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2007 Pickup Truck Of The Year

Posted in Project Vehicles on March 1, 2007 Comment (0)
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2007 Pickup Truck Of The Year
Photographers: Ken Brubaker
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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%).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

View Slideshow
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GM has done a nice job on upgrading these trucks. Some of the positive attributes they all share are comfortable and quiet interiors, supportive seats, throaty exhaust notes, and refined rides-even with the dirt-road-oriented Z71 package. On all three trucks, braking performance was exceptional, but the pedal feel was judged to be too soft and tranny kickdown was thought to be too slow. While each of our testers came from a common platform, they each exuded a very different personality.

The Chevy Avalanche was considered by our staff to be the best-looking vehicle of the bunch, especially with the SUV front clip. The quality of interior materials is up there with the best of the industry and the cabin is very accommodating, though testers did wish our vehicle came with the Vortec Max engine, as it would have made it feel much livelier. Major complaints surrounded its horrible rear visibility, but the reverse camera system helped to alleviate part of that problem. We also didn't like that this new Avalanche has the old-style midgate, which doesn't have a power rear window like the Hummer H2.

Our Chevy Silverado left the staff feeling a little bit mixed. The styling is possibly the least satisfying of the group, with its odd, droopy grille and stacked headlights, but it was the only vehicle to offer the "Pure Pickup" dash, which was preferred by almost everyone. The Pure Pickup dash is so much more appropriate for this type of vehicle, is more functional with better placement of controls (up at eye level, where you can see them easily), and offers more storage. The extended-cab finally has F-150-like power rear windows in the doors and a Titan-like rear door that opens a full 170 degrees. Our only complaints were materials that were not up to par with the SUV dash, and a column-mounted tranny shifter that blocked some of the controls. Another oddity is the lack of a tow hitch on the Silverado. Why you would ever option a truck without a hitch, especially when it can be doubled as a rear tow point, is beyond us. It should be standard.

The GMC Sierra offered a good mix of comfort and utility with its Vortec Max engine and crew-cab accommodations, and the SUV dash worked well in this more luxurious truck, but we still prefer the Pure Pickup version. Even though the Sierra didn't come with the Z71 package, it still had the rear locker and the best tires of the group. Styling was better than the Chevy, but many still saw it as too derivative of Ford's Super Duty. One thing that caught our eye while going through the photos was an etching in the foglights that spelled out "4x4" in a shadow when viewing the Sierra from certain angles. There is someone out there who is proud that they snuck that Easter egg past the bean counters.

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What's Hot: Vortec Max engine, best tires in the test, luxurious appointments
What's Not: Tailpipe begging to be crunched, air dam wants emancipation, you pay for 6.0L at the pump
Our Take: The Cadillac of crew cabs.

From the Logbook:
* "Tailpipe looks like it could get damaged easily."
* "The Max is awesome, a real Hemi-beater."
* "Love the wheel-and-tire package."
* "The drivetrain makes this truck."
* "Looks better than the Silverado."

View Slideshow

We'll start off by saying none of these are hard-core trail machines, and we kept that in mind on the routes we chose to take these vehicles on. We were able to conquer the hillclimb, but it was a tire-spinning, rock-throwing, and hole-digging affair. The rear locker works well, but is just not enough. We'd like to see a front traction aid added to the front end of these trucks to make them much more trail-capable.

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The Avalanche offered a marginally better approach angle than both the Silverado and Sierra, which both had their respective air dams ripped off on dirt roads before we even got on the trail. At least they rip off cleanly; no truck with any type of off-pavement pretensions should have an air dam that low. The Avalanche also had side steps that we would love to see replaced with real rocker protection. Several years ago, this request would have had us laughed right off the farm, but with factory rock protection on the Dodge Power Wagon, Jeep Wrangler, Hummer H3, and others, we don't think the request is that farfetched anymore. Where the Avalanche did excel in the dirt (loose gravel, hillclimb) was due to its linked and coil-sprung rear axle, which all but eliminated the axle hop noticed in the leaf-sprung Silverado and Sierra.

