It works hard or plays hard.
by Sue Mead
Base Price $13,124
As Tested $25,171
If you're in the market for a cost-effective midsize pickup, chances are high that the GMC Sonoma, in one of its myriad configurations, will serve your needs. Attractive looks, healthy torque from V6 engines, three doors and tons of options make the GMC Sonoma a popular choice.
News for 2000 includes improved acceleration and braking along with a handling/trailering suspension that comes standard on four-wheel-drive models. Along with the Chevy S-10, the Sonoma competes with the Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Mazda B-Series and Isuzu Hombre.
Originally introduced in 1994, this truck has been refined and upgraded for the past six years. Recent refinements include more powerful engines, increased trailer ratings, improved suspensions and a greater selection of options, including a third door.
Whether you need a reliable work truck that offers a good value or a capable off-road pickup, you should be able to find a Sonoma to fit your lifestyle. GMC offers a huge selection of options for the Sonoma, with two- and four-wheel-drive models, regular and extended cab bodies, short and long beds, Sportside and Wideside bodies, seven different chassis packages, and SL, SLS and top-of-the-line SLE trim levels.
Retail prices range from $13,124 to $20,736. (List prices include the $520 destination charge, so that should be taken into consideration when comparing costs, as most manufacturers do not include the destination charge.)
A 120-horsepower 2.2-liter engine is standard on two-wheel-drive models. An alternative fuel version of this four-cylinder engine is available that burns gasoline, Ethanol-85, or any mixture in between.
The Vortec 4300 4.3-liter V6 is standard on four-wheel-drive models (190 horsepower) and optional on two-wheel-drive models (180 horsepower).
Five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are available.
Buyers of two-wheel-drive Sonomas have a choice of three types of suspension tuning: Smooth Ride, Heavy-Duty and Sport. The Sport package enhances handling and goes a long way toward making the Sonoma drive like a car. This is accomplished using shorter springs, high-performance gas shock absorbers, urethane jounce bumpers, front and rear stabilizer bars, specially tuned variable-ratio power steering and wide 8-inch aluminum wheels with Goodyear P235/55R-16 tires.
Four-wheel-drive models automatically get the firmer Heavy Duty suspension, designed for high payloads and towing. An option on four-wheel-drive Sonomas aimed at off-road driving enthusiasts is the $695 Highrider Off-Road package, which features upgraded shocks, springs, wheels and tires.
The Sonoma is an attractive truck with a smooth, aerodynamic hood that wraps around the front end. Its clean exterior lines include a body-colored front bumper, fascia and grille, as well as a headlamp design that integrates all forward lighting functions into a single unit. The composite headlamps are standard, with fog lamps available as an option. The front license plate bracket is molded into the charcoal-colored lower valance, while a center-step cutout in the rear bumper gives easy access to the cargo area. The stiff, box-section ladder frame dips in the center to make it easier to step up into the seats, without sacrificing ground clearance for off-highway use.
The clamshell-style third-door is a popular option for extended cab models. This driver's-side panel swings out to make it easier to load personal gear, pets and an occasional passenger.
Maximum towing capacity on the 2000 lineup has been increased by 400 pounds and is now up to 6,400 pounds (when equipped with a 4.3-liter V6 engine, automatic transmission, 3.42 or 3.73 axle ratio and aftermarket weight-distributing hitch). The standard step bumper is capable of handling trailers of up to 3,500 pounds. Two final drive ratios are available, one for standard duty and a shorter ratio for heavy hauling.
Four-wheel-drive models come standard with InstaTrac, a shift-on-the-fly system that allows the driver to shift between two- and four-wheel drive by pressing a button. An optional locking rear differential improves traction in extremely slippery conditions.
The Sonoma offers a good seating position, with an open, airy feel. A sloping hood, narrow A-pillar and unobstructed views to the rear make for good visibility in all directions.
The interior is roomy, comfortable and functional. The long, wide body along with a relatively thin door design translates into impressive shoulder and hip room for a compact pickup. Seat choices are high-backed bucket seats for two passengers, a bench seat for three, or a reclining 60/40 split bench. The bucket seats are standard on four-wheel-drive SLS and SLE regular cabs along with four-wheel-drive extended cabs. Driver lumbar adjustments and standard recliners on the seats enhanced comfort in our test model.
Extended-cab trucks offer fold-down jump seats for rear occupants, though there isn't a lot of space back there for adults. Three-door models lose one rear jump seat, a worthwhile sacrifice for the improved loading access.
The sculpted instrument panel includes radio and ventilation controls angled 15 degrees toward the driver for improved accessibility. One neat detail is a passenger-assist grip located on the dashboard. Upper models now have two dash-mounted power outlets below the ashtray. The center console can accommodate an optional cassette player. Other options include power windows, door locks, tinted glass, and an upgraded remote keyless entry system with security alarm. Safety features include taller integral head rests and a new seat belt design that allows the belt to travel with the seat for a safer, more comfortable ride for occupants of all sizes.
We enjoyed driving the Sonoma 4x4. The ride quality is a bit jouncy with the Heavy Duty suspension package. This setup is at its best when hauling a heavy load or pulling a trailer, and it rides better with a cord of wood in back. The Smooth Ride suspension is more comfortable for everyday use, yet still works well for the light-duty work most compact pickups perform.
The Vortec V6 engine serves up a robust 190 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 250 pounds-feet of torque at 2800 rpm. It delivers healthy throttle response across the power band, which makes everyday driving enjoyable. Passing maneuvers can be completed without drama. (When fitted on two-wheel-drive models, the V6 produces 180 horsepower and 245 pounds-feet of torque at the same engine speeds.) Both V6 configurations use sequential central-port fuel injection and offer an excellent combination of horsepower and torque.
Sonoma's Insta-Trac electronic transfer is a dream to operate. Simply push a button to shift into low-range and you're ready for the toughest terrain. High ground clearance, a locking differential, aggressive tires, gas-pressure shocks and heavy-duty multi-leaf rear springs produced positive results during our off-road excursions.
We particularly enjoyed the feel of the Sonoma 4WD model's brakes. Brake pedal travel is relatively short with good pedal feel. Four-wheel discs come standard on four-wheel-drive models. Two-wheel-drive Sonomas come with disc brakes in front and drum brakes in the rear. All Sonomas come standard with four-wheel anti-lock brakes.
It may not attract a lot of attention, but the Sonoma is one of the most capable compact trucks on the market. It seems to do everything well and it is constantly being refined.
With an almost bewildering array of models and options, the GMC Sonoma offers plenty of choices to suit a wide range of drivers.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.