Sort of a Syclone in a Teapot

  • Post category:Road Test / Sonoma GT
  • Post last modified:07/01/2024


This is not the Mother of All Trucks. That sobriquet rightly belongs to another pickup of similar size, shape and sourcing, the 285 hp Syclone (“AutoFile,” AW. Sept. 16. ’91). But the hand we’re dealing with here also rocks the cradle. GMC has put real GT go in this small pickup.

Thanks to its size and its sizzle this trucklet is the sportiest of the trio of pickups we perused for SpringFile. If trucks are encroaching on the passenger-car market to serve as status symbols, surrogate family haulers and any and every thing else, then the standard-cab compact pickup is best suited to fill the role of sporting machine. And the Sonoma GT really gets that job done.

A bonanza of low-end torque makes the balance-shafted performance version (200 hp vs. 160, 260 lb ft of torque vs. 230) of the 4.3-liter V6 very usable. This pickup has pick up—though 0-60 times would be better yet if traction could have been maximized. As with the Magnum V8-equipped Dodge Dakota, we found that unless the launching surface was flat, clean and dry, axle tramp could be violent. Even under ideal circumstances the hack end could bounce if we didn’t precisely modulate the left-side pedal during brake-torque starts.

Although the tach’s redlined at 6000 rpm, we found little purpose in running it to that point. Leaving the four-speed automatic in OD brought upshifts at 4800 rpm and the best acceleration times. The 4.3 HP, as it’s known, is smoother than the less-powerful non-balance-shaft version, but is still no paragon of deportment. While it’s not rough, it does sound gravelly—even boomy, about what you’d expect from an oversized inline four. Shift quality, on the other hand, is superbly high, something we’ve come to expect of GM automatic transmissions of late.

Unfortunately, the feel and the operation of the brakes recalled—but, happily, not too strongly—the bad old days when applying GM brakes felt like stepping in a bucket of oatmeal and stopped the proceedings about as well. Beneath a somewhat squishy pedal were extremely touchy brakes, locking up at anything even beginning to exceed moderate pressure. Modulation was impossible and flat-spotted tires inevitable. Four-wheel ABS would have prevented this, and we strongly recommend that General Motors—and other truck-makers who rely on rear-wheel-only ABS—make the full-blown system standard.

Ride and handling, however, swing the Sonoma GT equation hack to the positive side. True, ride is firm but it’s not harsh unless there are more potholes than pavement beneath the wheels. The Firm suspension also helps the GT keep its feet under it in turns, but, again, rough surfaces do it no favors. The action/reaction cycle is much like the hop, skip and thump Z24s or F-bodies exhibit when they’re asked to cavort on roads that are less than silken.

Inside the GT shares most of its appointments with the Syclone including the instrument panel, which is a big improvement over the base dashboard. Instrumentation is complete but doesn’t communicate as well as it might because too many gauges are crammed into t(x) small a space. The bucket seats are nicely shaped and would be very comfortable if the backs reclined. But even if they could, there’s not much to be gained because (as with most standard-cab pickups) the rear wall of the cab limits seatback travel.

But with pickups it’s what’s behind the cab that counts, and here the Sonoma GT dusts the Syclone. But not by a lot. The owner’s manual says the Syclone can carry a maximum of 500 pounds of cargo. The GT has a GVWR of 4200 pounds our subject vehicle weighed in at 3200 on the nose. Two average-sized guys, then, can ride in the non-blown GMC while it’s hauling about 650 pounds of whatever. Not a strikingly significant advantage over the Syclone.

A truly significant contrast between the two trucks lies in their base prices. The GT undercuts the Syclone by about $10,000. Thing is, desperate dealers are discounting the Syclone by about that amount. It’ a 2.9-second 0-60 advantage is worth more to you than 150 pounds of cargo capacity, shop for a Syclone. But look fast. That low price is for leftover ’91 models. When they’re gone, they’re gone. After that you’ll have to gamble the ’92s—which haven’t been released yet— will also carry fire-sale prices. On the other hand, if you’d be satisfied with a babysitter rather than the Mother of All Trucks, the Sonoma GT will till the bill.

At least for awhile. Toyota will unveil a mid-size pickup in the 1993 model year and there are rumors that by 1994 it’ll be powered by the same 250-hp V8 that moves the Lexus LS400. Then, baby, look out.