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Chevy Avalanche: Big truck for the real world

It's a compromise between an SUV and a truck but the redesigned Avalanche gets a lot just right.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Let's get this fuel economy issue out of the way right off: The Chevrolet Avalanche is not a vehicle I would recommend to anyone who really wants to save gas.

But if you're on the fence between a pick-up truck and an SUV, the redesigned Avalanche offers most benefits of both while getting about the same fuel economy as the smaller and less usable Honda Ridgeline and Ford Explorer Sport Trac. (With a 5.3-liter V-8, it gets an estimated 20 mpg on the highway and 15 in the city compared to the same for the smaller V-8 or V-6 Sport Trac and one mile better for the V-6-powered Ridgeline.)

As a group, they're called SUTs, for sport-utility trucks. The Avalanche is a bit more expensive than those trucks, but it's also bigger and, in other ways, offers more utility. My top-of-the-line LTZ test model, which had everything including a rear-seat DVD player and navigation, cost about $47,000.

When looking at SUTs, a category that would seem to offer a lot to those with light-duty truck needs but heavy-duty families, the Avalanche takes the high ground.

The recent redesign makes the Avalanche genuinely handsome, too, and adds ride and handling qualities that make it a pleasure to drive. There are times when one wishes for a bit more power, but it isn't a lumbering beast, either. The ride is smooth and even with enough road feel to maintain a sense of real control.

The Avalanche's interior - its entire body except the bed, in fact - is shared with the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. That's a good thing. The fake wood trim on my top-of-the-line LTZ tester looked better than some real wood trim I've seen.

Yes, it's big and rear visibility can be a problem as with any large truck. Fortunately, my test truck had the optional rearview video camera. Frankly, I wouldn't get one of these without it both for ease of parking and safety.

From its birth in 2001, the Avalanche has been one of those rare vehicles that built its success on what seemed like a gimmick. The Avalanche comes, standard, with a three-piece hard, water-tight cover that latches down over the bed. The real trick, though, is that the back of the passenger compartment folds down, allowing the bed to stretch straight into the cabin.

You can open the bed and the back of the cabin creating a huge open space stretching from the tailgate to the front seats. Or you can leave the bed cover on and just fold down the bottom half of the cab wall, creating a big enclosed space.

Most of the time you would just leave the bed cover on and the five-seat cab closed and use the truck bed as a mammoth lockable trunk that's accessible from either end. The tailgate is kind of heavy, though, and lowering the cab wall requires some lifting, as well, so this isn't a vehicle for the weak.

Of course, regular SUVs have plenty of cargo space, too. The downside, though, is that that cargo is housed behind glass, available for anyone to see and think about snatching.

Also, some cargo just isn't nice to have in your passenger compartment. (Bags of fertilizer or pieces of greasy machinery come to mind.) The Avalanche's bed is covered in a tough plastic lining, easily hosed out or just left harmlessly filthy.

The Avalanche has always offered a truck that works the way most people actually use trucks. Other than the obvious "comes with the territory" issues -this is a big vehicle - there really isn't anything major wrong here. It might not be your cup of tea, but it's well-brewed and worth taking a sip if you're in that end of the market.

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Details: 2007 Chevrolet Avalancheexternal link

Gallery: Sizing up the SUTs: Avalanche, Ridgeline, Sport Trac

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