The Chevy Avalanche has been redesigned and re-engineered for 2007 and the new version is vastly superior to its predecessor. The new Avalanche rewards its driver with taut handling. It's well designed throughout with impressive attention to detail. The previous-generation Avalanche was good. This new one is better.
The Avalanche is and always has been one of a kind. It successfully combines the hauling capacity of a long-bed pickup with the comfort of a five-passenger sport utility vehicle. It switches between these roles using its ingenious Midgate, a removable rear bulkhead between the passenger compartment and the pickup bed. Along with a hard, tonneau-like bed cover, the Midgate allows the Avalanche to be configured as a Tahoe-sized sport utility with a short bed. Fold down the rear seats and open the Midgate and it's like a pickup with an enclosed eight-foot bed, capable of securing valuable gear from thieves or shielding drywall from weather. Remove the rear glass and the tonneau panels and it's a sporty, open-air truck capable of hauling an ATV.
For 2007, none of this practicality changes, including, for the most part, its workhorse capabilities. The Avalanche offers an 8,000-pound towing capacity, making it an excellent choice for towing an enclosed car trailer or a fairly big boat. It's as long as a Chevy Suburban and can haul a lot of stuff, with payloads over 1,300 pounds and a bed designed for abuse.
Handling and ride quality are greatly improved, thanks to updated underpinnings. The previous-generation Avalanche handled well for a truck its size, but this new one handles much better.
A major redesign gives the cab a more car-like look and feel, with a classier dash and more comfortable seats. Combined with better-integrated driver-assist and entertainment features, the creature comfort upgrades are as welcome as the modernized mechanicals. Also, the Midgate, removable rear window, tonneau covers and other features seem to snap together even better than before and everything appears to be of high quality.
Finally, there's the facelift. This cleaner, quieter, more mature look says as much as any of the other updates, upgrades and new technology about the vision Chevy has for its future. It's a vision with high promise. We like what we're seeing here.
The Chevy Avalanche is a truck, and it's a big truck. In fact, the Avalanche is just an inch shorter than a Chevy Suburban. (Okay, it's 1.1 inches shorter.) The Avalanche rides on the GMT900 platform, meaning it shares its basic structure with the Chevy Suburban, Tahoe, Silverado and other full-size GM pickups and SUVs. The new 2007 Avalanche doesn't look as massive the first-generation (2002-2006) models did, even when they were ordered without the side cladding. In practical terms, the new Avalanche is just as big as the previous-generation models. (To be exact, the new one is 0.4 inches shorter.)
The 2007 Avalanche features some significant styling and design changes, though many of the changes are subtle. A fresh face brightens the front end. Thick, horizontal lines emphasizing the substantial girth remain, but are now integrated well with the body-colored grille and headlight surrounds. Lighting elements share space in single units, replacing the previous model's bifurcated assemblages. A bold bow-tie icon graces the grille crossbar. A high-relief lower fascia houses tow hooks and tries to look like the leading edge of a skid plate (which, by the way, is not offered by the factory, even on the 4WD version).
The side aspect is mightily spruced up, with a faster, more laid-back windshield leading to smooth, gracefully sculpted flanks topped by understated, flush-mounted windows. Gaps between body panels are tight. Full-round door handles accommodate gloved hands. Squarish wheel wells look underfilled, even with the optional 20-inch wheels. Essential as the signature feature of the Avalanche is the angular, hard plastic bed cover with the flying buttresses arcing down from the roofline to the bed sidewalls; it's the only design cue that clashes with the sleeker look of the new model.
The tailgate presents a more traditional pickup look than that of the previous models. It's less stylized, with bumper and release assembly now painted body color. That assembly also now functions as a base for the optional rearview camera. Chevy says this can help a solo driver hitch up a trailer; we haven't tested this yet, but it could save a lot of trial and error. We have used the rearview camera for parallel parking and other maneuvers in tight quarters and can attest to its value. This system is not a gadget. It speeds parking and maneuvering and can help alert the driver to the presence of a child or adult behind the truck. The tailgate is now spring loaded to lighten its perceived weight, but it still seemed heavier than its countersprung counterparts on the Ford F-150 and the new 2007 Toyota Tundra.
The new interior of the 2007 Avalanche breaks with Chevy tradition much more than the exterior does. The new cabin marks a watershed in ease of use, not to mention ease on the eye.
Following a pattern established in the new Tahoe and Suburban, the interior designers slashed several inches from the top of the dash, rounded it off and smoothed it out, effectively pushing it down and away from the front seat occupants. Everything about the dash and instrument cluster is leaner, cleaner, dare we say it, more like a car's. A large, round tachometer and matching speedometer dominate the gauge cluster, complemented by four smaller dials reporting information vital to the operation of a truck capable of hauling heavy loads or pulling large trailers or transporting as many as six occupants.
The new center stack houses controls for stereo and climate management, two power points, and buttons for optional features such as the power adjustable pedals. Models with bucket seats get a center console with a large, open storage bin outfitted with a removable, dual cup holder. Aft of this is an equally large, but not especially deep storage compartment beneath a padded, hinged cover that doubles as a center armrest. The glove box isn't as expansive as it looks when closed. Front door panels have hard-plastic, fixed map pockets with molded-in can holders.
