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Full-size pickups stake their reputations on towing and payload--so what's the be made of a truck that blurs the line between truck bed and cabin? That's the question you have to ask when you consider the 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche, a derivative of GM's big pickups that offers a nearly unique solution to the dilemma of truck owners who don't need another vehicle, but sometimes need a more flexible pickup.
The 'Lanche was new in 2002, and changed along with the rest of GM's trucks in the 2007 model year. It's a truck in silhouette, but the big pillars behind the rear doors are the first clue that this isn't simply a four-door with a bed. Those pillars are the feature that distinguishes the Avalanche from the very similar Silverado and even the GMC Sierra--otherwise, it's nearly their identical twin, from the big split-grille front end to the stubby truck bed out back. Inside, when everything's in its resting state, the cabin could be confused for the ones in other GM trucks--either as a five-passenger truck with a wide console and nicely chosen materials and trim, or a more basic-looking six-passenger version with no console, and a plainer dash.
When it's in an altered state, the Avalanche swaps some of that interior space for pickup-bed capacity. It's simple: just lower the rear window, fold away the rear seats and flip some latches, and the cabin's rear wall flips down. That extends the Avalanche's otherwise abbreviated truck bed into something way more useful for the average contractor, since it grows from 5' 3" to 8' 2", and since the bed wall has a tough surface so it really can be used for truck-type hauling. The downside: the conversion leaves the cabin open to the elements. And yes, those rear seating positions go away, but even though you'll have mixed feelings on their departure (the rear seatback sits too upright for real comfort), you could run into some extreme first-world issues if you're trying to bring home a new bathroom vanity and in-laws. That's rare, though, and most of the time the Avalanche is the only solution for suburbanites stuck between SUVs and pickups and a lack of parking spaces. It's the Murphy bed of trucks--not for everyone, but for those few, the only truly workable solution, except for its near-twin, the scary-expensive Cadillac Escalade EXT.
There's just one powertrain available in the 'Lanche, and it's one of the best offered in the GM truck lineup. The 310-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 comes with a six-speed automatic, and whether you choose rear-drive or all-wheel drive, it's a workhorse of a drivetrain, torquey, able, and pleasant to hear on the move. It's also outfitted with cylinder deactivation and flex-fuel capability, which give it a greener tinge than some of the engines from Toyota, Dodge and Nissan. Shifting duties are handled by a great six-speed automatic. The Avalanche drives as well as other GM trucks, its independent front suspension, well-sorted steering feel and well-damped ride earning the same kudos as the Silverado. There's an off-road Z71 package for those who need underbody protection and big knobby tires, too. The Avalanche can tow up to 8100 pounds and tote 1350 pounds of payload, putting it above the median in full-size trucks.
Crash-test scores have been pretty good, and the Avalanche can be fitted with rear parking sensors and a rearview camera, as well as a blind-spot monitor. Visibility can be an issue, because of those thick pillars, so those features come with our recommendation.The basic Avalanche, the LS, is intended more for the work crowd though it's quite nicely outfitted. It has standard power windows, locks and mirrors; keyless entry; a power driver seat; an AM/FM/XM/CD player with MP3 capability; a USB port; and steering-wheel audio controls. LT and LTZ features add on some more luxury features from a list including a navigation system; Bluetooth; Bose audio; leather seats; power-adjustable pedals; remote start; and ventilation for the front seats.