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Introduced as a response to the success of Japanese pickups at the start of the 1980s, the Chevrolet S-10 quickly became a prime competitor in the compact pickup truck segment. Affordable and highly configurable, it was an everyman's truck, meeting the needs of anyone who didn't need the towing and payload capacities of a full-size pickup.
During the S-10's 23-year lifespan, there were two generations. Most used-vehicle shoppers will be looking at the second generation. Alas, we were never particularly impressed with this S-10, finding it to be inferior to competing small trucks from Dodge, Ford, Nissan and Toyota.
Most Recent Chevrolet S-10
The second-generation Chevrolet S-10 was produced from 1994-2004. It was offered in regular, extended and (later on) crew cab bodies with short and long beds. The Sportside bed arrived in 1996 along with the optional three-door access cab. The ZR2 package was available on regular-cab short-bed models (it was available with the extended cab in 1995), as was an SS package that included a high-output V6, sport suspension and alloy wheels.
The boulder-crawling ZR2 package added some machismo to the S-10 that the regular and LS versions lacked. ZR2 S-10s featured larger off-road tires, tougher suspension components and standard four-wheel drive.
The S-10 extended cab model was offered with a third-door access panel on the driver side that aided loading cargo, pets or an unfortunate passenger into the rear compartment with its fold-down jump seat. This third door tended to rattle on broken pavement, though.
The 1994-'97 S-10 featured a standard 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine on rear-wheel-drive models that made 118 horsepower. Optional with 2WD and standard with 4WD was a 165-hp 4.3-liter V6. The high-output V6 put out 195 hp. These V6s were upgraded in 1996 to provide more horsepower and torque. Transmission choices included a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.
Safety was never a point worthy of applause for the Chevrolet S-10, and the early years of this generation were light on safety equipment. Rear antilock brakes were standard, but four-wheel ABS was optional on four-cylinder models and standard with the V6. (All S-10s had four-wheel ABS after 1996.) A driver airbag became available in 1995, but there was no passenger protection until the 1998 update. For this reason, and the shabby interior, we'd steer clear of these early second-generation S-10s.
This S-10 underwent a midlife freshening for '98 that saw more aggressive front styling and an improved interior with dual airbags. The S-10 Xtreme that debuted in 1999 was the street-oriented counterpart to the ZR2. It was offered only in rear-wheel drive with a 2-inch-lower ride height. It also added a body-color grille and bumpers, full ground effects with wheel flares, the sport suspension and 16-inch aluminum wheels. The only other major change for this S-10's run was 2001's new four-door crew cab model with five-passenger capacity.
The Chevy S-10 was loaded with value and versatility for the compact pickup truck buyer, but we were never thrilled with it. The revised interior featured good ergonomics, but the materials were low rent, and the driver sat low, facing a tall steering wheel and dash. The S-10's tendency to squeak and rattle didn't provide the feeling of brawny quality we'd like from a pickup. Nor did lousy crash test scores provide the feeling of invincibility one expects from a pickup. In a comparison test we conducted for 2001, the S-10 finished fifth out of five trucks. Production soldiered on until 2004, at which point Chevy replaced the S-10 with the all-new Colorado.
Previous Chevrolet S-10 Models
The original Chevy S-10 was built from 1982-'93. This S-10 was also available in extended and regular cab styles, with the latter available in two wheelbases. It, too, was available with four- and six-cylinder engines, although the 2.5-liter four-banger made only 105 horsepower.