Editor's Note: The review contained within this article covers the Avalanche concept truck, not a production model, and as such the reader should not be too concerned with issues related to fit and finish so much as the overall impression we came away with of the truck.

This past week PickupTruck.Com had the opportunity to drive the Avalanche concept truck in the hill country located between the serene backdrop of Malibu and the frenetic freeways of Los Angeles.

The Avalanche was first shown in Detroit during the North American International Auto Show in January. And love it or hate it, the bold styling of the Avalanche sets it apart from the rest of the truck crowd when it comes to looks and functionality.

Set to enter into production for the 2002 model year, what you see is very close to what you will get when the first trucks are delivered early in 2001. The aggressive 'bow tie power bar' and beveled profile cuts right into the landscape - or the attention of whatever members of the public are nearby - as the Avalanche rumbles through. And rumble it does on its large aluminum 18" wheels.

As American consumers are just getting used to the additional utility offered by four door pickup trucks, GM takes it to the next level with the Avalanche. Its Convert-a-Cab access system, featuring what Chevrolet calls the Midgate, adds a new dimension to the vehicle by allowing direct access to the bed from the truck's cabin.

Essentially the latest generation Suburban with an open bed, the Avalanche shares some 90% of its parts with its SUV sibling. GM calls the Avalanche an Ultimate Utility Vehicle.

A caveat as we proceed. It's funny to think that in a truck that probably cost in the neighborhood of $1M dollars to build you would get an invincible vehicle able to handle any terrain thrown at it, but in reality the concept version of the Avalanche is quite delicate. Meant more for show than for go. So we used a lot of caution while driving the truck because we sure as heck didn't want to be known as the ones who caused any damage to Chevy Truck's crown jewel. Still, we did take enough away from the drive to realize that this concept isn't too far off from reality.

The first thing we did was seize the opportunity to try out the Midgate system. The Midgate is easily operated by a single person and consists of two parts - a removable rear window and fold down door.

With one practice run we were able to perform the first half of the Convert-a-Cab operation in less than a minute. The rear seats were folded forward and removing the window was a snap. Two handles set in the ceiling were unlatched and the glass quickly unseated. Stowing the glass is a little awkward however. We didn't want to break the thin, light piece of glass and it took a small leap of faith to place the rear window in its molded cradle, inset in the fold down door on the side facing the floor. Chevrolet may have a brisk business selling replacement glass for this rear window with drivers who are not cautious. Turning a latch on the fold down door and pulling it forward we were all set to access the bed.

The second part was a little trickier. Once again the fold down door was easy and light enough to manage - it was quickly lifted and placed upright. Seating the window and engaging the handles used to hold it in place took an extra 20 seconds or so compared to removing the glass. The positioning of the handles on the Avalanche made it a little difficult to judge when they were in the right place and the glass didn't want to seat itself just right without some wiggling.

When the Midgate is down and the rear window stowed the passengers and interrior of the truck will be somewhat exposed to the elements of mother nature. The production model will have an advanced water drainage system to keep water from the bed from entering the cab. The concept Avalanche had a durable, easily washable interrior floor that looked like the rugged tread from the bottom of a hiking boot. It would be nice to see this make it into production for times when the elements cannot be kept out.

Overall we agreed that the Converta-a-Cab is a great new feature to have on a vehicle like the Avalanche and any small issues we encountered are sure to be fixed well before the truck enters production.

Editor's Note: In the near future PickupTruck.Com will have video footage to download demonstrating our experience with the Midgate and Convert-a-Cab.

In addition to the Midgate system the Avalanche had an easily removable three piece water-tight bed cover to protect its contents from mother nature and also any would be passers by looking for a five finger discount. The production model will provide the option to store this cover in the bed of the truck, though this functionality was not present on the concept version. This durable water-tight cover provides the world's largest trunk that will easily convert into a bed large enough to carry all the building supplies you need, covered or uncovered.

Moving on to the bed of the truck, it had lots of room and its composite PRO-TEC lining seemed more than durable enough for most loads. The top box storage in the rear quarter panels were quite nice and very deep. We could see how they might be used to store everything from camping gear and tools to being used as an ice cooler for drinks and food during trips to the lake.

Hopping in the Avalanche to take a drive, its aggressive exterior was offset by its relatively conservative interior, aside from the custom leather seats designed and stitched together by the North Face outdoor outfitters.

A combination of GM's current full-sized truck interior with elements from the GMC Sierra Professional Concept spliced in, the white and gray colored instruments were logically arranged and had a uniquely stylized look and feel for the Avalanche.

A first in the GM truck line, the Avalanche had an in-dash multifunction LCD that was inoperable during our drive. The LCD is supposed to offer Radio, cell phone, OnStar interface and more in the production version.

Turning the key on the Vortec 5300 offered access to the 285 horsepower / 325 lb-ft of torque engine. We eased onto the Mulholland highway and headed for the hills.

Two things stuck out on the road with the Avalanche. First, the Avalanche felt more like a Suburban than a pickup truck. We arrived at our meeting spot for the Avalanche drive in a 3/4-ton Silverado extended cab 4x4, so we jumped into the Avalanche with the stiff ride of the Silverado implanted in our minds. Don't get us wrong. We liked the Silverado, but unloaded it rode the highway harshly. The Avalanche in contrast felt pretty nicely balanced front and rear - not surprisingly with its four doors. Second, we noticed the loud noise from the custom show tires even at moderate speeds around 30mph, but don't expect to see these on the production truck. Guaranteed, the production Avalanche will wear a more modest set of rubber and wheels.

Switching to some off-road driving, the low speeds we drove while on the dirt were not enough to really gauge anything significant. Can you blame us? We would have hated to see the bill for suspension work on this concept or even the slightest 'desert pinstriping' on its deep-gloss red paint.

The Avalanche effortlessly shifted from two-wheel to four- wheel drive as required to ensure adequate footing on the sandy roads and steeper hills.

It was abundantly clear that the components used under the skin of the Avalanche were production-ready and not the pie-in-the-sky engineering demonstrations found on most concepts.

As we wrapped up the photography and made our way back to the final meeting spot in the town of Calabassas we had the longest drive of the day. Over the approximately 5 mile trip at what can be best described as 'in-town' speeds the Avalanche handled quite well. Visibility was very good in the truck. We didn't suffer from any of the 'tunnel vision' found in the Suburban as you look back over the third row of seats.

For our final test we had the opportunity to check out the Avalanche's gawk factor. Driving through town the Avalanche caused quite a commotion. People definitely turned their heads when this truck passed by. Further enhancing appearance the Avalanche's daytime running lamps, which used high discharge bulbs, really provided a distinctive look to grab the attention of oncoming traffic and pedestrians.

It's clear that Chevrolet is trying to push the boundaries with the Avalanche concept. The aggressive styling and amazing utility found in this truck set it apart from every other four door truck on the road today. We applaud that because the Avalanche is one hot truck that GM can be proud of and we can't wait to test the production version later this year to see how much of the concept makes it into reality.