2003 Chevrolet S-10
2003 Chevrolet S-10 Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Drives like a sedan with a big trunk.
Depending on how it's ordered, Chevrolet's S-10 Pickup can be a no-nonsense work truck with vinyl seats and vinyl floor. Or it can be more like that other car in the driveway, with full carpeting and velour seats. Or it can be like a sedan with four doors, amenities, and roominess. In all cases, the S-10 offers the utility of a pickup.
Whether hauling manure, driving to work, or heading into the backcountry, the S-10 LS can provide car-like comfort, even with four-wheel drive.
Two basic trim levels are available in the S-10 pickup line: the base model with rubber floor mats and the LS with full civilian comfort.
That's only the beginning, however, as the S-10, like most pickups, comes in a variety of configurations with wheelbases that span 108.3 inches, 117.9 inches and 122.9 inches. They are, of course, available with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
2WD S-10s are now available in regular cab and extended cab versions; all come with a short box as the long box was dropped this year. 2WD models come standard with a 120-horsepower 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine. A 180-horsepower 4.3-liter V6 is optional.
4x4 models come in regular cab short box or extended cab models, and the Crew Cab introduced last year (2001). All 4WD S-10s come standard with the V6 tuned to produce 190 horsepower.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional with either engine.
Two option packages are, as far as we're concerned, separate models unto themselves: the Xtreme, a low ride-height highly styled cruising truck, and the ZR2 Wide Stance Sport Performance Package that, with a higher ride height, wider track and even a stronger frame, is ready for the toughest of off-road duties.
The S-10 mimics the big Chevy pickups with the horizontal bar grille and nicely rounded contours. It looks like a truck. No trick, no gimmicks, just sincere serviceability.
A bedliner, available as an accessory from the dealer, is good for keeping the double-wall pickup box safe from dents and scratches and helps things ride more quietly. The bed has four tie-downs, one at the upper edge of each corner. More tie-downs would be helpful, actually, in securing loads of various sizes.
Unlike many 4WD pickups, the standard 4x4 S-10 doesn't shout its identity. Aggressive P235/75R15 on/off road tires are a hint. The five-spoke aluminum wheels available only with four-wheel drive offer another clue. More important for those with work to do: The tailgate on the 4x4 drops for a 22.7-inch lift-over height, actually lower than the extended cab 4x2 S-10's load height; that can save on back strain.
LS models come with a nicely finished interior. The premium cloth resembles velour. It feels good to the touch and looks like it would hold up well. The door panels include cloth sections, but frequent touch areas around the door controls and rear sill area are covered in vinyl.
From the radio dials to the dashboard, it's obvious Chevrolet spent a lot of time and energy into getting the appropriate feel, mostly soft-touch, for the interior appointments. The optional leather-wrapped steering wheel features a minipack airbag that affords a better view of the gauges and lets the steering wheel look like a steering wheel, not a pillow with hand grips. The S-10 has full instrumentation that's easily legible day or night, and a tachometer comes standard for 2002.
Radio and heating and air conditioning controls are large, legible and so easy to use that their respective sections in the owners manual may never be read. For 2002, air conditioning is standard on all S-10s. A cold climate package is also standard on all models sold in northern states.
Four-wheel-drive controls are fully electronic, push buttons easily reached on the dash. Although the system is part-time only, the system allows shift-on-the-fly into and out of 4-high. The truck must be stopped to shift the transfer case into 4-low, of course, but it still only requires pushing a button. A neutral position is also available that allows the truck to be flat towed without disconnecting driveshafts.
Chevrolet joins most other extended-cab pickup builders in making the third door standard, a $295 option last year. Chevrolet puts the third door on its Silverado full-size pickups on the passenger side, presuming that the rear door will more often be used by passenger who will wish to exit on the curb side. The S-10, on the other hand, has its third door on the driver's side, the logic being that it would more often be used by the driver for stowing extra gear. But when dropping off someone at the curb, it means they must venture into traffic to get to any cargo. Chevy is correct, however, in presuming that the jump seat in the extended cab will seldom be used for passengers. It's cramped for an adult, and requires that the front passenger seat be moved forward to permit any kind of shoulder room. The extended cab sure is handy for carrying stuff you don't want in the bed exposed to the elements or thieves, however.
