Handsome, versatile, and now with more doors.
by Sue Mead
Base Price (MSRP) $12,763
As Tested (MSRP) $24,597
GMC's mid-size Sonoma blazes into 2001 with a new four-door model, a Crew Cab sporting four front-hinged, full-size people portals. GMC will sell four-door Sonomas only with a V6, automatic transmission, and four-wheel drive, and only in the top two trim levels. So you could almost think of the Sonoma Crew Cab as a comfortable sedan, with off-road capability that just happens to have a pickup box out back. Almost. The rear passenger compartment is tight and the bed is just four and a half feet long.
The full-line of more economically priced Sonoma continues. Those in the market for a cost-effective midsize pickup should be able to find a variation on the Sonoma to serve their needs. A quietly handsome appearance, healthy V6 torque, and a myriad of options all argue in the Sonoma's favor.
The model line ranges from reliable work trucks that offer a good value to capable off-road machines. GMC offers a huge selection of variations, with two- and four-wheel-drive models, regular and extended cabs, short and long beds, Sportside and Wideside bodies, and seven different chassis packages.
Base level trim is the SL; the SLS adds a color-keyed grille (rather than gray) and interior upgrades. Then, for $701, any SLS can become an SLE with a chrome grille and alloy wheels. Air conditioning, standard in the Crew Cab, is an $805 stand-alone option on all other models. Air is also included in each of five different Super Spec equipment packages that help tailor a Sonoma to the buyer's needs.
Base retail prices range from $12,763 for an SL with four cylinders and 2WD; up to $25,784 for a V6-powered SLE Crew Cab. Our 4WD V6 Extended Cab in SLS trim retailed for $20,382.
A 120-horsepower 2.2-liter engine is standard on 2WD 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 4WD Sonomas, where it is rated 190 horsepower. The same V6 is optional on two-wheel-drive models but rates only 180 horsepower in that variation.
Five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are available.
Buyers of basic 2WD Sonomas have a choice of three suspensions: 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 with shorter ride-height springs, high-performance deCarbon 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.
Extended-cab and four-wheel-drive models automatically get the firmer Heavy Duty suspension, designed for high payloads and towing. Off-road enthusiasts may opt for the $695 ZM6 Off-Road package, with Bilstein gas shock absorbers, plus upgraded springs, jounce bumpers, stabilizer bars, and on/off-road P235/75R15 white outline tires; or the even more aggressive ZR2 Highrider, which includes a shield package plus wheel flares and special springs, shocks, wheels and tires for a higher and wider stance.
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 and fascia, 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.
A clamshell-style third-door on the driver's side is a popular option for Extended Cab models, making it easier to load personal gear, pets and an occasional passenger.
Maximum towing capacity is 6,175 pounds (for a 2WD Extended Cab with a 4.3-liter V6 engine, automatic transmission, and aftermarket weight-distributing hitch). The standard step bumper is capable of handling trailers of up to 3,500 pounds.
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 bed on the Crew Cab model is just 55 inches (4.6 feet), short when compared with standard 6-foot beds.
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. Front bucket seats are standard on four-wheel-drive SLS and SLE regular cabs along with all Crew Cabs and 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.
Four-door Crew Cab models offer comfortable rear seats relative to this class. The seatbacks are slightly raked, an improvement over upright designs in some of the other mid-size crew cab pickups. Rear legroom is adequate for people with feet that are small enough to slide under the front seats. Getting out of the back seats is a bit awkward, however, because it requires pulling your feet in and threading them between the B-pillar and the seat bottom. Also, the rear door handle is a bit awkward. We use the phrase "a bit" because the little people who are most likely to ride back there probably won't complain.
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. Up-level 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 tall integral head rests and a 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, although 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 2WD 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 case is easy to operate. Simply push a button to shift between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. Low range is available for traversing steep or slippery ground. 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 feedback. 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 have four-wheel ABS.
It's been around for a while and it may not attract a lot of attention, but the Sonoma is a capable compact truck. 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.