Is it a four-door pickup truck? Or is it a sport utility vehicle that happens to have an open cargo bed? The Avalanche is both and more. Chevrolet calls it the ultimate utility vehicle a designation also given to the Lincoln Blackwood, which is also new for 2002. In fact, Ford was first with the basic idea by launching its Explorer Sport Trac in 2000. Cadillac joins the fray in January 2002 with its new Escalade EXT. All four are considered crossover models, which combine the benefits of flexible passenger and cargo configurations in a truck-based vehicle thats designed for heavy-duty tasks.
Built in Mexico, the Avalanche features a Convert-a-Cab System. For hauling cargo, its possible to fold the rear seat, stow the back window and lower the midgate. The rear window can be removed anytime for an open-air driving feel, even if the extra cargo versatility isnt needed.
The Avalanche began to trickle into dealerships during spring 2001 as the 1500 series with a half-ton payload and a 5.3-liter V-8 engine. Chevrolet later added a North Face Edition of the 1500 series and a heavy-duty 2500 model with an 8.1-liter V-8.
Based on the full-size Silverado pickup truck and Suburban SUV, the Avalanche has four full-size doors. Styling features include a massive front bumper and gray lower-body cladding, and the rear bumper has built-in steps. The 5-foot-3-inch cargo box is made of steel and composite materials. The rear seat folds and the midgate lowers to expand the cargo area by 34 inches, which now measures 8 feet 1 inch enough to hold a 4-by-8-foot plywood sheet. Top-box storage units are mounted on the sides of the cargo box. The rear window can be removed and stowed on the midgate. An optional three-piece cargo cover and a locking tailgate may protect carried items.
Measuring 221.7 inches long overall, 73.6 inches tall and 79.8 inches wide on a 130-inch wheelbase, the Avalanche has an 8.2-inch ground clearance with standard 16-inch tires. Optional 17-inch tires are available. The Z71 Off-Road Package and the Premium Z66 On-Road Package also may be installed.
Seating arrangements can be adjusted to hold as few as two occupants or as many as six. The front section can have either two bucket seats or a three-place, 40/20/40-split bench. The rear seat is a three-passenger 60/40-split, folding bench. Standard equipment includes power windows, programmable power door locks, heated power mirrors, keyless entry and a CD player.
The four-wheel-drive Avalanche 1500 can get an outdoors-oriented North Face Edition option group that features green and black seats, a white instrument cluster, two Summit Pod backpacks, two Water Duffalo bags and the Z71 Off-Road Package.
Under the Hood
Available with rear-wheel drive or Autotrac four-wheel drive, the Avalanche 1500 is powered by a 285-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 engine that generates 325 pounds-feet of torque and teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission, which has a tow/haul mode. Autotrac automatically distributes power among the four wheels to maintain traction. The Avalanche 2500 and North Face Edition both pack a 340-hp, 8.1-liter V-8.
A two-wheel-drive Avalanche can tow 8,300 pounds, while the 4WD model is able to haul 8,100 pounds with the Trailering Package installed. The Z71 Off-Road Package and the Premium Z66 On-Road Package are available. Antilock brakes with dynamic rear proportioning, side-impact airbags and daytime running lights are standard.
Although the Avalanche looks immense from the outside and promises massive passenger space, it feels considerably less gargantuan when you are inside. Anyone whos driven a Suburban should feel right at home. Everything in the innovative, reconfigurable interior functions just as promised, which gives the driver an intriguing choice of layouts, depending on the days work ahead. Even without the midgate down, this vehicle holds virtually tons of cargo.
Unabashedly trucklike in demeanor, the Avalanche rides a lot more smoothly than expected, at least on relatively smooth pavement. The firm suspension either absorbs a fair amount of disturbance or at least eases it. Although you never forget that its a truck, the Avalanche has certain carlike qualities, including unusually light steering and braking. It is easy to maneuver in the city and feels solid and in control on the highway.
Performance is fairly exuberant for passing, which puts the Avalanche on par with other General Motors trucks. The automatic transmission produces no unpleasant surprises, but there is a momentary hesitation after downshifting. The Avalanche suffers only a little road noise and is quiet inside.
The seats are quite comfortable, nicely cushioned, well bolstered and feature great thigh support. Behind a monster-sized glove box lid, the actual space inside isnt so huge. But the Avalanche still boasts plenty of storage compartments.