Off-road enthusiasts love compact 4x4 pickup trucks. Some of their prominent attributes include easy maneuverability, decent fuel mileage, a good power-to-weight ratio, and as a bonus, they cost thousands of dollars less than their fullsized brethren. Unfortunately, standard-cab models leave much to be desired in interior storage capability, which creates a problem when hauling a passenger or two - you have to leave your laptop or MX helmet and boots in the bed of the truck while it's raining. Extended-cab models are a major improvement in generating storage space, but grown men have been known to sob uncontrollably when asked to ride in the tiny rear jump seats due in part to the nauseating seating position created by a perpendicular view of the passing landscape.
The new crop of compact four-door pickups solve these space and ergonomic problems, so it is no surprise they've gathered a fair share of the truck market in an extremely short time. We recently spent some time on and off road in Chevrolet's first entry into this crowded segment, behind the wheel of a '01 S-10 Crew Cab 4x4. Our testing took place in the dead of winter during a brutal cold snap that pushed the nightly low well below zero and the daily high barely into the 20s. During the test, we used the S-10 Crew Cab just as anyone would, to haul the kids, get groceries, commute to work, and go to dinner. We also used it to bust through 2-foot snowdrifts, to retrieve a sick calf from the back forty, to pull-start a cold-blooded tractor, and to haul straw and oats for Max the horse. All of these experiences left us with several impressions of the little S-10 regarding the truck's basic design and the new Crew Cab option.
It's Still A Pickup Truck
In order to place the new, longer Crew Cab body on the current Extended Cab frame, Chevy engineers designed a new cargo box specifically for the Crew Cab. It measures 17.6 inches shorter in overall floor length than the short box used with the Extended Cab, but creates exactly the same 17-foot overall vehicle length measurement of the Extended Cab short box model. This length creates a vehicle that is easy to park and maneuver, and by keeping the wheelbase short, the S-10 doesn't have the rearend looseness of longer pickups because its overall weight is distributed more evenly on the axles. As we found out, this helps decrease the need to lock in the transfer case in order to simply get moving in low traction conditions. Plan on hauling stuff? The payload capacity is 1,111 pounds, which is 278 pounds less than the Extended Cab model, but reflects the Crew Cab's 278-pound weight increase over the Extended Cab. The LS model comes standard with a bedliner, which guards the welded, double-wall unit against the abuse truck owners tend to deal out, and we found that an average-sized dirt bike will fit in the bed as long as it's positioned at an angle.
Opening the rear doors of a Crew Cab reveals an interior that is almost a duplicate of a Blazer, minus the covered cargo area. Ingress and egress to the rear seats doesn't require the lithe qualities of a gymnast because the rear doors' width and height are substantive. Once inside, the deluxe cloth bucket seats offer premium comfort, and the front seats offer manual recline. Of course, rear seat legroom is dependent on how far to the rear the front-seat passengers have their seats positioned, but we found the legroom to be livable even with the seats all the way back. We're not saying we'd like to ride coast to coast back there, but for short trips, it's fine. We were impressed by how quiet and tight the S-10 seemed, with minimal road and wind noise in the cabin. The heating system is also worth noting for two reasons: its ability to rapidly produce heat and its quiet fan operation. We like the design of the interior, which included the shift lever on the column, because this allows for more storage in the center console. Off road, the S-10's soft seats mixed with the soft suspension produce a very comfortable ride, even when bouncing over cornfields. This is one compact truck that has a bit of a big truck feel, and we like that.
Almost 200 Hp And A Set Of Really Good Brakes
The Crew Cab package comes standard with the Vortec 4300 V-6 engine, and it generates a respectable 190 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, thanks in part to a number of power-producing internal items, including roller rocker arms, a roller timing chain, and a powdered metal timing chain sprocket. For 2001, the engine received a new powertrain control module that works in conjunction with a new, enhanced knock detection and spark correction system to improve the performance and efficiency of the engine. Gear selection is handled by the venerable 4L60E four-speed electronic automatic transmission that boasts an electronic interface between the engine and tranny, as well as electronic shift timing. This constant electronic communication between the engine and tranny helps create peak efficiency, which, in turn, helps produce good fuel mileage. With zero regard for fuel mileage, we averaged 15.6 mpg during our testing, which we consider to be quite good considering the high amount of four-wheel-drive operation we subjected the truck to, the brutally cold temperatures it was tested in, and our general high-velocity driving habits. The Insta Trac four-wheel-drive system is activated by dash-mounted buttons, which allow for easy selection of either 2-Hi or 4-Hi on the fly or 4-Low. In our snowy test environment, we were in and out of four-wheel drive quite a bit, and we found the system worked well with no need to jockey the transmission from Drive to Neutral to coerce the system to lock up (or unlock) when toggling between 2-Hi and 4-Hi. All models of S-10s feature an independent front suspension and a solid-axle leaf spring rear suspension, but the Crew Cab S-10 is upgraded to the Z85 suspension package, which includes 32mm twin tube shock absorbers, a 28mm front stabilizer bar, and P235/70-15ALS or P235/75-15 on-/off-road tires. Even with these mods, the S-10 drove respectably smooth, both on and off road. The standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS rock, and they harness the 4,039-pound vehicle quite effectively. The brakes feature a 10.05-inch-diameter front rotor and an 11.6-inch-diameter rear rotor.
The Bottom Line
If you want a pickup that has room for five, can carry more than a 1/2-ton of payload, gets decent fuel mileage, and won't break the bank, the S-10 Crew Cab is screaming your name. Off road is where it's at in our world, and we were surprised by its capability to handle real world off-road challenges due in part to the optional limited-slip rear differential ($270) and the Goodyear Wrangler All Terrain white lettered tires ($143). We found that the truck's biggest hindrance to off-road travel is the massive underbody framerails, which often cause the truck to get hung up in deep snow. However, those beefy framerails help give the Crew Cab a darn impressive towing capacity of 5,200 pounds, which is more than enough to pull a medium-sized enclosed trailer packed with two dirt bikes, full riding gear, and tools, which makes us happy. Our loaded LS test vehicle model was priced at a modest $26,146.
Crew Cab Comparo
If you're trying to figure out which four-door compact pickup best meets your needs, we're here to help. We've collected some basic data on four popular trucks so you don't have to. All specifications are based on 4x4 models equipped with automatic transmissions and the largest non-supercharged V-6 engine available for that model. All measurements are in inches unless otherwise noted.
|Wheelbase ||Nissan ||Toyota ||Chevy ||Ford Explorer |
|Frontier ||Tacoma ||S-10 ||SporTrac |
|116.1 ||121.9 ||122.9 ||125.9 |
|Overall length ||200.1 ||202.3 ||204.8 ||205.9 |
|Overall width ||71.9 ||70.1 ||67.9 ||71.8 |
|Overall height ||65.9 ||67.5 ||63.4 ||70.1 |
|Engine horsepower ||210 ||190 ||190 ||205 |
|Brakes (front/rear) ||disc/drum ||disc/drum ||disc/disc ||disc/drum |
|Cargo box length ||56.3 ||61.5 ||55.2 ||50.0 |
|Maximum trailer weight ||5,000 lb ||5,000 lb ||5,200 lb ||5,080 lb |
|Rear seat headroom ||37.8 ||37.8 ||38.2 ||38.9 |
|Rear seat legroom ||30.7 ||33.8 ||34.6 ||37.8 |