Overview & Reviews
While the compact pickup truck segment exploded in popularity during the late 1970s, the American automakers were initially MIA. GMC got with the program in the early '80s with its S-15 pickup, which quickly found itself in the thick of the action. Eventually renamed the GMC Sonoma, this truck was affordable, versatile and a lot easier on gas and in tight parking situations than a full-size pickup.
Although the S-15 and Sonoma were in production for more than two decades, there were just two generations. Considering that the first generation ended back in the early '90s, most used-pickup shoppers will be looking at the second generation. This Sonoma was a definite improvement over the earlier model, as it boasted more power and convenience features. Still, the Sonoma's lack of overall development compared to its constantly improving domestic and Japanese rivals makes it hard to recommend.
Most Recent GMC Sonoma
The second-generation GMC Sonoma was produced from 1994-2004. It was offered in regular, extended and (later on) crew cab bodies with short and long beds. Engine choices included a 2.2-liter four-cylinder (118 horsepower), a 4.3-liter V6 (165 hp) and the Vortec 4.3-liter V6 (195 hp). All three engines were available with either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions, and four-wheel drive was optional.
Trim levels typically consisted of base SL, midlevel SLS and luxury SLE. The SL was a stripper with vinyl bench seating and the SLS added cloth upholstery, air-conditioning, cruise control, foglights and alloy wheels. The SLE added chrome exterior trim, more luxurious seating and full power accessories.
The aptly-named Highrider package was available in '94 and turned the Sonoma into a serious off-road rig thanks to its wider track, 3-inch increase in ground clearance, beefed-up suspension, big tires and skid plates.
The Sportside bed arrived in 1996 along with the optional three-door access cab that aided loading cargo, pets or an unfortunate passenger into the rear compartment with its fold-down jump seat. This year also brought standard ABS for all GMC Sonoma models as well as the available "ZQ8" sport suspension package that featured 16-inch alloy wheels (versus the stock 15s), quicker steering and a lower ride height.
Unfortunately, safety and interior build quality weren't strong points with the Sonoma. A driver airbag became available in 1995, but there was no passenger protection until the 1998 update. The cabin was comprised chiefly of hard plastics, a glaring fault that was mentioned in virtually every review of this truck. For these reasons we'd steer clear of these early second-generation Sonomas.
A better option might be to look at the later models that underwent the midcycle '98 freshening; this included more aggressive front styling and an improved interior with dual airbags. The only other major change for this generation's run was 2001's new four-door crew cab model with five-passenger capacity.
The GMC Sonoma was seemingly loaded with value and versatility for the compact pickup truck buyer, but we were never thrilled with it. The revised interior featured good ergonomics, but the materials were still low-rent, and the driver sat low, facing a tall steering wheel and dash. The Sonoma's tendency to squeak and rattle didn't provide the feeling of brawny quality we'd like from a pickup, nor did lousy crash test scores.
In a comparison test we conducted for 2001, the Sonoma's Chevrolet twin, the S-10, finished fifth out of five trucks. Production soldiered on until 2004, at which point GMC replaced the Sonoma with the all-new Canyon.
Previous GMC Sonomas
The original S-15 was offered from 1982-'90 and the renamed Sonoma version from 1991-'93. Either way, the GMC was a twin to the Chevrolet S-10, save for a slightly different grille and taillight treatment. The S-15 was available in extended and regular cab styles, with the latter available in two wheelbases. Engine choices consisted of the typical four- and six-cylinder mills. Initially, output was weak, at 84 hp and 110 hp, respectively. The burly 4.3-liter V6 debuted for '88, sporting 150 hp and by the end of this run would make a full 190 hp.
For 1991 the Sonoma name replaced S-15 and the same year marked the debut of the asphalt-melting Syclone, one of the quickest GM trucks ever produced. Sporting a turbocharged 4.3-liter V6 that ran through a four-speed Corvette automatic transmission and then to all four wheels, the Syclone could blast to 60 mph in under 5 seconds and give any muscle car from the late '60s a run for the money with its 13-second quarter-mile performance. That beast was produced for just one year. The next year brought the visually similar Sonoma GT (which lacked the muscle-bound turbo engine) as well as an electronic transfer case for 4WD Sonomas. The GMC Sonoma continued through '93 mostly unchanged in the face of the following year's redesign.