We appreciated that the Silverado felt more like a pickup on the road and on the trail. It also wasn't optioned with Stabilitrak, and it was able to climb and grab for traction on a mechanical basis where the electronics would cut in on the other trucks, causing the vehicles to lose momentum.

Despite not having the Z71 upgrade, the GMC worked well on the trail. The 17-inch wheel and Goodyear tire package has the same overall diameter as the other trucks', but with more sidewall than the Avalanche and Silverado. We also felt that the Goodyears had better traction on the trail than the Bridgestones.All of the pickups handled the mild trails with aplomb. The suspension tuning was dialed it, but torn-up trails can cause the trucks to end up on their bumpstops. We wished for more ground clearance, but on your typical fire-road trail or moderately rocky roads, these trucks will get you through just fine.

After a week of testing the General's trifecta in Southern California's desert playground, we tallied up the points, read the log books and crowned a winner ...

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Was it the styling, the comfort, the luxury, the rear suspension setup, or all of the above that catapulted the 2007 Chevrolet Avalanche past its siblings to take the 2007 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year award?

From the beginning, the tasteful styling and uber-functionality of the Avalanche had the judges buzzing, and confirmation of the Avalanche's capability on the trail and superior ride got them marking high scores in their logbooks. It didn't hurt that the Avalanche got the best mileage of the group, although we would have preferred the extra power of the Vortec Max in such a heavy vehicle. The Avalanche's folding midgate allows for a nearly fullsize pickup bed on demand, and with an optional rear entertainment system, you can keep the passengers occupied on those long trips to your destination of choice. Getting there won't be a problem, thanks to a slick navigation system and enough luxury appointments to embarrass some of the vehicles at the General's luxury division. Of course, when you get there, the Avalanche is capable enough with its Z71 package that you won't have to worry about making it back to camp for dinner, or work on Monday-although we would recommend the Z71's 17-inch wheel-and-tire package (and a better jack) if you plan on making your favorite back road a part of your regular routine.

For those of you who need a comfortable family hauler that can do the occasional "stuff" hauling, the Avalanche may have the right credentials to fit your needs. It also has the backing of our staff as the 2007 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year.

What's Hot: Coil-sprung rear suspension, good styling, best mpg of the group
What's Not: Creaky midgate, useless side steps, 18-inch wheels, too many electronics
Our Take: The best of the new breed.

From the Logbook:
* "Better approach angle, but worse departure angle."
* "I can't see out the back, wish the rear camera worked while I was driving."
* "Best styling of the three."
* "Side steps won't last long-why on the Z71?"
* "Most serene ride of the three."

View Slideshow
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We have been pretty good over the years at admitting fault and reporting on our shortcomings when something goes wrong, like the certain SUV that was rolled, the few door panels we've creased, the various flops, and the few front clips we've rearranged. But this year, we had a strange incident occur that was not our fault. As we were doing a test run for some sand-dune photography, Feature Editor Robin Stover was driving our GMC Sierra, and at about 5 mph on a side slope, the side airbags activated, giving Robin a pretty good shock (and a new respect for OnStar). While no one was injured, and the vehicle remained able to return to the hotel, this sent GM into response mode, and our Sierra was promptly picked up, starting an investigation that continues as of this writing. Unfortunately, GM has not released any details to us on their findings, but if they do we'll update you in a future issue.

Unfortunately, we've had a string of bad luck with Bridgestone tires recently, getting flats on several of our last "of the Year" competitions, and this year's PTOTY was no different as the Avalanche killed a sidewall. That was just the beginning of our troubles, as the factory-supplied bottle jack broke in the process of jacking the vehicle from a combination of not enough available height to the jack and the vehicle shifting. Once we got the spare tire on (which, by the way, is one of the best-looking rims GM makes-better than the ugly rims on the Z71 package), we took the Avalanche into town, where we found the awesome folks at Phelps Chevrolet in Yucca Valley, California. Despite our late appearance-about 10 minutes before closing time-they scrambled to search for a tire in the Southern California area. Unfortunately, this rare 18-inch size was not available yet in the short time we needed it, but it was nice to see a dealership that will still go out of its way for a customer-even one, in this case, who didn't buy anything.

