We've complained about the newest 5.3L Vortec's relative lack of low-end torque in the SUVs, and we feel the same way with the Avalanche. Even with an optional 4.10 axle ratio, the Avalanche doesn't exactly leap off the line. It's not gutless, by any means, and high-rpm power is plentiful. But, trucks have traditionally been characterized by beefy low-end torque, and the Avalanche could use a little more. The Avalanche's portly 5,645-pound curb weight probably dampens some of the engine's enthusiasm as well. Later in the model year, Chevy will offer a 6.0L version of the Vortec with 355 hp and a more substantial 380 lb-ft of torque in the Avalanche to address the shortage of low-end grunt.

Unfortunately, the short axle ratio took its toll on mileage, with our tester returning a thirsty 11.6 observed average mpg during its stay. However, the upside is a more confident cruising pace with the engine turning in the 2,200- to 2,500-rpm range at highway speeds, reducing kickdowns for all but the most aggressive passing maneuvers. If garage space or budget are considerations for you, and you need the room of an SUV with the occasional utility of a longbed truck for weekend projects, the Avalanche makes perfect sense. In our week of living with it, we found it to be a totally workable compromise that's both family friendly and capable of fullsize truck duty when needed.

Some people need the full-blown utility and hose-it-out ruggedness of a longbed work truck. Others need a third row of seating. For them, Chevy offers the Silverado HD and the Suburban. For those who want a little bit of both but don't really need either 100 percent of the time, there's the Avalanche. Who would have thought the homely misfit would spawn so many imitators? Ford launched the Explorer Sport Trac, and Honda recently came out with the Ridgeline. But, GM is alone in offering it on a fullsize truck platform and is the only one with the innovative midgate. Will similar models follow? Only time will tell. But, for now, it seems GM has a lock on this unique market niche.

THE 411:
Vehicle: '07 Chevrolet Avalanche LTZ 4x4
Base Price/As Tested: $36,170 / $47,730
Engine: 5.3L V-8
Transmission: 4L70-E four-speed automatic
Horsepower: 320 hp at 5,300 rpm
Torque: 340 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm
EPA Fuel Economy: 15 city / 20 highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 11.6 mpg