Caught in a Time Warp
This little truck is as comfortable and familiar as an old shoe. And, while there's a lot to be said for an old shoe, there are some new fangled styles and features that Chevy has flat out ignored when adding this crew cab to the venerable S-10 line of pickups.
Take styling for instance. The competitors the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Toyota Tacoma Double Cab and even the Nissan Frontier all have an aggressive, contemporary look. Roof lines are staggered. Truck beds bulge unexpectedly. Body colors contrast with bumpers and under-cladding. Now turn to the Chevy. It, well, it doesn't make much of an impression at all. The design is boxy and almost painfully plain. And the cab roof looks chopped off, like a teenager with a flattop.
Now consider the missed opportunities by Chevy in the features department. True, our S-10 sported a four-wheel-drive system that shifts on the fly. But if you're going to build a shortbed crew cab, why not offer a bed extender as an inexpensive option? This is one of those why-didn't-they-think-of-that-sooner? ideas that most manufacturers have embraced. If Chevy had seen fit to include it, the additional hauling space would show the S-10 meant business as a working pickup. Instead, it's kind of a pickup, kind of a car, and kind of an SUV and it really doesn't excel as any of them.
These objections aside, there are some pleasing features in this 190-horsepower, V6 truck that will probably satisfy Chevy fans. After all, the current S-10 was introduced in 1994 and has built a loyal following over the years. Maybe Chevy just figured, why mess with success?
The front seats are comfortable and covered in dark cloth with a simple pattern. The speedometer and tach are attractively positioned and we're glad to see that Chevy eliminated idiot lights and opted to use gauges for temperature, oil pressure, and voltmeter. The various interior knobs and buttons have a solid feel as well.
There were some odd choices in the interior design, however. A large hump is located on the floor just forward of the front passenger's seat. This forces the passenger's legs into an uncomfortable position with his knees jutting toward the dash. The glove compartment is constructed in such a way that it barely opens wide enough to slide your hand inside. And finally, the seatbelt latch in the front seat is positioned so that it sticks the driver in mid-thigh when climbing into the cab.
Another puzzling choice was the lack of a recirculate button for the climate controls, a feature present in most vehicles. This would allow a more efficient cooling of the interior and it also allows the driver to keep out the fumes of that diesel truck he got stuck behind. We also noted that much of the interior is constructed of sub-standard materials. But the biggest problem with the cab's interior lies in the backseat. While access is good, with doors providing ample entry and exit, it is built more with children in mind than the "crew" that provides its namesake. Legroom is poor, visibility is limited and headroom is cramped. Any adult stuffed back there will soon begin grumbling. This dampens the vehicle's car-like appeal.
There were also a few annoying quality problems. Our truck had barely 500 miles on it, yet there were already some idiosyncrasies. A plastic panel popped out of the center console while we were searching for cupholders and it had to be wrangled back into place. The floor mats were small, ill-fitting and cheaply made (picky, we know, but it's the first thing that catches your eye when opening the door).
These quality issues seemed to forecast compromised performance when taken off-road. Just the opposite was true. While the ride was comfortable on the highway, the truck seemed to shine when it left the pavement. We drove at least 30 miles on deeply rutted back roads and the S-10 earned our admiration for solid handling and a tight body structure.
The Insta-Trac transfer case shifted easily into four-wheel drive with a push of the button on the dashboard. An indicator light in the button flashes as the transmission makes the change, letting the driver know when four-wheel drive is fully engaged. (A four-wheel-drive Lo is also available but the truck must be stopped before shifting.) The ground clearance is 8.5 inches and the 15-inch wheels gripped well on a steep climb despite the all-season as opposed to off-road tires.
Given the S-10's solid off-road performance, it's a shame the on-road power delivery wasn't better. Maybe we started with high expectations because we knew it had a hefty 4.3-liter, 190-horsepower V6 engine. That should be plenty of muscle to move this thing down the road. Low-end torque was good, but it thinned out quickly and struggled to post a sluggish 10.3 seconds in the zero-to-60 mph blitz. The two valve per cylinder Vortec engine delivered 190 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 250 foot-pounds of torque at 2,800 rpm. Given the lack of power, the gas mileage (on the sticker at 15 miles per gallon in the city and 18 on the highway though our figures were lower) was unjustifiably low.
The four-wheel disc antilock brakes felt solid and gave adequate feedback, though stopping distances were only average. The S-10, weighing in at 4,039 pounds, took 141 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph. The ABS was noisy and the truck seemed to pull to the left as it came to a stop. In the slalom the Chevy was understandably nose-heavy and the steering response was slow. Another editor described the steering as "numb."
Reviewing the commentary on Edmunds.com's Town Hall we found many faithful Chevy owners and many people reporting a great fondness for the S-10 pickup in other configurations (extended cab and regular cab). Some owners reported few problems and overall satisfaction with the performance and handling. However, several posts detailed engine trouble and a variety of problems with controls and accessories.
