Auto Review: The true multi-purpose pickup

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., May. 17, 2012
- Contributed Photo

If you look into the history of the iconic American full-size pickup truck, you realize that for decades the platform stayed pretty much the same: a cab with two doors and a bed in the back with either a wood or steel floor (those were the days). But over time, manufacturers started to offer more variations that greatly increased this workhorse’s versatility. This included cab variations like extended and crew derivations, and all kinds of different bed lengths to accommodate all kinds of needs. But by far the most dramatic departure from the tried-and-true standard pickup in recent years has been the Chevrolet Avalanche, which was introduced in 2001.

Chevy calls the Avalanche a Utility Vehicle (actually a four-door sport utility vehicle/pickup), and it is in fact based on their full-size SUV platform. But there’s a 5-foot, 3-inch pickup bed behind a four-door cab, so that also makes it a pickup, although that’s really just the beginning. The Avalanche’s big difference comes in the form of its midgate, which is a wall at the back of the cab that can be opened to extend the pickup bed into the cab for a total length of more than 8 feet. This and a myriad of other features make this truck an unusually versatile family vehicle, capable of tackling a wide range of chores and including features like lockable side bed storage containers you can use as ice chests.

The Avalanche is powered by a 5.3-liter Flex-Fuel Vortex V8 that pumps out 320 horsepower. The transmission is a six-speed automatic, and our 4WD tester had the best type of traction versatility available with 4Auto, 4Hi, 4Low and 2WD modes.

Acceleration is smooth and fairly brisk (and at around 6,000 pounds, this is a heavy vehicle), with crisp shifting and quick throttle response. With the Heavy Duty Cooling package and trailer brake controller, our Avalanche could tow a 7,900-pound trailer or haul 1,263 pounds of payload. Autoride suspension (standard on our luxurious LTZ trim level) consists of a semi-active, two-position damping control system that responds in real time to road and driving conditions. As a result, the ride is impressively smooth with good control, and this sizable vehicle even manages a tight, 43-foot turning radius.

The cab is both roomy and quiet at speed, with the driver getting traditional Chevy truck instrumentation (clear and simple), as well as a comprehensive trip computer. The rear seats are a bit on the flat side but room is good, and of course the seatbacks fold to increase in-cab storage as well as function as part of the midgate system. Options include a Rear Seat Entertainment System, which is very welcome on long trips.

Chevy has stated that 2013 will be the last year of the Avalanche, and whether they replace it with something similar anytime soon is unknown. Until then, this is clearly the king of versatility and a refined ride to boot. The 2012 Chevy Avalanche LTZ 4WD is EPA-rated 15 MPG city/21 highway and has a base price of $50,225. With options, our sticker came to $55,285.



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