By Jim Mateja Chicago Tribune July 9, 2006 Call it Avalanche II, the second generation of the Chevy truck that bowed in the 2002 model year. Avalanche is part pickup, part sport-utility and part toy. The SUV handles the people, the pickup the payload and toy is the reason it has so much more appeal than just an SUV or truck. Avalanche is the machine with a short cargo bed that makes it easier to motor around in traffic and especially in the parking lot. Though short, the lined bed is deep and can hold a healthy load of lumber or more luggage and/or groceries than most families would need for a month. And there are lockable compartments built into the sidewalls to store tools for worktime or, thanks to the plastic lining and drain holes, to hold ice and pop for playtime. And new for 2007, you can use the control buttons in the cabin or point the key fob at it and press to lock the tailgate. No need for a key. The cabin holds five passengers in comfort, but if you need room for more cargo, the rear seat bottoms flip forward and the seat backs fold flat. If the abbreviated 5-foot, 3-inch bed isn't long enough, remove the rear window, drop the rear wall and the cargo hold extends into the passenger cabin to hold items up to 8 feet 2 inches. The cargo bed is covered with a solid interlocking three-piece cover strong enough to hold the homecoming queen and her court. Because the bed stands high, rear-park assist is available in the LT2 option package. It beeps when an object is in your path as you back up. You also can opt for a rearview camera system, which shows what's behind on the navigation screen in the dash and helps spot the boat and/or trailer when it comes time to hitch them up. One drawback, of course, is that to get the rearview camera at $195, you have to buy the navigation system at $2,145. We tested the 2007 Avalanche LT with its 5.3-liter, 320-horsepower V-8 that not only comes with active fuel management to shut off 4 cylinders when not needed but also can burn E85, the blend of 85 percent alcohol and 15 percent gasoline. Later in the year Avalanche will offer an optional 6-liter V-8 rated at 355-h.p. that will come with active fuel management on two-wheel- and four-wheel-drive versions. The 6-liter won't be E85 compatible though it will be available on the Chevy Suburban SUV as well. Unfortunately, Avalanche is built off the full-size Silverado pickup and, even with active fuel management, the fuel economy is only 15 m.p.g. city/21 m.p.g. highway. Decent for a truck, but you wouldn't want to use it for the commute unless you worked for ExxonMobil. The 5.3 has ample power, and there's no problem pulling out to pass or climbing without strain. Where Avalanche stands out is in ride and handling with a suspension designed to provide a cushion over the rough patches while delivering stable handling. It helps that stability control and four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard. Manners are very carlike in a vehicle that can carry heavy loads and is not afraid of getting dirty. Perhaps that's why Avalanche claims 15 percent women buyers, versus only 5 percent for Silverado. General Motors opted to bring out its next-generation full-size SUVs first and will follow with its updated pickups--the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra--this fall. Avalanche is derived from the Silverado platform and its styling gives a peek at what to expect on the truck. The Avalanche LT starts at $32,295 and offers power seats, windows, locks and mirrors (heated) as well as air conditioning and AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 players and running boards. Power retractable running boards will be available later in the year on the top-of-the-line LTZ. They also will be shared with the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban SUVs. Avalanche is rich in options, and you better be well-heeled to add the long list of goodies offered. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system to keep the kids quiet runs $1,295; side-curtain air bags to protect the kids--and adults--add $350. The two options with lots of merit are those curtain bags and the power adjustable pedals that are part of the LT2 package. 2007 Chevrolet Avalanche LT Price as tested: $39,695* Wheelbase: 130 inches Length: 221.3 inches Engine: 5.3-liter, 320-h.p. V-8 Transmission: 4-speed automatic CITY 15 m.p.g. HWY 21 m.p.g. THE STICKER $32,295 Base $2,145 Navigation system $2,040 LT2 equipment group with leather seats, dual-zone air conditioning, power adjustable pedals, remote vehicle starter, AM/FM stereo with MP3 compatible six-disc CD changer, universal home remote and rear parking assist; $1,295 rear-seat DVD entertainment system $945 Bose speaker system $350 side-curtain air bags $199 XM satellite radio $195 rearview camera $195 luggage rack *Add $875 for freight. PLUSES - Combines SUV with pickup. - Multi-displacement V-8 shuts off 4 cylinders when not needed. - Very comfortable ride and stable handling. - Mid-gate opens cabin to truck bed. - Preview of what the full-size Silverado will look like this fall. MINUSES - Mileage. - Oh, so many costly options.