab will seldom be used for passengers. It's cramped for an adult, and requires that the front passenger seat be moved forward to permit any kind of shoulder room. The options on our Xtreme make the interior of the S-10 a nice place to be, far removed from our grandfather's farm vehicle. It has all the comforts of any sedan, save a real back seat; the jump seat in the extended cab is not acceptable for more than short hauls for anyone over the age of 12.
The Xtreme is a truck that, if you don't exactly sit down into, you don't have to step up to get in either. The seats are comfortable with a console featuring two usable cupholders and a small storage compartment. The floor-mounted shifter for the 5-speed has a sturdy-looking shaft, and a nice heft to it going into gear. It is a truck, after all.
The riding position is so low that it's easy to forget you're driving a truck. You're riding at about the same height as a NASCAR Craftsman Truck driver. And that's a good feature. Visibility is excellent, there's lots of headroom and legroom and the seats are comfortable.
The optional third door is a great feature. Without it, it's difficult to get to the cargo area behind the front seats, as the seat doesn't easily flip forward.
Other cool features: Shut off the ignition and the radio stays on so you can sit there and, like, chill. Open the door and the radio shuts off automatically. No worries. In fact, all accessories maintain power until the door is opened, so you can roll up the windows if you forgot before shutting off the ignition.
First things first. The 4WD Chevy S-10 is a truck. It has a live rear axle on leaf springs and a gross vehicle weight rating of 5150 pounds over a curb weight of 3616 pounds, and a heavy 4x4 drivetrain attached to the front hubs. So ride will be compromised. One can't expect a truck to ride like a car. And it doesn't. You can feel the front wheels trying to continue to bounce after hitting a bump, and the load-carrying rear springs not wanting to compress over minor bumps in the road.
That said, the S-10 rides well over smooth pavement and the Goodyear tires are quiet. The engine is smooth. It's silent at idle and quiet down the road, and not particularly loud at full throttle. There's only a minimum of wind noise. A long trip on smooth asphalt would be a delight, though frost-heaved concrete would be a nightmare.
The V6 engine is not only quiet, but strong as well. Its 250 foot-pounds of torque responds instantly to propel the S-10 through traffic, whether accelerating to merge onto the freeway or to pass a semi on a two-lane road. Earlier examples of this engine have been thrashy at high rpm, but over the years it has been refined to where it is not as slick as, say, a BMW six, but you won't go reaching for your earplugs when you get in the truck.
The S-10 tracks well, with little correction required to maintain a straight line. The predominant cornering mode is understeer, which suits a pickup well, as adding a load shifts weight balance rearward. Unloaded, the front tires will moan a protest long before danger of exceeding their limits is reached. Add 600 pounds of cinder block in the bed and the ride will be smoother and the cornering balance more even. It will ruin your around-town fuel mileage however, and increase your braking distances, though not severely. According to EPA tests, you can expect 17 mpg in city driving and 22 on the highway with the automatic transmission. Its ride height and comfort aside, the Xtreme's truckness comes out in the driving.
Though the pricing reflects a four-cylinder model, all of our driving was restricted to an Xtreme with the Vortec V6. The V6 is tuned for low-rpm torque. It's best to shift early and use the torque for motivation. Revving beyond 4000 rpm yields acceleration but the engine feels forced. Run it to the redline and the transmission resists shifting, the synchros waiting until revs drop. Zero-to-60 times and quarter-mile ET's will suffer as a result, as will accelerating into a moving stream of traffic. Overall, the acceleration performance is snappy, but not breathtaking. The V6 delivers plenty of power and makes all the right noises.
The ZQ8 suspension that comes on the Xtreme is available on other S-10 models and it improves handling with some sacrifice in ride quality. The Xtreme corners flatter and with more confidence than a standard height S-10. The big tires offer lots of grip, even on wet pavement. Riding low, the Xtreme never feels tippy, so this truck can be hustled through the twisty bits with confidence, just so long as the road is smooth.
But we found the ride to be choppy. Lowering ride height limits suspension travel; add in tires with short sidewalls and a live rear axle with leaf springs and the Xtreme behaves like a throwback to performance from the '60s -- which it should, as cars of that era had a similar suspension setup.
There's a good on-center feel and the steering is responsive. Considered as a sports car, the Xtreme's primitive suspension and trucky engine and transmission give it a decidedly vintage feel. On the other hand, as a truck, the Xtreme handles very well. And no sports car offers the utility of a pickup bed. The Xtreme came in handy when we went to a big picnic, moving a gas grille, several tubs of soft drinks and assorted supplies. Let's see you do that with your Miata! While there, it drew many more positive comments.
It all comes down to this. The Chevrolet S-10 is a truck. It rides like a truck, it corners like a truck and, as a truck, it has more cargo room than passenger room. If that is what you need, or if that is what you want, you most likely won't mind a ride that will never compare to that of an automobile. In that regard, the S-10 is like a steel glove lined with, well, not velvet, but velour.
A Chevy pickup is a safe buy, a known quantity with dealer service in every other town, which is nice to know even if you don't need it as much as you once did. Just remember: It's a truck, and if that's what you want, the S-10 will make you happy. The Xtreme is a good-looking truck, admired by ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages. Despite the proscription on trailering, the Xtreme is also useful for moving the stuff of your life when that stuff needs to be moved.
The handling is good, considering it's a truck, and the ride isn't terribly bad, though it wouldn't be our choice for a long drive on a bad road. We'd be willing to wager, however, that most Xtremes will be purchased just for its handsome profile because, hey, it's a nice truck.
2WD Fleetside Base Shortbox Regular Cab ($12,590); 2WD Fleetside LS Shortbox Regular Cab ($13,612); 2WD Fleetside LS Shortbox Extended Cab ($12,941); 2WD Fleetside LS Longbox Regular Cab ($13,963); 4WD Fleetside LS Shortbox Extended Cab ($18,016). S-10 Xtreme Sport Appearance Package: Base Regular Cab Fleetside; LS available in Regular Cab or Extended Cab, Fleetside or Sportside body styles.
Shreveport, LA. Linden, New Jersey; Shreveport, Louisiana.
Options As Tested
ETR AM/FM/CD stereo ($180); Survival Pak Package ($1,232) includes AM/FM stereo radio w/ cassette, clock; a/c, aluminum wheels, floor mats; 4-speed automatic transmission ($1,095); Convenience Group ($795) includes power windows, locks, heated outside rearview mirrors; tilt wheel & speed control ($395), chrome appearance package ($295) includes front and rear chrome bumpers, body side moldings, bright wheel house moldings; third door ($295); locking rear differential ($270); P235/75R15 on/off road steel belt white letter tires ($143); underbody shield package ($126); sliding rear window ($120); fog lamps ($115); deep tinted glass ($115); full size spare ($95); leather wrapped steering wheel ($54); destination charge ($520); less Survival Pak Savings (-$1,505). Sportside body ($475); Preferred Equipment Group ($2,236); Power Convenience Group ($795) includes power door locks, windows and heated outside rearview mirrors; tilt wheel and cruise control ($395), reclining highback bucket seats ($291), CD player ($180); sliding rear window ($120).
4WD Fleetside LS Longbox Extended Cab ($20,066). Xtreme LS Sportside Extended Cab ($13,612).
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