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SEE ALSO: GMC Buyer's Guide

1996 GMC Sierra Extended Cab 4X4

by John Heilig


ENGINE 5.0-liter Vortec V-8 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 220@4600 rpm/285@2800 rpm 
TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic 
WHEELBASE: 155.5 in. 
OVERALL LENGTH: 213.4 in. 
OVERALL WIDTH: 76.8 in. 
CURB WEIGHT: 4830 lbs 
PAYLOAD: 1770 lbs 
TIRES: P245/75R16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, 
    battery voltage, compass, digital dock. 
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, power seat, cruise control, 
    air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette' anti-lock braking, driver's side air 
STICKER PRICE: $23,500 (est.)

The big battle in pickup trucks these days is not about engines, not about the size of the bed (although Ford tells us that only 30 percent of buyers actually use their pickup trucks to work), not about the size of the passenger compartment. It's not about any of these things; it's about doors. You'd think these people were talking about minivans, for goodness sake.

I'm not going to get into the argument of who was first, or whose third doors are standard and whose are optional, I'm just happy to see this addition to extended cab pickups on all sides and welcome the appearance.

In this week's GMC Sierra extended cab we have a rear door on the passenger side. At one time these doors were called access panels because the GM lawyers didn't know if it was legal to call it a door if it didn't have an outside handle. This door is fabulous for improving access to the rear seat, which has always been a problem with extended cab versions.

The first time I saw one of these doors it was like a light bulb going off in my head. I thought, "Why didn't someone think of that before?" The week after that, I had to road test an extended cab and I had to play golf. Wrestling the bag out of the rear compartment was a hassle, made even worse by the fact that I knew what the future held.

General Motors' door, like the competition, does not have an exterior handle. The handle is on the inside of the door itself, much like the handle for the inside left rear door of a "swinging door" van or minivan. It provides great access to the rear seat. The seat itself is slightly bigger than in the past, offering more legroom, so that it can be used as a seat. It is forward facing, and since some of these seats in extended cab trucks were sidefacing jump seats, there's an advantage there as well. If the front seats are moved far enough forward, there is great comfort for the rear seat passengers.

The Sierra is GMC's heart and soul, accounting for more than one-third of all GMC truck sales. With the trend toward trucks and away from passenger cars (Ford is at about 50 percent, Chevrolet is over 60 percent trucks), a division that offers a solid fullsized pickup truck has a license to print money.

Our tester was powered by a 5.0-liter Vortec V-8, which is rated at 220 horsepower and 285 pound-feet of torque. This is enough power for the Sierra for all the conditions we drove in, which didn't strain the truck in any way. Now that spring is in the air, snow--thankfully--isn't, so we had dry roads to traverse.

The Sierra is a full-sized vehicle and can't be thrown around corners like a small sports car. We had to drive it in New York City one day and while I appreciated the high profile and ability to see what was ahead, the sheer size of the Sierra made it difficult for "Urban Guerrilla" driving. Even on the highway, you get a feeling of solidity that gives you a firm, not mushy, ride, but one that isn't uncomfortable.

If you want to load the Sierra with construction materials or leaves and grass for the town dump, the long bed is ready to accept almost anything.

The Sierra also serves as a mobile office with the fold-down armrest. It is deep enough to store a lot of tapes, or a portable computer or cell phone. On top is a "desk" with a clipboard at a good angle with a flat storage area for pencils, etc. If you're left-handed, of course, the clipboard won't do much good.

While it's true that all the talk about pickups these days is about rear doors and their presence or non presence, the GMC Sierra is still a good, solid truck. You know if it has "GMC" on the grille, there are over 90 years of truck-building experience behind it. GMC is a serious truck-building company that is growing within General Motors.