User Reviews:Showing 1 through 10 of 246.00
Good little truck. - 2002 GMC Sonoma
By Matt - October 28 - 10:24 pm
Bought the truck used with 120k miles for a steal, it's pushing 180k now and I've done nothing to this truck other than basic maintenance. The only issues I've had with it are a crap radio (which is a common GM problem) and the typical rust on these little trucks. As far as the rust goes, the fender wells on the bed are for the most part completely gone, but the stepside trucks seem to be plagued with this issue. Slight rust on the cab corners and rockers, and the spare tire cable rusted and the tire fell off. As far as reliability, it's been among the best I've owned. It's not a powerhouse, but the little 2.2 does well when mated to the 5 speed. It doesn't seem to like interstate travel, as its runs about 3k rpms at 75 mph, but it cruises right along. The engine is noisy, it has that trademark 2.2 timing chain noise, but it has no effect on performance. Replacing with oem parts will cure it, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet. Overall I love my little truck, and wouldn't hesitate to buy another. May go for a 4.3 next time for more power.
2003 SONOMA - 2003 GMC Sonoma
By Justin - October 8 - 8:53 pm
This is a good truck to start in but it gets about 16.5 mpg to 19.0 mpg rides good, put a lot of repairs in, I think it has too much power for its size and uses
The little truck that could - 1996 GMC Sonoma
By Charlie - September 12 - 1:51 pm
I love my little truck. I have the 2.2 with a standard transmission. It's great on gas but does lack power especially up hill. I have had no major problems you wouldn't expect for a vehicle with 206,000+ miles. Replaced the starter clutch and a u joint. It has a minor oil leak from the head gasket, and a little leak from the thermostat housing. The rear wheel drive does make it a little difficult in adverse weather with no weight over the drive wheels. The front end components are tight though, and it grips the road and handles like a car on a dry day.
Good little truck - 2002 GMC Sonoma
By njoosse - November 15 - 10:17 am
Nice little truck, very reliable. Lots of power, tows easily, good on gas. Its ten years old, with 115000miles, starting to rust. No issues with reliability at all, but I find it has a lot of rattles and squeaks, more than I would expect. Everything works good, air blows cold, heated seats, etc..., overall a good truck.
99 Sonoma SLS 4.3, v6, 4x4, 3 door - 1999 GMC Sonoma
By herb25 - March 31 - 11:02 pm
After going through 3 cars that did not last as long as they should have, I got this truck last year. It had 200000kms on it, the motor sounded like new. The previous owner did not replace the faulty gas gauge which meant changing the fuel pump. I ran out of gas twice before I learned and had the fuel pump replaced (the faulty sending unit is part of the pump). Also the passenger seat would not recline, a mistake at the factory so I bought a parts truck ( 2000 Blazer ) and took the seat from it. I got the truck for $6000, safieted and etested, but so far I have had to replace the rear brake lines, and 3 calipers, gas tank, fuel pump, and rad, signal light switch.
Great starter vehicle - 2003 GMC Sonoma
By Avery - November 15 - 2:00 am
My dad gave me this truck as my first vehicle, and so far it has suited my needs well. I dont drive it much at all, just to school or town or what ever so there's only 40,000 miles on it. Its the funnest vehicle to drive off roads and on jeeping trails, the 4wd is great for winter too. my only regrets are that i have had to put in a good deal of money to keep it running up to par. it seems as though every year i have to change wheel bearings and the cab door has been giving me problems for the last few years. Its a tough little truck and i would recommend it to anyone looking for a great looking fun truck to drive.
Great ride for a truck - 1999 GMC Sonoma
By rocket3 - November 4 - 2:00 am
I was surprised how this truck handles in corners, I didn't expect that GM has some great things in their products. Well built and very reliable
gutless wonder - 1998 GMC Sonoma
By gutless wonder - September 10 - 2:00 am
this is my third sonoma/s-10/s-15. i dont need a full size truck and i always buy used. 217k miles on original engine(2.2) transmission and clutch. i don't baby my trucks at all, they are used for their intended purpose and this one fits the bill. is it a coincidence that they all rust out in the same places, no matter what year they are?
My Sonoma - 1998 GMC Sonoma
By Mark Maloney - August 1 - 10:39 am
It has been an excellent truck for me and the wife. it has proven to be dependable and reliable. It is a good driving truck, nice ride.
I love this truck - 1995 GMC Sonoma
By Roxy-Ann - July 15 - 1:32 am
This truck in my opinion is wonderful, my grandfather taught me to drive stick shift in this truck and haven't had to replace the clutch yet then I was driving one day and cleaned out a ditch with it at 80 miles per hour and let me tell you I drove that truck right out of the ditch. Now mind you this truck has not been modified or anything just a regular old work truck but the most reliable vehicle I have ever been lucky enough to drive that truck kept me alive. So if anyone is looking for a good truck for a teenage driver this would be the truck for you.