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In the full-size pickup-truck market, it's all about payload and towing and vast stretches of spread-out space. There's not much room for a truck that tries to deliver carlike seating and a truck bed in as little overall length as possible. The road's littered with failed examples, from the Explorer Sport Trac to the Ridgeline to the El Camino and Caballero.
Chevy thought it had a better idea with the Avalanche, a pickup truck that pioneered the midgate, a clever idea that allowed owners to choose between an SUV-like five- or six-seat cabin and a medium-sized bed. A fold-down panel with removable glass, the midgate made the Avalanche both things to all owners--just not at the same time--and an interesting spin-off of GM's full-size truck family, which also includes the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado.
Introduced in the 2002 model year, the Avalanche was updated for the 2007 model year, and carries over into what will be its final year in production largely unchanged. It's a full-sized truck in almost all respects, and not as easy to pick out from other four-door Silverados as it once was. The front ends are similar; the differences mostly come behind the rear doors, where the Avalanche has a large diagonal brace that connects its roofline to the short truck bed hung off the back. The cockpit's a duplicate of the one found in the Silverado, from the rear seatbacks forward, with a choice of five or six seats. The five-seat model sports a wide console with lots of storage; the six-passenger model has a plainer dash with no console. Both are fitted with big gauges, big door handles, and big, easy-to-use knobs and buttons, all designed for use with work gloves and/or meaty hands, rightfully identified as a key market for the 'Lanche.
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.
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.
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.
The idea was a clever one--but in the end, the midgate pioneered by the Chevy Avalanche wasn't enough to win over a ton of truck buyers. The 2013 Avalanche will be the final model year for the pickup truck. Chevy will commemorate the end of the line with a special Black Diamond edition that bundles more standard equipment and special badging.