The seats are new. The relocation of the shoulder belt anchor from the outboard side of the seatback to the B-pillar allowed a slimmer, lighter and more secure seat assembly, and we appreciated that. We thought the bucket seats could use more thigh support, however, and they felt more bench-like than sporty.
The rear seats offer adequate and decently contoured space for adults, even those a few inches taller than six feet. Rear seatbacks don't recline, nor do they fold all the way flat with the head restraints in place, unless, that is, the front seats are moved almost all the way forward on their tracks.
The fit and finish impressed us. Tolerances between panels were tight. The wood grain trim didn't quite pass the authenticity test, but it added at least a hint of upscale. The optional leather upholstery and other materials favored durability over luxury without looking or feeling cheap.
Outward visibility is about what's expected from a full-size pickup. The hood drops away fairly steeply from the base of the windshield. The flying buttresses hamper quick lane checks, although the large outside mirrors compensate somewhat. When deployed, the roof-mounted, rear seat video screen for the optional entertainment system pretty much fills the middle portion of the inside rearview mirror.
In all but one measure, those aforementioned five or six occupants enjoy as much if not more room in the '07 Avalanche as in the '06. Front seat hiproom, for instance, grows by more than two inches, rear seat headroom by more than an inch. Rear seat hiproom drops by an infinitesimal two-tenths of an inch. It's like sitting in the first two rows of a Chevy Tahoe. The new Avalanche also equals or marginally betters the interior dimensions of the most comparably configured competition, the Ford F-150 SuperCrew shortbed.
The midgate is what separates the Avalanche from other pickups. First, with the midgate and bed cover in place, you get a four-door truck with a huge, lockable trunk. Fold the seats down and the trunk gets even bigger. Lift off the bed covers, fold the seats back up, and it's a pickup with a short bed. Think of it as a Chevy Tahoe with a short pickup bed. Finally, fold those rear seats and the midgate and remove and stow the back window and bed cover, and it's transformed into an open-air hauler with room for all sizes and shapes of cargo, from regular-size sheets of plywood to a brace of off-road motorcycles or an ATV.
Folding the midgate but leaving the back window and bed cover in place provides 101 cubic feet of enclosed, mostly se
Chevy did more than merely re-skin the Avalanche for 2007. Substantive and substantial work under the hood and to the underpinnings has delivered a new Avalanche improved in virtually every respect.
Most remarkable is the upgraded ride and handling, with especial emphasis on the handling. A new design for the front suspension coupled with rack and pinion steering, replacing the somewhat archaic recirculating ball system Chevy has been using for decades, has transformed the Avalanche's directional stability and responsiveness to steering inputs. Fully boxed frame members increase stoutness without adding mass, giving the suspension a more solid base from which to manage ride dynamics. It all works.
Steering is more crisp than casual. Occupants suffer little head toss over moderate pavement heaves. Body lean in corners is much less than in last year's Avalanche. Firm brake pedal feel returned controlled stops, even when a green light at an intersection occasionally seemed to jump directly to red, compelling a hurried stomp on the pedal. At such times, a diving front end was the dominant suspension dynamic.
There's less wind buffeting in the open-air configuration than you'd expect. For this, credit those flying buttress-type, angular diagonals behind the cabin, which channel most of the bluster back to the rear out over the bed.
The Avalanche is a workhorse for routine hauling. The bed is designed to take abuse and offers a 1,355-pound payload rating.
The 2WD model offers an 8,000-pound towing capacity (200 pounds less than last year's model), while the 4WD model offers 7800 pounds. We haven't towed anything with the Avalanche yet but it feels extremely stable and we're confident it'll make an excellent tow vehicle.
The re-engineered, more powerful engines deliver adequate acceleration, very linear. This is a heavy truck and we wouldn't call it quick. The transmission changes gears smoothly, although kickdowns for merging onto freeways or overtaking slower traffic bordered on lackadaisical. Power is up 25 horsepower over last year's model.
The popular 5.3-liter V8 is rated 310 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque and gets an EPA-estimated 15/20 mpg City/Highway. It's mated to a four-speed automatic.
The only disappointment came in observed fuel economy improvements versus those promised by the engine's high-tech controller. One element of this computerization enables the engine to run on either regular gasoline or E85, a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, or any combination of the two. Another, the Active Fuel Management feature, electronically converts the V8 engine to a V4 under light load. Our test time with the new Avalanche did not include access to E85. But over the 300 miles we put on the Avalanche in the week we had it, miles split about evenly between interstate and local surface streets, we achieved 14.4 miles per gallon. And this was without ever towing anything or hauling anything heavier than a week's groceries. As for the Active Fuel Management feature, which electronically transforms the V8 to a V4 under light load, the telltale in the dash information display indicating V4 activation appeared only on downhill grades or while coasting, most often to a stop. This isn't all that surprising, actually, given that engine power drops by more than half in V4 mode.
The 2007 Chevy Avalanche is new and improved in almost every way that matters. From ride and handling to looks and packaging, it's a refreshing upgrade and update of an innovative concept that delivers unmatched flexibility without sacrificing function.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Carmichael, California.
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