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2006 Chevrolet Avalanche review

January 12, 2006 01:55 PM EST | Chevrolet , Trucks/Pickups | Email to Friend

Chevrolet Avalanche 2006: Click to enlargeCombining the comforts of a Suburban with the practicality of a Silverado, the Avalanche is a crossover vehicle that creatively provides the best of both worlds.

Versatile and innovative cab configuration, strong V8 engines, substantial towing ability, comfortable daily driver.

Some cheap interior pieces, lifeless steering, fewer drivetrain choices than comparable trucks.

What's New for 2006
The Chevrolet Avalanche rumbles into 2006 with minor changes only. These include a new design for the Avalanche's optional mirrors (last year's camper-style heated mirrors have been dropped in favor of a new folding and extending heated design) and a standard compass built into the rearview mirror. Stability control and a tire-pressure monitoring system are now standard on all models.

Introduced in 2002, the Avalanche has proven to be a popular vehicle in the Chevrolet lineup thanks to its versatile setup. Essentially the same as a Suburban from the rear doors forward, the Avalanche replaces the rear cargo area with an open pickup bed. The key to its multipurpose nature is the innovative Midgate system that allows the partition between the cab and the truck bed to be completely removed. This extends the length of the load floor from about 5 feet to a tad over 8 feet in just a couple of minutes without hand tools. A removable protective cover spares items in the cargo bed from the elements, while storage boxes built into the sides of the bed offer additional cargo room without sacrificing bed space. When you're not using the full-size bed, the Avalanche offers the same amenities available in its Suburban sibling. There's room for up to six passengers with a bench seat up front, and options like XM Satellite Radio and a rear-seat DVD video system will keep passengers in back entertained for hours. Ride comfort is excellent on 1500-series models, and although 2500 models can be a little stiff-riding, they can tow up to 12,000 pounds. For those who never liked the original model's excessive exterior body cladding, the Avalanche is also offered in a decladded version that looks more like a standard Silverado.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The Avalanche comes in both half-ton (1500) and three-quarter-ton (2500) configurations with either two- or four-wheel drive. Both come in standard LS trim with an LT package available for buyers seeking more amenities. LS equipment includes dual-zone manual air conditioning and a 40/20/40-split bench front seat. LT upgrades include a Bose sound system, automatic climate control and leather seating. Notable options include a sunroof, XM Satellite Radio and a rear-seat DVD video system. Hard-core off-road enthusiasts can upgrade the Avalanche with the Z71 package that adds retuned springs and shocks, underbody skid plates, heavy-duty shocks, a rear locking differential and larger wheels and tires. Those who never plan to venture off-road can order the 1500 version with the Z66 sport suspension package that adds specially tuned springs and shocks, a rear locking differential and 17-inch wheels and tires.

Powertrains and Performance:
All 1500 models feature a 5.3-liter Vortec V8 rated at 295 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque hooked to a four-speed automatic transmission. Avalanche 2500 versions get a heavy-duty four-speed automatic and an 8.1-liter V8 that cranks out 325 hp and 447 lb-ft of torque. The maximum trailer weight rating for the 2500 model is 12,000 pounds, while the 1500 can pull up to 8,200 pounds.

All models come standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes and stability control. Front-seat side airbags are available as an option. In government crash tests, the Avalanche earned three stars (out of five) for driver protection in a frontal impact and four stars for front-passenger protection.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Built on the same chassis as the Suburban, the Avalanche features a similar interior design. The gauges are simple, easy-to-read analog dials, while the climate and stereo controls are placed high in the dash for easy adjustment. Switching the Avalanche from five- or six-passenger SUV to a two- or three-passenger pickup is a simple operation that can be performed in just a few minutes without hand tools. The rear cargo area has drainage holes so it can be hosed out, and there are two auxiliary storage compartments in the sides of the bed.

Driving Impressions:
As rough and tough as the Avalanche looks on the outside, the driving experience is as pleasant as any SUV's. Half-ton models have a soft, forgiving ride quality and quiet cabins that make them comfortable as daily drivers. Three-quarter models are a bit stiffer, as you would expect, but not so much as to make them uncomfortable around town. The Avalanche suffers from the same numb steering exhibited by most GM trucks, but its light weighting does make for easy maneuvering in tight spots.

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