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New Car/Review

1997 GMC Sonoma SLS 4X4 Extended Cab

by Nick Hromiak


SEE ALSO: GMC Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:             4.3-liter Vortec V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  180 hp@4400 rpm/240 lb-ft @2800 rpm
TRANSMISSION:       Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:       16 mpg city,  21 mpg highway,   mpg test
WHEELBASE:          122.9 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:     203.7 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:     63.9 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:      67.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT:        3717 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:      19.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:   39.0 cu. ft. (short box)
TIRES:              P235/70R15
INSTRUMENTS:        Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                    water temperature, oil pressure, 
                    battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:          Power windows, power door locks, 
                    power mirrors,tinted glass, cruise control, 
                    air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                    with cassette, anti-lock braking, 
                    driver's side air bag.
STICKER PRICE:      $24,092

GMC's Sonoma pickup and its twin, the Chevy S-10, have, with the third door option on extended cabs, brought new life and interest to the compact truck market.

Up until GM's third door introduction during the last model year, compact pickups for both GM and Ford had seen a sales decline. It seems, according to sales figures, that truck buyers are opting for full-size trucks and foregoing the once-popular compacts.

As GM is the only auto manufacturer to offer the extra door in their compact pickup line, those models are drawing the most interest. And third doors are not just fads. They're downright practical. Consider that the third door option on GM's full-size pickups are on the passenger side where the use was designed primarily for passengers. On the compacts, the third door is on the driver's side, a logical position for those who use the truck for utility rather than passengers.

The third door allows handymen easier access to their tools, sportsmen their tackle, and contractors their blueprints or lunchboxes. It also offers drivers with disabilities a convenient storage space for a wheel chair. And if the truck is used for errands, the swing-out rear door eases loading and unloading of items that are stowed in the extended cab portion.

The 4WD Sonoma that we tested came equipped with the powerful 180 horsepower Vortec (LF6) V-6 engine that produces 240 lb-ft of torque at a low 2800 rpm. The standard engine on 2WD models is a 118 horsepower, 2.2-liter four cylinder, although a V-6 is optionally available. There is another Vortec (L35) V-6 offered, this one produced 190 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque at 2800 rpm. Why two engines with similar power ratings? GMC says the lesser-powered V-6 (LF6) is a better mate to the five-speed manual transmission for fuel economy, whereas the L35 is preferred for the four-speed automatic.

Selecting the five-speed could improve on the 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway EPA rating. Our tester, however, had the automatic and it performed smoothly with virtually unnoticeable up and down shifts. With it and a high 3.42 rear axle ratio, mileage came close to the EPA ratings.

One special aspect of the Sonoma is its relatively low step-up height of 19 inches (a 1997 Chrysler LXi minivan, for example, is 15 inches). It makes ingress and egress a comfortable slip-in affair with no stretching or running boards needed.

Sonoma's cabin is very comfortable with high-back cloth bucket seats that offer excellent lateral support. All HVAC controls are logically placed and are easy to operate without having to consult the owner's manual.

Niceties include a leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift handle, electronic shift 4WD transfer case via dash-mounted push buttons, remote keyless entry, standard four-wheel ABS, power windows and door locks, deep tinted glass, and more. For all this, the bottom line for this capable pickup carries a retail price of $24,092 after a base of $19,414.

Granted, this is a lot for a compact pickup. But with car-like ride and handling, extended cab, a third door option and a hose of amenities, the Sonoma can double as a family sedan and go where conventional sedans fear to tread. Sonomas are available in two-door regular, extended cab and extended cab with third door, and in six-foot or 7.3-foot beds in either Wideside or Sportside designs.