What's New for 1996
Improved V6 engines make more power and torque this year. A new five-speed manual gives four-cylinder models better acceleration, and four-bangers also get four-wheel antilock brakes. Extended-cab models get third-door access panel on the driver side to make loading cargo and passengers easier. A new sport suspension turns the S-10 into a competent sports truck, and the new Sportside cargo box allows the S-Series to go head to head with the Ford Ranger Splash.
Like most of today's compact trucks, Chevrolet's S-Series grew more car-like when it was redesigned for 1994. That's the trend, and Chevy has done a good job of transforming its small-scale pickups--without blurring their identity as practical machines. Riding smoother and handling better, they gained plenty in performance potential and overall refinement, ranking closer to their main competition, Ford's similar-size Ranger. Grasp that long manual-transmission gearshift lever and it's easy to imagine you're wielding a big rig, while enjoying the blissful comforts of a compact.
Four-cylinder models need that manual shift to derive top performance, but the two V6 engine options are strong with either transmission. For maximum output, the 200-horsepower L35 Vortec 4300 V6 has gained horsepower and torque this year. Same is true of the slightly less energetic LF6 Vortec 4300 V6. The four cylinder's manual transmission is new this year, designed to provide more brisk get-up-and-go and an easier shift effort. Two-wheel drive four-cylinder models also get standard antilock brakes for 1996.
Extended cab models get a cool new side panel that opens wide to allow for easier access to the rear of the cab. Located on the driver's side, the optional third door deletes one of the extended cab's jump seats, but makes it much easier to load cargo, a friend, or your pal Spot into the S-10. Also new for 1996 is a revised sport suspension setup. Combined with the hot SS package and the newly available Sportside cargo box, the S-10 will run circles around the Ford Ranger Splash.
Two-wheel-drive (S10) and four-wheel-drive (T10) trucks come in five models each, with a short or long bed and short or extended wheelbase. Ride comfort varies from car-smooth to strictly firm, depending on the choice of suspensions and tires. Five new exterior colors are available this year, and buyers can opt for one new interior color if they choose.
Headroom is ample and seats are supportive, but the driver sits a little low, facing a tall steering wheel and cowl. In theory, three people fit across an S-Series bench seat, but it's hard to conceive of an adult human being slim enough to squeeze into the space allotted.
Full gauges are excellent and easy to read, but the upright dashboard is constructed of cheap and brittle looking plastic. Despite a low-height windshield--not unlike the Ranger's--visibility is super, helped by huge mirrors. A driver's airbag and daytime running lamps are standard. All models have four-wheel antilock braking. Off-roaders will want the burly ZR2 package that makes the truck's body wider and taller, featuring special wheel flares, tough suspension components, and aggressive rubber.
Like many Chevrolets, the S-10 is loaded with value. However, we must take issue with the poor crash test scores of this little pickup, especially in contrast to the good crashworthiness demonstrated by the Ford Ranger and Dodge Dakota. Furthermore, the Ranger is available this year with an optional passenger airbag, something that Dodge won't be adding until the Dakota is redesigned for 1997, and Chevy won't see fit to add to the S-10 until 1998, at the earliest. We genuinely like the S-10, but feel that for safety-minded shoppers, Ford's Ranger is the better buy in this class.