The person who said this is the year of the truck for General Motors wasn't kidding. With three new entries in the pickup truck market for 2007, the General made a strong showing in this year's competition. And with the expected arrival of the all-new Toyota Tundra, we thought this would be a bang-'em-out, drag-'em-out fight to see who builds a better truck-that is, until Toyota delayed the release of the new Tundra to February, making it ineligible for this year's contest, and with another pass from the folks at Ford to enter its all-new Explorer Sport-Trac, the General was left all alone to settle long-standing sibling rivalries.
This year, we decided to take this trio through our normal track and hillclimb testing, but then attack winding Highway 18 on the back side of Big Bear, California, before heading down the mountain on a dirt trail to Yucca Valley, California, where we base-camped for 'wheeling in and around Joshua Tree National Park.
As always, Four Wheeler's Pickup Truck of the Year includes only those vehicles which are all-new or substantially revised for the upcoming model year. In order to be eligible for an invite, vehicles must meet certain criteria, including, but not limited to, having a two-speed transfer case, having at least 500 production vehicles available in the U.S., being all-new from the ground up, being substantially revised or offering a significant upgrade in suspension or drivetrain, and available for sale by January 15, 2007. We score each of the vehicles based on five weighted categories that include Trail Performance (30%), Empirical Data (25%), On-Pavement Performance (20%), Interior (15%), and Exterior (10%).
All three vehicles in this test are built off of General Motors' impressive new GMT900 platform, which swaps torsion bars for coilovers in the front, adds better suspension geometry and components, and stiffer frames and bigger brakes from the outgoing GMT800 trucks. Major differences between these trucks are in the bodies and drivetrains, of which we sampled several popular configurations.
The Chevrolet Avalanche is most closely related to the Chevy Suburban and came to us equipped with the 310hp and 335lb-ft of torque 5.3L OHV V-8 with flex-fuel capability and Active Fuel Management, backed by the 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission and equipped with the Z71 off-road package that includes a high-capacity air cleaner, locking rear differential, tubular assist steps (which we could have done without), optional P265/65R18 (31.6x10.4-inch) Bridgestone tires, 18-inch aluminum wheels, a skidplate package, and unique styling treatments. It also has the SUV-style coil-spring rear suspension, instead of the leaves offered by the true pickups.
Chevy also sent us a version of its Silverado with the extended cab, 5.3L 315hp/330-lb-ft V-8 and 4L60-E transmission, and what Chevy refers to as its "Pure Pickup" interior. We also had the Z71 package that's almost identical to the Avalanche package, but without the SUV side steps.
From GMC, we received a Crew Cab Sierra with the exceptional 367hp/375-lb-ft 6.0L Vortec Max engine backed by the 4L70-E four-speed transmission. Fortunately, 18s weren't selected and our tester came with a set of P265/7017 Goodyear Wrangler tires on attractive 17-inch aluminum rims. No Z71 package was selected on the GMC.
On Day One, we packed up our rigs and headed out to Los Angeles County Raceway for our measured testing, where it was no surprise that the Vortec Max-equipped Sierra walked away from the rest of the field with a 0-60mph time of 9.16 seconds, nearly half a second faster than the lighter-but-less-powerful Silverado and over a second faster than the less-than-svelte Avalanche. It wasn't until we loaded each vehicle with several hundred pounds in the bed that the extra power of the Max began to shine, where it bested the third-place Avalanche by over two seconds.
With identical braking systems, but different weights and tires between the three, it was interesting to see the 5,600-pound Avalanche end up with a 60-0mph distance of 150.31 feet versus the 152.88-foot finish of the 5,100-pound Silverado. We attribute this to more even weight distribution on the Avalanche, allowing the rear binders to do more of their share of work. Both trucks wore 18-inch Bridgestones, while the almost-5,300-pound Sierra, wearing 17-inch Goodyears, had the shortest distance of 143.56 feet.
What's Hot: A real pickup truck, most trucklike interior, refined packageWhat's Not: A face only a diehard could love, 18-inch wheels, no hitch, suicidal air damOur Take: The most pickup of the pickups.
From the Logbook:* "This is the right dash for this vehicle."* "The brake pedal is noisy on all three vehicles."* "Amazingly quiet ride."* "Chevy optioned this tester closer to a work-truck version."* "The rear doors are designed to not trap you in a parking space-cool."