Behind The Wheel Of The GMC Syclone
By Rik Paul
It was an unusually busy day at the Los Angeles County Raceway. Gathered at the dragstrip were a variety of top fuel dragsters and other equally serious racing machines that were being fine-tuned for the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. This hard-core performance crowd was not impressed easily, especially with factory-stock vehicles.
But when we parked the black pickup, it was as if a light bulb had been clicked on. People suddenly began to recognize the GMC Syclone. One after another, racers and crew members began drifting over to get a firs6thand look, inside and out, at the truck they had been hearing about for months.
Yes, the GMC Syclone has been causing quite a stir, not only in the sport-truck world, but in the entire automotive performance scene. The anticipation of this compact rocket’s premiere has been building since it was first announced last summer. As this article was being written, the first production units were finally being shipped to dealers’ showrooms.
We’ve talked about this performance phenomenon before. In fact, Sport Truck was the first truck magazine to bring you photos of an actually Syclone prototype, as well as the first driving impressions. But with Syclones finally reaching anxiously waiting buyers, we felt it was a good time to take another, more in-depth look at what it’s like to drive this instant legend. We intercepted a prototype Syclone from its tour of the auto-show circuit and put it through its paces during a couple of whirlwind, high-performance days.
The first thing you notice when you spend a little time in a Syclone is how easily you adapt to having warp drive at your command. The Syclone is powered by a 4.3-liter Vortec V-6 that has been equipped with muitiport fuel injection, a turbocharger that is capable of delivering up to 14 pounds of boost and a water-cooled intercooler that optimizes intake air density. The power output specs read 280 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 360 lb4t of torque at 3600 rpm. Coupled with the light weight of the Sonoma body and chassis, this engine makes the truck blindingly quick.
Once behind the wheel, we quickly discovered that the Syclone has a dual identity. There’s a fair amount of turbo lag in the 4.3. Plus, it’s only available with an automatic transmission. So during normal around4own driving, with few opportunities for sustained acceleration, we didn’t fully experience the turbo. In this mode, the truck acts like a normal 4.3equipped Sonoma. However, once the boost gauge needle starts climbing, it’s hyperspace time.
Cruising down the highway becomes an exercise in willpower. You know what the truck can do, and you find yourself waiting for opportunities to let it loose. Seeing a line of semis in front of you on a steep slope starts your adrenaline pumping. Now is the perfect time to sink your foot deep into the accelerator pedal, feel the turbocharger kick into action and experience the rush of a patented Syclone pass that’s over way too soon.
Fortunately, though, the Syclone is more than just a speed demon. In fact, with four-wheel antilock braking and a full-time, all-wheel-drive system, it’s the most technologically advanced pickup in production. In addition, the body has been dropped about 1― inches to lower the truck’s center of gravity, and low-profile, 50-series Firestone Firehawk tires have been mounted on 16-inch aluminum wheels, enhancing the Syclone’s cornering abilities.
The bottom line is that the Syclone is also the best handling stock pickup on the road. Once we found our rhythm on a smooth stretch of winding road, we carved through turns with exhilarating stability and control. This feeling was mirrored during the handling tests, where the Syclone performed like a champ, sticking to the pavement better than any stock truck we’ve ever tested.
There were weaknesses in the handling package of the truck we tested that kept it from performing at the same worldclass level as the drivetrain. For instance, the stock GM recirculating-ball steering system was vague, slow to react and imprecise. And the truck placed a premium on smooth driving. Charging hard into a corner did not inspire confidence in us. To compensate for this weakness, we found that comers are best handled by setting the suspension at the beginning of the turn and letting it carry the truck crisply through the turns. The less steering input needed the better.
In addition, this prototype’s suspension had been softened slightly to improve normal ride quality. The flip side of this is that at higher speeds, the truck overreacted to bumps and road irregularities, sacrificing a degree of overall control on bumpy or badly maintained roads. Whether this problem was just a result of a poorly dialed-in prototype or is inherent in production models remains to be seen. Of course, we shouldn’t be going that fast on public roads anyway, right?
The final judgment on the Syclone’s handling? “Smoothness” is the key. When smooth driving techniques are used on nicely paved roads, it’s a blast. On ragged pavement, however, you should play it cool.
Other driving impressions? As might be expected with four-wheel ABS, the braking is excellent, giving a firm, progressive feel, even during a 60-0-mph panic stop.
In addition, the Syclone’s cab, with sport bucket seats, a console-mounted shifter, a thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, a tilt steering column and its sporty, attractive analog instrument cluster, is both comfortable and userfriendly.
Overall, we can confidently say that the Syclone is several notches higher on the adrenaline scale than any other factory pickup (as well as most customs) that we’ve driven. In fact, we feel that the Syclone is beyond mere truck comparisons. It definitely invites comparison with some of the best sports cars on the road, which is what we’ve done in the accompanying sidebar “How Fast is Fast?” The $25,500 sticker price isn’t cheap, but it will buy you a legend.