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Editor Douglas McColloch: None of these trucks is really designed for demanding trail work, but amongst this field, I'll go with the four-wheel, coil-sprung Avalanche. Ditch the running boards, give it some premium tires and it'll go most places an older solid-axle truck will. In addition, it was easily the best-handling truck on pavement among our testers. To be fair, if I was shopping for a new truck, I'd probably want to testdrive the new pickup spotlighted on page 54 before I made up my mind. But given our test field, I'll gladly take the Avy.

Senior Editor Ken Brubaker: Initially I felt drawn to the Avalanche Z71 like I am to a steak sandwich slathered in onions, peppers, and steak sauce. Eventually, I realized that like that enticing steak sandwich; the Avalanche had a few things I don't really need. Instead, I'm going with the meat-and-potatoes Sierra. I like the smaller 17-inch wheels, the more aggressive Goodyear Wrangler tires, and the fact that the Sierra can be equipped with the yummy "Pure Pickup" interior. I think this could be the best GM truck interior ever. My biggest gripe regarding the Sierra: The pathetic 15.3-degree approach angle.

Tech Editor Sean P. Holman: Some of us (me) would argue the Avalanche is not a pickup truck, but rather a Suburban with an open-air cargo compartment. I think it is better represented in our standard Four Wheeler of the Year test. So that being said, if I am looking for a pickup truck I'd go with a GMC (I like the styling better than the "desperate puppy" look of the Silverado) with the pure pickup interior, navigation, and the Vortec Max. I'd probably get an extended-cab so I am not saddled with the crew cab's standard and invasive electronic babysitters.

Feature Editor Robin Stover: In my opinion, when you compare apples to apples, each truck we tested this year has a pretty specific purpose and/or consumer demographic who would actually consider buying it. The Avalanche is mostly a people mover/adventure vehicle, intended for those who enjoy outdoor activities on the go. The extended-cab Chevy represents the working man, with its no-frills interior and average performance. The crew-cab GMC, fully loaded with enough creature comforts to keep a prince happy, is best suited for families who desire the ability to tow a boat or haul a slide-in camper to a favorite vacation spot. So really, the question is, where do I fit into the demographics? My Answer: The GMC.

View Slideshow

Vehicle/model Chevrolet Avalanche LT Z71 Chevrolet Silverado Extended Cab Z71 GMC Sierra SLT Crew Cab
Base price $35,295 $31,690 $37,740
Price as tested $46,665 $35,619 $44,079
Options as tested Avalanche LT3 Equipment Group ($3,650),
rain-sensing wipers ($95),
electric sliding sunroof ($995),
rear-seat entertainment system ($1,295),
navigation radio with CD/DVD/MP3 ($2,145),
rearview camera system ($195),
luggage-rack crossbars ($45),
luggage-rack side rails ($195),
heated washer-fluid system ($85),
Z71 Off-Road Suspension Package ($1,795),
destination ($875)
Power sliding rear window ($200),
front leather seating surfaces ($800),
18-inch aluminum wheels ($250),
LT2 Convenience Package ($595),
EZ Lift Tailgate Package ($95),
P265/65R18 OOR BW tires ($55),
Cargo Management System ($175),
XM Satellite Radio ($199),
camper/5th wheel trailer wiring ($35),
Z71 Off-Road Suspension Package ($625),
destination ($900)
Head-curtain side-impact airbags ($395),
Max Trailering Package ($1,840),
Convenience Package ($540),
EZ-Lift & Locking Tailgate Package ($95),
17-inch P265 OOR, BW tires with spare ($55),
credit, unit produced without Universal Home Remote (-$110),
Cargo Management System ($175),
XM Satellite Radio ($199),
AM/FM stereo, MP3 compatible CD player and multimedia navigation ($2,250),
destination ($900)