Need more passenger room? Check out the new Crew Cab. It doesn't have the rear-seat leg room of a Cadillac DeVille, but it can accommodate five actual adults.
Like any mainstream pickup truck, the options and configuration can affect your perception of the S-10 and it's difficult to name a typical model.
We tested the 4x4 LS with an automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive gives the S-10 added traction in slippery conditions and makes it more capable when venturing off road, but its primary use is intended for paved or gravel roads. Four-wheel drive helps getting up slippery boat launch ramps, and is recommended for heavy-duty hauling.
The 4WD Chevy S-10 is definitely a truck. It has a live rear axle on leaf springs and a gross vehicle weight rating of 5150 pounds over a curb weight of 3616 pounds, and a heavy 4x4 drivetrain attached to the front hubs. So ride will be compromised. One can't expect a truck to ride like a car. And it doesn't. You can feel the front wheels trying to continue to bounce after hitting a bump, and the load-carrying rear springs not wanting to compress over minor bumps in the road. That said, the S-10 rides well over smooth pavement and the Goodyear tires are quiet. A long trip on smooth asphalt would be a delight, but frost-heaved concrete would be a nightmare. Add 600 pounds of cinder block in the bed and the ride will be smoother and the cornering balance more even. The S-10 tracks well, with little correction required to maintain a straight line. And there's only a minimum of wind noise.
The V6 engine is smooth and quiet. It's silent at idle and quiet down the road, and not particularly loud at full throttle. Earlier examples of this engine have been thrashy at high rpm, but over the years it has been refined to where it is not as slick as, say, a BMW six, but you won't go reaching for your earplugs when you get in the truck.
The V6 is also responsive, whether accelerating to merge onto the freeway or to pass a semi on a two-lane road. With 250 foot-pounds of torque, it responds instantly to propel the S-10 through traffic.
According to EPA tests, you can expect 17 mpg in city driving and 22 on the highway with the automatic transmission.
The Chevrolet S-10 is a truck. It rides like a truck, it corners like a truck. As a truck, it has more cargo room than passenger room. If that's what you need, or if that's what you want, you most likely won't mind a ride that will never compare to that of an automobile. In that regard, the S-10 is like a steel glove lined with, well, not velvet, but velour.
A Chevy pickup is a safe buy, a known quantity with dealer service in every other town, which is nice to know even if you don't need it as much as you once did.
2WD Fleetside Base Shortbox Regular Cab ($13,852); 2WD Fleetside LS Shortbox Regular Cab ($14,834); 2WD Fleetside Shortbox Extended Cab ($15,834); 2WD Fleetside LS Shortbox Extended Cab ($16,834); 4WD Fleetside LS Shortbox Extended Cab ($20,534); 4WD Fleetside shortbox Extended Cab ($19,552); 4WD Fleetside LS shortbox Extended Cab ($20,534); 4WD Fleetside LS Crew Cab ($24,109).
Shreveport, Louisiana; Linden, New Jersey.
Options As Tested
Preferred equipment group includes Fleetside body, Vortec 4300 V6 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, 15' aluminum wheels, ETR AM/FM stereo w/CD player, split-bench seats, increased capacity suspension, 3.42 rear axle ratio, tilt wheel, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, deep tinted glass, floor mats w/ full floor carpeting, 3rd door, P235/75R15, on-off road tires, rear locking differential, power convenience group ($3,419), less Bow Tie Bonus Savings ($530); LS Décor Package, includes body-side/bright wheel opening molding, chrome bumpers ($295), chrome bed rails ($205), fog lamps ($115), sliding rear window ($120).
4WD Fleetside LS Shortbox Extended Cab ($20,534).
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