Unlike in some extended-cab four-door pickups, rear seat room is commodious, with ample seating for three large adults. The couch offers good lumbar support and proper rake for long trips. Dual heat and air-conditioning vents provide fresh air for back-seat drivers.

An ever-important criterion for Truck of the Year honors is vehicle safety. For years, trucks have played second fiddle to cars and SUVs on this score, but Chevrolet has packed an abundance of safety features into the Avalanche that are both passive and active in nature.

Passengers are protected by safety-cage construction on a full frame. Inside, seat-mounted safety belts move with every adjustment to provide maximum retention during an impact, while optimizing fit and comfort. Dual front airbags and seat-mounted side-impact airbags are standard.

Though GM's OnStar telematics system was originally offered only on swanky Cadillacs, it's been continuously updated and has worked its way onto many other models, including the Avalanche. The OnStar communications center--manned by live people--can interpret vehicle diagnosis codes, automatically summon help if airbags have been deployed and unlock the doors remotely, all via a combination of cellular and GPS technologies.

The entry fee for an Avalanche is a tad over $30K--$30,245 for a base 2WD1500, to be exact--that, even in base form, is well equipped (there will be no six-cylinder, manual-trans, strippo Avalanches). A ton of available options allow owners to customize their rigs. For those seeking a designer model, the 1500 North Face edition (which includes green and black interior trim, distinct badging, white-face gauges, NF-only exterior color, two Summit Pod backpacks, and Water Duffalo storage bags) tops out at a hefty $41,111. High-water mark for the 2500 series is $39,924.

Our complaints with Chevy's new truck are few: We wish the Z66 and Z71 suspension packages were available on the 2500. And while the Midgate is a major innovation, it's useful only during fair weather--when the skies turn sour, so could the interior. Plus, with the Midgate dropped, the interior is open to prying hands, should you leave the vehicle unattended. We'd also like to see the 325-hp Vortec 6000 as a 1500 series option.

After two weeks and thousands of miles with this year's competitors, evaluating every aspect, nuance, feature, and crevice, the Avalanche stands out as this contest's most significant truck. With its outstanding powertrains, off-road and towing prowess, smooth on-road driveability, and passenger/cargo-space flexibility, the Chevrolet Avalanche has proven itself a solid choice as Motor Trend's 2002 Truck of the Year.