1996 Chevrolet S-Series

By November 10, 1999
1996 Chevrolet S-Series

Is the glass half empty or half full? If you see it as half empty, you might pay attention to the fact that Chevy’s S-series pickups play second fiddle to Ford’s Ranger line up. To be more specific, while sales of mini trucks have gone soft for both companies over the past two years, Chevrolet’s percentage of the market in ’95 was only two-thirds the number of small trucks that Ford sold. However, the math improves if you add the numbers for Chevy’s mechanical twin, the GMC Sonoma trucks. And, don’t forget that General Motors also builds small trucks for Isuzu. Ford still wins, but the numbers can look a lot different depending on how you add them up.

If you see the glass as half full, you’re more likely to pay attention to the fact that Chevy debuted an all new family of pickup trucks in ’94 with major changes in interior and exterior styling, in ’95 added a number of safety improvements and since has continued to upgrade a line up of mini pickups that fits just about every personal need and personality style.

There are two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive models; regular cab (with short bed or long) and extended cab versions; a selection of seven different chassis packages; and two trim levels — base and LS. And for ’96 there is an S-Series with a third door, a new Sportside Pickup, along with performance improvements under the hood and a new chassis package.

The Easy Access System (third door) which is due out in early Spring is an industry first for compact trucks. The driver’s side panel swings out to make it easier to load personal gear, pets, and people is available on extended cab models only. (The driver’s side jumpseat is eliminated with this feature). The Easy Access System third door can also be upfitted with a wheelchair lift system. Chevy has not only adapted this feature to aid persons with disabilities but General Motors will also make a contribution of $1,000 for a lift or other adaptive equipment.

Also new is the Sportside Pickup with fender flare and two built-in footholds for easy access to cargo to compete with the Ranger Splash. The Sportside box has a tough steel load floor and will hold more than 28 cu. ft. of cargo, available on Regular Cab and Extended Cab LS models. It’s able to tow up to 6,000 lbs.

Competitors in this segment, in addition to the Ranger, are the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Pickup, Mazda B-series, Dodge Dakota and Isuzu Pickup.


From the outside, the Fleetside 4×4 Pickup has a pleasing body style with a smooth, aerodynamic hood that wraps around a bold front end with built-in tow hooks. It's built on a stiff, four-sided ladder-type frame that dips in the center to make entry and exit easier for step-in height yet keeps ground clearance at a maximum for off-pavement driving.

Powertrain improvements include an engine redesign that upgrades performance and reliability and simplifies diagnostic servicing. S-Series 4×4's get 25 more horsepower and 5 lb. ft. more torque with the Vortec LF6 4300 engine than last year's LB4 4.3 V6. It shows with towing, passing and hauling heavy loads. Engine block redesign and additional bolts increase stiffness and reduce noise. Two-wheel drive models come with a standard 2.2-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine, with standard 5 speed manual transmission.

For '96, the 5-speed manual transmission's shift lever is relocated and improvements to the clutch mean less pedal effort and travel. Automatic transmissions have a new brake/transmission shift interlock that requires the driver to apply the brake pedal to shift out of park, an important safety upgrade.

Recommended service change intervals have been bumped up to 100,000 miles with new long-life engine coolant, platinum-tipped spark plugs, and transmission fluid that never needs replacement under normal service. There are also improved On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) which monitor emissions system.

The SS-Package designed for performance enthusiasts added the new ZQ8 Sport Chassis Package for Regular Cab S-Series 2WD models (not available with 2.2-liter engine) to enhance on-road handling. It comes with special springs and a lower ride height, 46-mm de Carbon gas-charged shock absorbers, urethane bounce jumpers, front and rear stabilizer bars, specially tuned variable-ratio power steering and 16″x8″ aluminum wheels with Goodyear P235/55R-16 tires. A locking differential enhances traction on paved surfaces.

All models get five new paint colors and new for '96 are optional 2WD Super Sport 16″ cast aluminum wheels and P235/55R-16 Goodyear tires, which are included with ZQ8 Sport Chassis Package.

Interior Features

The Fleetside's interior is roomy, comfortable and functional and is as easy to get in and out as the average 4WD truck. An increase in body length and width along with a thinner door design translates to greater shoulder, hip and head room. We found the bucket seats with lumbar support and stationary headrest setting on the test truck perfect for a variety of height and size dimensions. However, we struggled to get the seat belt secured due to the placement of the belt latch, which is located in a tight position next to the center console/armrest. Seat options include high-back bucket seats, a standard bench seat and a reclining 60/40 split bench. Seats, as well as door panels and carpet, are a Scotchguard stain-resistant fabric.

Good visibility and an open, airy feel come from the combination of this truck's sloping hood with good front glass, a narrow A-pillar and clean views to the rear. Comfort and convenience features include cupholders front and rear, integral armrests, door panel, storage pockets, passenger assist grip, sun visor map straps, map lights, illuminated delay entry/exit feature and Solar Ray tinted glass to protect folks and fabrics from sun exposure and to reduce heat. Sunvisors with extensions for additional glare protection are a thoughtful addition. A glove box, door pockets, a deep center console and space behind the seats provide basic stowage needs.

Analog displays of all engine functions are easily accessible to the driver with switches that are bold and easy to operate for the sound and climate controls. The uplevel LS trim includes two auxiliary 12 volt outlets for cellular phones and “other necessities of life in the 90's.” A power package of windows, exterior mirrors and locks is also available.

Although there are a variety of modern safety features in the S-series, the availability of only a driver's side airbag is out-of-date. We hope GM will amend this drawback in the near future.

Driving Impressions

The Fleetside's a truck, and doesn't handle or ride like a car. However, like many recent trucks, S-series offers handling and a driving environment somewhere between the two. We found quick, available power that made passing enjoyable and safe. Rear leaf springs are more gradual, which keeps the back end from bouncing when you're not carrying a cord of wood.

On-road performance is improved by a suspension package that combines a soft suspension and stiff chassis and by the track bar which runs laterally between the axle housing and the frame to limit on-road snake. Although the higher ride height increases visibility and is a real bonus off-road, it makes the vehicle more susceptible to wind on open roads and at faster speeds. We also found the tires a bit noisy on the highway, a distraction quickly cured by the powerful sound system.

An electronic transfer case came with the Preferred Equipment Group Package. The ZR2 Performance Package (available in Regular Cab and Extended Cab) is designed for serious off-roaders.


There's a whole lot to like about the S-Series pickups. And, there's also a whole lot to like about GM. They now accomodate drivers and passengers with disabilities with greater ease and sensitivity by providing a mechanical lift and a financial lift, as well.

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