Type OHV V-8 OHV V-8 OHV V-8
Displacement (ci/liter) 325/5.3 325/5.3 364/6.0
Bore x stroke (in) 3.78 x 3.{{{62}}} 3.78 x 3.62 4.00 x 3.62
Compression ratio 9.9:1 9.9:1 9.6:1
Induction Active Fuel Management, SFI Active Fuel Management, SFI SFI
Mfg.'s power rating @ rpm (hp) 310 @ 5,200 315 @ 5,200 367 @ 5,500
Mfg.'s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft) 335 @ 4,400 338 @ 4,400 375 @ 4,{{{300}}}
Mfg.'s suggested fuel type Regular unleaded or E85 Regular unleaded or E85 Regular unleaded
Transmission Hydra-Matic 4L60 four-speed automatic Hydra-Matic 4L60 four-speed automatic Hydra-Matic 4L70 four-speed Ratios:
First 3.06:1 3.06:1 3.06:1
Second 1.63:1 1.63:1 1.63:1
Third 1.00:1 1.00:1 1.00:1
Fourth 0.70:1 0.70:1 0.70:1
Reverse 2.29:1 2.29:1 2.29:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1 3.73:1 4.10:1
Transfer case NV246 NV246 NV246
Low-range ratio 2.72:1 2.72:1 2.72:1
Crawl ratio 31.1:1 31.1:1 34.1:1
Frame Steel ladder Steel ladder Ladder
Body Steel Steel Steel
Front Independent, coilover shock monotube shock absorbers/AAM 8.25-inch Independent, coilover shock, monotube shock absorbers/AAM 8.25-inch Independent, coilover shock, monotube shock absorbers/AAM 8.25-inch
Rear Five-link, coil springs/AAM 8.6-inch, G80 mechanical locking differential Semi-elliptic, variable-rate, two-stage multileaf springs, splayed monotube shock absorbers/AAM 8.6-inch, G80 mechanical locking differential Semi-elliptic, variable-rate, two-stage multileaf springs, splayed monotube shock absorbers/AAM 9.5-inch, G80 mechanical locking differential
Type Power-assisted rack-and-pinion Power-assisted rack-and-pinion Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock) 3.0 3.0 3.0
Ratio 17.75:1 16.5:1 16.5:1
Front 13x1.18 vented disc, two-piston calipers 13x1.18 vented disc, two-piston calipers 13x1.18 vented disc, two-piston calipers
Rear 13.5x.787 vented disc, single-piston calipers 13.5x0.79 vented disc, single-piston calipers 13.5x0.79 vented disc, single-piston calipers
ABS Four-wheel Four wheel Four wheel
Wheels (in) 18x8 18x8 17x7.5
Tires P265/65R18 Bridgestone Dueler A/T P265/65R18 Bridgestone Dueler A/T P265/70R17 Goodyear {{{Wrangler}}} AT/S
EPA city/highway 15/20 16/20 15/19
Observed city/highway/trail 14.63 14.09 12.63
Weight (lb) 5,645 5,143 5,281
Wheelbase (in) 130.0 133.9 143.5
Overall length (in) 221.3 220.6 230.2
Overall width (in) 79.1 79.9 {{{80}}}.0
Height (in) 76.6 73.7 73.7
Track f/r (in) 68.2/67.0 68.1 x 67.0 68.1/67.0
Minimum ground clearance (in) 9.1 9.0 9.0
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft) 43.0 46.9 47.2
Bed Dimensions LxWxH (in) 63.3x50.0x25.0 69.3x62.4x21.0 69.29x62.4x21.0
Approach/departure angles (deg) 24/20.31 15.3/23.0 15.3/22.4
Breakover angle (deg) 20.6 20.6 19.3
GVWR (lb) 7,200 6,800 7,300
Payload (lb) 1,487 1,657 2,010
Maximum towing capacity (lb) 8,000 8,{{{600}}} 10,500
Seating 5 5 6
Fuel capacity (gal) 31.5 26.0 26.0
0-30 mph (sec, laden) 4.54 4.02 3.79
0-30 mph (sec, unladen) 4.19 3.64 3.51
0-60 mph (sec, laden) 11.68 10.46 9.60
0-60 mph (sec, unladen) 10.84 9.60 9.16
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph, laden) 18.60 @ 80.51 17.78 @ 82.21 17.27 @ 83.66
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph, unladen) 18.03 @ 81.94 17.19 @ 83.73 16.99 @ 83.27
Braking 60-0 mph (ft) 150.31 152.88 143.56

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