One account was written by an owner of two S-10s a 1985 2WD extended cab Tahoe, and a 1998 S-10 4WD LS extended cab. The '85 has 270,000 miles on it without major problems, while the '98 S-10, "is a joke," the owner reported. The seat handle has broken, door seals have failed, the 4x4 switch burned out. "The list goes on and on. And, this truck has been treated like a baby." The owner concluded by asking, "Can GM no longer produce long lasting products? Or are all car companies getting this cheap?"
The S-10 Crew Cab was the kind of pickup we really wanted to like more than we did. Although the crew cab is new this year, the vehicle as a whole seems caught in a time warp. Yes, it's generally likeable, in an old-fashioned, homespun way. But there's nothing special about it. This lack of excitement becomes more noticeable when you look at what is being offered by Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Dodge. So, while Chevrolet devotees will likely ignore our advice, anyone else wanting to own the best these SUV/pickup hybrids have to offer should check out the competition.
Associate editor Erin Mahoney says:
Here is a truck that makes no bones about the fact that it is a truck. Sure, our crew cab tester was loaded up with amenities, such as cruise control, tilt steering, power/heated side mirrors, digital compass and outside temperature display, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, but there was no disguising this vehicle's utilitarian nature. And you gotta respect that.
The 4.3-liter V6 offers decent acceleration and maintains speed with relative ease on level ground, but performance drops to subpar while ascending hills. Upshifts from the four-speed automatic are very palpable in terms of engine noise, but otherwise smooth and timely.
The S-10's inherent truckiness is most apparent in its jarring suspension, numb steering and noisy demeanor. Traversing speed bumps is a horror in this truck; I could've done without such a stiff suspension. The steering wheel has a sizable on-center dead spot. Engine noise is already raucous, and wind roar off the roof amounts to quite a racket at highway speeds.
To be quite honest, this vehicle didn't make much of an impression on me, either negative or favorable. Although it certainly wasn't a chore to drive, it wasn't particularly fun either.
Executive editor Karl Brauer says:
Some quick research with Edmunds.com pricing information tells me that, for all intents and purposes, I can buy a 4.7-liter V8 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab four-wheel-drive truck for approximately the same price as this V6 Chevrolet S-10 Crew Cab. With the Dodge I get 40 more horsepower, 45 more foot-pounds of torque, a rear seat that actually seats three adults comfortably, and an exterior design that looks mean, rather than just utilitarian.
Even the Explorer Sport Trac, without a V8 option like the Dakota, still offers 16 more horsepower and only 12 foot-pounds less peak torque from its 4.0-liter V6, all while making less racket when floored than the somewhat raspy V6 in the S-10. Looks are a bit more esoteric for the Sport Trac, but I'll take esoteric over dull any day, especially when the Sport Trac's interior manages to look upscale and offer superior comfort to the Chevy's cab.
The S-10 isn't a terrible truck. The engine makes adequate power, the seats are sufficiently comfortable (but too low, like in the Xterra), and the brakes feel strong. But "not terrible," "adequate" and "sufficient" don't cut it when far better offerings are available from the competition. I like the large exterior mirrors and functional gauge cluster, but throw in the mismatched gas and brake pedal height, the intrusive seatbelt latch, and the chintzy plastic interior materials, and you won't see me visiting a Chevrolet dealer for my small truck needs.
System Score: 5.0
Components. The system consists of a standard-issue GM head unit, which is well appointed with a usable topography and very user-friendly controls. These include pop-out buttons for bass, treble, balance and fade, a nice round volume knob, and a bright LED readout. The faceplate is set up for very easy navigation, so you can keep your eye on the road and not on the head unit. Only one feature mars this setup: a separate cassette deck that is located a full 2 feet below the rest of the controls, in a housing beneath the dash. I must assume that the cassette deck was added as an option (although the vehicle sticker does not indicate this), since the owner's manual shows it built into the head unit. Too bad, because otherwise this is a very consumer-friendly system.
Speaker-wise, the rear doors house a pair of 5-inch full range drivers. The front doors hold a pair of 6-inch mid-bass drivers, which work in sync with a pair of dash-mounted tweeters that fire upward into the windshield glass.
Performance. If you like bass, this is your system. It really thumps. GM sound systems, especially the ones I've listened to lately in their trucks, don't offer a balanced approach to sound. This would appear to be by design. With a fair amount of road noise and jostling around, you probably don't want refinement. This system obliges that desire. Instead, you get rollicking bass and enough piercing highs to whoop ass on your eardrums. Hey, it ain't Beethoven you'll be listening to in this truck anyway. Drums and percussion are very, well, percussive in this system, and the thump monster will get you if you don't watch out. The amp gives up the ghost at about two-thirds volume, but you'll have fun (and bleeding ears) before it does.
Best Feature: Mondo bass response.
Worst Feature: Strangely located cassette player.
Conclusion. I knocked off some points for the poorly positioned cassette player, and a few more for the unbalanced sound. You'll have fun with this system if you like to bump and run. Scott Memmer