Used 1996 GMC Sonoma Regular Cab Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

Extended-cab models get an optional driver-side rear access panel. All Sonomas are now equipped with four-wheel ABS. A new sport suspension provides sporty handling, and a snazzy Sportside box ends Ford's reign as lord of compact stepsides. A new five-speed transmission improves shifter location and operation when equipped with the base four-cylinder. Still missing is the availability of a passenger airbag.

Vehicle overview

Compact trucks are hot nowadays, and GMC's entry into that market delivers hard-to-beat value--even if it doesn't necessarily stand at the very top of its class in every way. A driver airbag with knee bolster and daytime running lights (headlights that operate at 90 percent intensity whenever the truck is driven, whether you want 'em on or not) were added last year. This year, all Sonomas are equipped with four-wheel antilock braking, and a handy side access panel has joined the extended cab option list. Also new is a revised five-speed shifter on four-cylinder trucks that promises reduced shift and throw effort, and has been placed closer to the driver for ease of operation.

Sonomas can be fitted to suit just about any requirement, from strict utility to sporty style and performance. Choose from three wheelbases, two cab types, a regular-size or long cargo bed in Fleetside or new Sportside configuration, and two- or four-wheel drive. Whew! You still have to consider three trim levels, seven suspension systems, three engines (a four or two V6 choices), and manual or automatic shift.

With the high-output, 180-horsepower Vortec 4300 V6 on tap, and the new Sport Suspension package, the Sonoma performs as energetically as high-priced sports cars did a decade or so ago. By any definition, that's progress. The new Sportside box and sharp five-spoke alloys nicely complement the top powertrain and suspension, turning the Sonoma into a true factory sport truck. For off-roading duties, GMC offers the Highrider, riding three-ply all-terrain tires and sporting a reinforced frame (four inches wider, two inches taller) and toughened suspension. Either Sonoma outperforms the Ranger on or off the pavement, but when it comes to interior fittings, only the Dodge Dakota looks and feels more archaic.

Inside, Sonomas and S-Series pickups are virtually identical, with a comfortable cab marred by an aesthetic disaster of a dashboard, which looks and feels as though it were lifted from some defunct Buick project. Some graphics have been changed this year, but the plasticky interior ambiance is unchanged. A passenger airbag is unavailable. On extended cab trucks, an optional side access panel makes loading passengers or cargo into the rear of the cab much easier.

Ford's Ranger and Toyota's new Tacoma come across as more refined, and their sticker prices reflect this impression. In compact-truck value per dollar, though, GMC just might deliver all the goods you're seeking.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.