Chevrolet has found itself in a strange position: After designing the Avalanche, the truck that arguably inspired the Honda Ridgeline, it now has to create the second-generation model to respond to that vehicle, as well as a possible new rival from Dodge, in the form of the Rampage (see full story in this issue). Can Chevrolet keep the Ava-lanche competitive? So far, it looks like it's headed in the right direction.

To begin with, engine power increases for the new 1500 and there'll be a new engine option. The base engine, as it was before, is a 5.3-liter V-8; however, there are now two 325-cubic-inch options: The 320-horsepower, iron-block eight-cylinder is the base engine in 2WD models, and the 310-horsepower aluminum-block 5.3-liter V-8 is the base engine in 4WD Avalanches. The iron-block 5.3 is E85 capable, and both use Active Fuel Management cylinder shutoff technology. And both have noticeable increases from the 2006 truck's 295 horsepower. Later, several months after the Avalanche goes on sale, there'll be an all-aluminum 6.0-liter engine available, with variable valve timing, 355 horsepower, and 365 pound-feet of torque. Both 5.3s use the 4L60 Hydra-Matic four-speed, which has the identical gear ratios as the previous Avalanche's; the 6.0-liter will be backed with a stronger Hydra-Matic 4L70 four-speed.

Oddly, towing capacity is down to 8000 pounds for 2WD models (200 pounds less than previous model), and maximum payload for the 2007 is 1355 pounds. But what about the 2500 Avalanche? Will the 2500 return for 2007? The previous 3/4-ton Avalanche's 8.1-liter V-8 produced 325 horsepower (just five horsepower less than the new Vortec 5.3-liter V-8) and churned out 447 pound-feet of torque. The 2500 was the workhorse, the one that could tow 12,000 pounds, the hauler. Our guess is the Avalanche 2500 will follow the same course as GM's plan for the 2500 Suburban--the new generation interior and exterior, on the previous-gen 2500 platform. Expect those models to be available in late 2006.

At launch, 1500 trim levels are LS, LT, and LTZ, with the Z71 off-road package coming later. Front suspension is coil-over-shock IFS, rear is a live-axle five-link setup, also with coil springs. On topline LTZ models, Autoride real-time damping is standard, but available as an option on other models. All three trim levels are offered with the choice of rear- and four-wheel drive. Steering has changed from a power recirculating ball to power-assisted rack-and-pinion, and the brakes now use larger-diameter discs: an inch bigger in front, and half-an-inch bigger in the rear. Wheel and tire options increased in size as well: base wheels are an inch larger (17x7.5 versus 16x7.0), and tire options are 265/70R17, 265/65R18, and 275/55R20.