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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.
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.