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1996 Chevrolet S-10 Sportside 4WD LS Pickup

by Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

With its multitude of models and options, the second generation of Chevrolet's compact S-Series truck is well-suited to today's pickup market. After all, few types of vehicles are called upon for more varied duties than are pickups. Traditionally used as rugged work vehicles, pickups are also popular for personal use. On weekdays, a personal truck may be used like a car, for commuting, errands, and all of the usual car things. On weekends, that same truck may haul loads to the dump, tow a boat, or be driven down a 4-wheel drive trail to that secret fishing hole. Versatility is the key concept with pickups.

Because of the varied potential used for a pickup, the "one model fits all possible customers" philosophy does not apply. So, there is a Chevy S-truck for just about every truck need. Short-box, long-box, regular cab, extended cab, two- or -four-wheel drive, four- or six-cylinder engines, and a variety of trim levels and interior appointments ensure a match for many customer needs. New in the middle of the 1996 model year is the "sportside" cargo box, a narrower bed with flared fenders that brings a touch of nostalgia to the S-10.

I spent a week with a Chevy S-10 with the upscale LS trim package, the top-of-the-line V6 engine, 4-wheel drive, and the new sportside cargo box. With a purple metallic paint job, it was a head-turner. It had the style and comfort of a car, and the versatility of a truck.

APPEARANCE: The Chevrolet S-series of pickups successfully combines contemporary style with tradition, particularly with the optional "sportside" cargo box. The rounded front end, with an arched hood and massive chromed grille prominently displaying the Chevy bowtie logo, is complemented by the retro-style narrow cargo box and its flared fenders. With a higher hood and lower front fenders, the 1996 S-10 would look a lot like an early 1950s Chevy truck. But, since this is 1996, the cab has a well-raked one-piece windshield and the bumpers are covered with body- colored impact-resistant plastic which continues as lower body cladding around the car. The 4x4 truck sits higher than 2-wheel drive versions. The base-model steel wheels are very trick-looking, and a variety of factory alloy wheels are available. The small Chevy truck has style.

COMFORT: The S-10 may have some vintage styling cues outside, but inside it is fully modern. Interior styling is of the functional school, so flowing rounded forms are nowhere to be found. The angular instrument panel may not be the height of fashion, but it works. Instruments are easy to read, and all controls are well within the reach of even the shortest driver. There are plenty of heating/air conditioning ducts. Many different interior options are available. My test truck had the optional reclining cloth-upholstered buckets with manual lumbar adjustment and a center console. The seat backs return to their original position after being unlatched for cargo access. Optional electronic 4-wheel drive control buttons are placed in the center of the instrument panel, above the rotary climate controls and AM/FM/CD sound system. The glove box and door pockets are on the small side, but the useful center console has cupholders and plenty of storage space. Optional power windows, mirrors, and door locks with remote keyless entry add convenience.

SAFETY: The Chevy S-Series truck has a driver's air bag, standard 4- wheel antilock brakes, side-impact protection beams, and daytime running lights.

ROADABILITY: Although many small pickups are used for personal transportation and rarely haul heavy loads, there are still plenty that get industrial-strength hauling workouts on a daily basis. So a truck suspension must not only allow for a large variation in vehicle weight, it must provide reasonable ride comfort. Gone are the days when "rides like a truck" meant harsh, noisy, and uncomfortable. The S-10's independent front and solid-axle rear suspensions do the job. Any job - seven different chassis packages are offered. My 4x4 truck was a bit bouncy unloaded compared to a car, but should settle down with a load or camper shell. Heavy-duty skid plates under all important mechanical components add security on or off the road.

PERFORMANCE: The news from the engine compartment is "power". A new version of the Vortec 4.3-liter V6 has significantly more horsepower. With 190 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque, acceleration and hill climbing are no problem. Towing capacity ranges up to 5500 lbs. depending on gearing. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, with a wide-ratio 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic optional. The electronically-controlled transfer case and automatically-locking front axles on my test truck made shifting into and out of 4-wheel drive high or low range simple and painless.

CONCLUSIONS: The Chevrolet S-10 pickup can be configured almost any way the customer desires. In regular cab 4x4 form with a powerful V6 engine and stylish sportside bed, it's a good-looking truck with many uses.

1996 Chevrolet S-10 Sportside 4WD LS Pickup
Base Price               $ 17,515
Price As Tested          $ 22,753
Engine Type              V6, pushrod ohv, 12 valves
Engine Size              4.3 liters, 262 cu. in.
Horsepower               190 @ 4400
Torque (lb-ft)           250 @ 2800
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length       108.3 in. / 188.7 in.
Curb Weight              3400 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    18
Fuel Capacity            19 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular, 87 octane
Tires                    P235/75 R15 Firestone Wilderness AT
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / drum, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent double control arm with torsion bars 
                         /solid axle with leaf springs
Drivetrain               front engine, on-demand four-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      16/21/17
0 to 60 mph                        9.5 sec
Towing capacity                    3500 to 5500 lbs

1997 Update

Pickup trucks have a long model life cycle. Since the second- generation S-10 is only three model years old, there are no radical changes. Two major exterior changes were made during the 1996 model year: the sportside bed, and the optional third, driver's side door on extended-cab models. A 1997 S-10 will look just like a 1996 S-10, although there are some changes in color availability.

Mechanically, 1997 two-wheel drive models have a new, stiffer frame. All automatic transmissions have been enhanced for smoother operation. The front halfshafts on 4-wheel drive trucks have been modified for lighter weight.

An electric-powered S-truck will be available for fleet users during 1997.