Palm Springs, California - Most of the recent rash of four-door pickup trucks carve out their larger cabins at the expense of smaller beds. But since the Chevrolet Avalanche is more closely related to the Suburban sport-utility vehicle than to the Silverado pickup, it has significant advantages over other four-door pickups.
The Avalanche uses the Suburban's five-link rear suspension with coil springs, resulting in a much smoother ride than that of the leaf-sprung Silverado. More important, the Suburban's single-body structure--as opposed to the Silverado's separate cab and bed--is crucial for the Avalanche's trademarked Midgate.
The Midgate's operation is complicated on paper but simple and intuitive in person. With the Midgate closed, the Avalanche has a five-foot-three-inch bed and Suburban-sized seating for six (or five, with the available front captain's chairs). For longer items, the rear bench seat and Midgate fold flat in seconds, creating a four-by-eight-foot trunk that's protected from the elements by the rear window and standard hard tonneau. For bulky items, both the tonneau and the rear window can be removed (the window stores on the Midgate). Chevy engineers call this arrangement "full aperture." In any configuration, wind buffeting is virtually nonexistent, as the stubby bed and flying-buttress supports direct air over, rather than into, the cargo area. This benefit was evident while driving through an unexpected spate of rain and snow. Even with the Midgate wide open--sorry, in full aperture--the passenger compartment remained warm and dry.
The Avalanche uses the familiar Vortec 5300 V-8 and four-speed automatic transmission found in the Suburban and the Silverado (a 2500-series Avalanche debuts this fall with an 8.1-liter engine under the hood). Rear-wheel drive is standard, but GM's Autotrac automatic four-wheel-drive system is optional.
Our only regret is that Chevrolet's designers felt the need to give the radical concept of the Avalanche an equally radical design. The heavy body cladding, flat-topped wheel arches, and chiseled front grille are a little too close for comfort to those of the infamously radical Pontiac Aztek. But the acres of plastic cladding don't compromise the undeniable utility of the Avalanche, and Chevrolet likely will have no trouble meeting its goal of 100,000 sales a year, even if some of those come at the expense of its own pickups and sport-utility vehicles.