Pros: Innovative midgate; strong chassis; powerful engine; five- or six-passenger seating; nice interior amenities

Cons: Less of a workhorse than traditional pickups; poor rear visibility; cumbersome to maneuver in tight spots

The 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche blends the cargo-hauling attributes of a pickup with the people-moving skills of a full-size SUV. Sharing the same basic architecture as the Chevrolet Suburban, the Avalanche mimics many of the big utility vehicle's interior design elements. At the same time, the Avalanche brings a usable bed for hauling basically any material or object a pickup can handle.

The secret to this full-size truck's dual persona is its two-piece midgate. This inventive folding bulkhead allows the Avalanche's five-foot bed to extend an additional three feet into its cab. Opening the midgate and removing the rear glass changes the truck's SUV-like cabin configuration into a front-row-only pickup with an eight-foot bed. This versatility means the Avalanche excels at carrying a combination of cargo and passengers.

A lockable hard tonneau cover turns the Avalanche's well-lined bed into a large, protected cargo compartment. Taking functionality even further are lockable exterior storage boxes, ideal for tools or supplies.

On the minus side, the Avalanche is not as capable a truck as traditional full-size pickups.

For 2012, changes to the Avalanche are minor. Among them are newly added trailer sway control and hill start assist features.

Comfort & Utility

The Avalanche's interior uses better materials than are found in most vehicles in the Chevrolet lineup. The dash is laid out logically and ergonomically, with well-configured gauges and solid-to-the-touch controls.

This truck offers both five- and six-passenger interior configurations, offering either two bucket seats - with an enormous center console - or a 40/20/40 split-folding bench up front. Both setups give front-seat occupants plenty of head- and legroom, and the high seating position grants excellent forward visibility. All the seats are very well padded. There's plenty of space for up to three adults in the rear seating area. Behind these fold-down seats is the truck's removable midgate.

There are two primary cargo-hauling setups for the Avalanche. Both involve folding down the rear seats and removing the midgate. If you also remove the rear glass, the result is an open bed that extends all the way up to the front. This configuration is perfect for carting long items, such as lumber. The other choice is to leave the rear glass in place and cover the bed with a lockable tonneau cover. This provides a massive storage area that's not exposed to the open air, for such tasks as moving low furniture or boxes.

The Avalanche comes in three trim levels: LS, LT and LTZ. All three feature a rugged cabin with practical and convenience-oriented content. The base LS offers six-way power-adjustable front seats, heated mirrors and a six-speaker stereo with iPod connectivity. The midlevel LT upgrades with standard dual-zone climate control, heated seats and power-adjustable pedals. The top-of-the-line LTZ offers specially perforated leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel and seats and a premium eight-speaker sound system. The LT and LTZ offer an optional sunroof.

Technology

There's nothing particularly innovative on this front, but technology content is comprehensive on the Avalanche. The base LS has Bluetooth, OnStar and iPod connectivity as standard. A backup camera is optional. LT and LTZ trim levels include all of these plus available navigation with real-time traffic updates and a rear DVD system.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Avalanche gets its power from a big 5.3-liter V8 producing 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. Energy channels to either the rear wheels or to all four through a standard six-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel-drive versions offer either a single-speed or two-speed transfer case, depending on model. The Avalanche has a maximum towing capacity of 8100 pounds.

The flex-fuel Avalanche runs on either regular gasoline or E85. EPA fuel mileage is rated at 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway on gasoline and 11/16 mpg on E85 for both two- and four-wheel-drive models. Active Fuel Management aids fuel economy by deactivating four of the eight cylinders under certain driving situations, such as highway cruising.

Safety

For safety, the Avalanche is equipped with six airbags and the OnStar telematics system. ABS and stability control maximize the truck's road-holding prowess, and trailer sway control is added for better management of towing maneuvers.

Driving Impressions

Despite its size and weight, the Avalanche exhibits a fine balance of ride and handling. In normal driving, it delivers a smooth, almost plush feel. Steering is a little on the light side, but still precise. The LTZ's adaptive suspension with automatic load leveling gives the Avalanche a healthy dose of sure-footedness. Even so, fast directional changes will remind you how big and heavy this truck is. Stability control is ever present in the wings to mitigate these kinds of situations, but it's never wise to push something this large to its limit, especially in tight turns.

The Avalanche can feel cumbersome on smaller city streets or in parking lots, and its enormous haunches make for difficult rear visibility. The available rear-view camera is highly recommended for that reason.

In the wild, the Avalanche is quite capable thanks to its high ground clearance, trail-rated suspension and choice of off-road-ready wheels measuring 17 to 22 inches.

Other Cars to Consider

Honda Ridgeline - The Ridgeline is a better-handling vehicle than the Avalanche, but the Avalanche offers a plusher ride and significantly more cargo-carrying versatility.

Chevy Silverado 1500 Crew Cab - The Silverado can haul and tow a good bit more, although the Avalanche is more versatile and has a more upscale, well-appointed cabin. Both are capable trucks.

Toyota Tundra Crew Cab - The Tundra has a better reliability track record, while the Avalanche displays greater versatility and a more compliant ride for carting the family.

AutoTrader Recommends

To us, the most sensible Avalanche is the midrange LT with four-wheel drive (and the optional two-speed transfer case). The LT brings a comprehensive list of standard amenities for a reasonable price. Upgrading to the more feature-rich LTZ doesn't quite justify the cost premium.

If you intend to use the Avalanche for all-terrain adventuring, we strongly recommend the Z71 Off-Road Package, with its beefier shocks, skid plate, front tow hooks and more rugged exterior styling. Now that's a truck.

author photo

Shamit Choksey has a love for automobiles that worked into an early career writing and developing cop shows for network television. Later, diving even further into the world of wheels, he became a writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS/Discovery Channel series "MotorWeek." These days, Shamit lives in Southern California, serving as a media consultant and journalist within the automotive industry. Incidentally, his wife and two sons are not impressed by any of this.

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