What's New for 1999
An all-new sport package called the Xtreme debuts. All S-10s get automatic transmission enhancements to improve sealing and durability and larger outside mirrors with an optional power-heated mirror. Other changes for '99 include a content theft alarm, headlamp flash-to-pass feature, three new exterior paint choices and the availability of GM's AutoTrac electronic push-button transfer case on select four-wheel-drive models.
Like most of today's compact trucks, Chevrolet's S-Series has been growing more car-like, especially since its last redesign in 1994. That's the trend, and Chevy has done a good job of transforming its small-scale pickups into everyday vehicles, without blurring their identity as practical machines. Riding smoother and handling better, they gained plenty in performance and overall refinement, ranking closer to their main competition, Ford's similar-size Ranger. Grasp the S-10's long manual-transmission gearshift lever and it's easy to imagine you're piloting a big rig, while enjoying the blissful comforts of a compact.
Four-cylinder models need that manual shift to gain top performance, but the two V6 engine options are strong with either manual or automatic transmissions. For maximum output, the optional 180-horsepower L35 Vortec 4300 V6 is the engine to select (190 horsepower in 4WD models). But the slightly less- energetic LF6 Vortec 4300 V6 is no slouch, thanks to 175 horses and 180 pounds-feet of torque.
Extended cab models can be equipped with a handy access panel that opens wide to allow for easier access to the rear of the cab. Located on the driver's side, this 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. But be warned, the third door makes for aggravating rattles on broken pavement.
Two- and four-wheel-drive trucks come in several configurations, with a short or long bed, a Fleetside box or Sportside box, and a short or extended wheelbase available. Ride comfort varies from car-smooth to strictly firm, depending on the choice of suspensions and tires.
Headroom is ample and seats are supportive, but the driver sits low, facing a tall steering wheel and cowl. In theory, three people fit across an S-Series bench seat, but only someone as slim as TV's Ally McBeal could fit comfortably in the space allotted. Surprisingly, the extended cab's rear jump seats are comfortable enough for short trips, as long as only one adult occupies the space behind the front seats.
The full complement of gauges is excellent and easy to read, but the upright dashboard is constructed of cheap- and brittle-looking plastic. Despite a low-height windshieldnot unlike the Ranger'svisibility is super, helped by huge mirrors. Dual airbags and daytime running lamps are standard, as well as a theft deterrent system four-wheel ABS. Off-roaders will want the burly ZR2 package with its wider track and taller ride height, featuring special wheel flares, tough suspension components and aggressive rubber.
New this year is the Xtreme package, which can be had as a regular or extended cab, with a Fleetside or Sportside box, a four- or six-cylinder engine, manual or automatic transmission, and in base or LS trim. Riding on a special ZQ8 suspension that is lowered two full inches, the two-wheel-drive only Xtreme aims to be a factory sport truck that can be custom-tailored to meet a variety of needs and budgets. No matter how you configure it, Xtreme stands out from the crowd with body-color grille and bumpers, front air dam with fog lamps, full ground effects with wheel flares and unique 16-inch aluminum wheels wearing P235/55 blackwall tires. While we'd pick an extended cab LS Sportside with the V6 and a five-speed, this truck rides sports-car firm and handles superbly any way you package it.
Also new for '99 are improvements to the automatic transmission and outside mirrors, plus the addition of a content theft alarm, headlamp flash-to-pass feature and three new exterior colors. There's even a new lockout provision that prevents the doors from locking if you inadvertently leave your keys in the ignition.
Like many Chevrolets, the S-10 is loaded with value, but we've never quite warmed up to it. Occasional squeaks and rattles and the low-buck interior don't provide the feeling of brawny quality that we've experienced in the S-10's major competitor, Ford's Ranger. With further refinement in this year's S-10, maybe more test drives will help win us over.