With trucks and sport-utility vehicles now accounting for about 50 percent of all new vehicles sold, each automaker is trying to carve out a niche for itself.

The GMC division of General Motors wants to be known as a manufacturer of rugged, classy, upscale trucks and sport-utilities.

The extended cab Sonoma four-wheel drive pickup that I tested for a week is just that. It has a plush, comfortable and roomy interior, a firm suspension system and plenty of power and traction for slogging over bad terrain.

But all this comes at a fairly hefty price for what is still a small truck.


The Sonoma is available with a number of engines and transmissions. Base trucks come with a 120-horsepower, 2.2-liter four-cylinder and five-speed stick shift. Our test vehicle came with a beefy 4.3-liter V-6, four-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.

It has 180-horsepower -- and enough power to spin the tires on dry pavement. The engine makes little noise, even when you make it work hard. GMC engineers have done a fine job eradicating noise, vibration and harshness from the drivetrain.

I've tested four-cylinder versions of the Chevy S-10 (basically the same truck), and I like the muscular performance of the V-6. It gives the Sonoma a tough demeanor -- which is what a truck should have, no matter how plush its interior.

The four-wheel drive system is a no-brainer. All you have to do is press a series of buttons on the dash to change from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive high or low. There are no more shift levers to work.

In four-wheel drive mode, the Sonoma is not unlike a sport-utility. It churns over bad terrain with the greatest of ease. But there is a downside: Four-wheel drive affects the steering. A tight, slow turn strains the underpinnings and provokes some kind of mechanical distress. I heard some strange noises and felt inconsistencies in the steering wheel.

Also, the extended cab, four-wheel drive Sonoma has a very wide turning radius, 43.3 feet compared with 36.9 feet for a regular cab, two-wheel drive model. What that means is that U-turns might be a struggle, especially on a highway.

With its heavy-duty suspension, the Sonoma's ride is a bit on the firm side, but that enhances handling. The Sonoma steers easily and crisply. This truck zips through curves just like a sports car would.

Our test truck came with excellent four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes.

GMC says the V-6 Sonoma can tow up to 5,000 pounds, which is enough for most boats and work trailers and near the best in class.


The Sonoma is handsome and well-made. In more than 400 miles, I detected no flaws and heard no squeaks or rattles -- despite some wild off-road maneuvers.

Our extended cab test truck featured the optional ($375) driver's side third door, which gives the vehicle an added measure o f versatility.

I used the rear area behind the seat to store things I wanted to lock inside the truck. With the third door open, I found I could easily load and unload such things as big boxes and suitcases.

There is a small jump seat that folds down on the passenger side that can accommodate one person in a pinch. But it had better be a short ride because the seat is almost floor-level -- not real comfortable.

The seats have attractive cloth upholstery and are firm but comfortable. The armrest in between the seats opens up and contains a coin holder plus enough room to store items such as sunglasses and a wallet. Two cupholders are located in front of the armrest. If need be, you can flip the armrest up and out of the way and squeeze a third person into the front.

This year, the Sonoma has a key-activated air bag cutoff switch on the dash that turns off the passenger-side bag, so that infants can travel safely.

For $22,000 and change, our test truck seemed a bit sparsely equipped. It didn't have power windows, mirrors or door locks. It was somewhat bothersome leaning over to roll down the passenger-side window to adjust the outside mirrors.

But the air conditioner is powerful enough to make the interior of the Sonoma cold as a meat locker.

The Sonoma is a decent truck, but without the power accessories, I have to question its value. I think $22,000 is a heck of a lot of money for a small truck. It ought to come with everything for that price.

Specifications: Base price: $19,773. Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes. Price as tested: $22,386 EPA rating: 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway Incentives: $1,000

Truett's tip: The four-wheel drive Sonoma is a conservatively styled compact truck that offers a comfortable ride and has plenty of power. But it can be pricey.