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by Greg Wilson
Bold styling notwithstanding, the real benefit of the new Avalanche pickup is its folding midgate – an idea whose time has come.
The first thing that strikes you about the new Avalanche is, obviously, it’s aggressive, angular styling. There is no way you’re going to mistake an Avalanche for any other pickup truck. Having recently stated that I thought most pickups had boring styling, I have to admit that the new Avalanche has gone diametrically in the other direction. Like other new GM vehicles with sharp angles, such as the Cadillac Escalade and Pontiac Aztek, the Avalanche elicits strong reactions from onlookers – either positive or negative. Personally, it’s too aggressive for my tastes, but there will be many people who like its bold, distinctive looks.
Styling however, is not the most important feature of this new truck. The real attraction is the fold-down wall between the passenger compartment and cargo box which GM calls the ‘midgate’. The Avalanche is the first production truck with this feature, and it allows the cargo box length to extend from 5′ 3″ to 8′ 1″. That means 4X8 sheets of plywood can be stored in the box with the tailgate closed.
In addition, the rear window can be removed and stored under the folded rear seatbacks, allowing long, tall objects to be stowed in the cargo area. Again, the Avalanche is the only pickup to offer this feature.
The Avalanche’s cargo box can be divided into two levels by placing beams across the bed and placing a sheet of plywood on top. It’s also possible to divide the box in the middle so that small, loose items won’t slide all the way to the front of the bed where they’re hard to reach from the rear.
Other standard features include a large, bright light in the left side wall of the box, a heavy-duty rubber bed mat, and two covers that are strong enough to support over 200 lbs. Storage compartments in the fenders, accessible from the top, are useful for tools, equipment, and drinks; a built-in step on each side of the rear bumper and two handgrips in the fenders make it easy to jump up onto the tailgate; and the lockable tailgate includes two cupholders.
Avalanche based on Suburban
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The Avalanche shares 85% of its parts with the Suburban, which itself is based on the full-size Silverado pickup truck. Common parts include the 285 horsepower 5.3 litre V8 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission with Tow/Haul mode, Autotrack pushbutton 4WD system, suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, dashboard design, and seats.
The first Avalanche pickups on the market are 1/2 ton (1500) in 2WD and 4WD – they have a maximum towing capacity of 3765 kg (8300 lb.) and maximum payload capacity of 635 kg (1400 lb.). Later this summer, a 3/4 ton (2500) Avalanche model will arrive with a maximum towing capacity of 5443 kg (12,000 lb.).
The base price for 2WD 1500 models is $38,960, and the base price for 4WD 1500 Avalanches is $42,205. Fully-equipped Avalanche models go for around $49,000. A special North Face Edition (4WD 1500) will arrive this summer – it includes a Z71 off-road suspension, unique leather seats, white instruments, and North Face duffalo bags and Summit Pods. 2WD Avalanches are also available with a Z66 suspension with self-leveling rear shocks.
Initial driving impressions
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I drove the Avalanche 1500 and the 2500 models for a few hours, and my initial impressions are that the Avalanche drives very much like the Silverado – not surprising since it offers the same 5.3 litre V8 engine, transmission, and suspension. The engine offers excellent performance – its powerful, smooth, and quiet on the highway. The Avalanche is well-equipped and is very comfortable and easy to drive. The roomy crew cab offers generous front and rear headroom and legroom with seating for up to six passengers and four full-size doors for easy entry.
The Avalanche is shorter in overall length than a Silverado extended cab and the Ford Supercrew which makes it easier to maneouver and easier to park – yet it has more interior room and a potentially longer bed than either of those vehicles thanks to the folding midgate. This versatility is what makes the Avalanche more practical than crew cabs such as the SuperCrew, Sport Trac and Dakota Quad Cab.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see GM add the midgate to other pickups such as the Silverado and Sierra. Not everyone wants the aggressive styling of the Avalanche, but I’m sure a lot of buyers will want a midgate in their pickup. Like folding rear seatbacks in automobiles, the folding midgate in trucks is an idea whose time has come.