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By Jim Flammang
December 9, 2002
Posted on 12/9/02 Vehicle Overview 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, but Ford was first with the basic idea by launching its Explorer Sport Trac in 2000. Cadillac joined the fray in January 2002 with the Escalade EXT. Each of these vehicles is considered a crossover model, which means they 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 may be removed anytime for an open-air driving feel, even if the extra cargo versatility isnt needed.
The Avalanche began to trickle into dealerships in the spring of 2001. When it was launched as a 1500 series with a half-ton payload, it was equipped with 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 power plant. Motor Trend magazine named the Avalanche its 2002 Truck of the Year.
An XM Satellite Radio and a Panasonic DVD entertainment system are new options that lead the list of changes for 2003. Half-ton two-wheel-drive (2WD) models with the 5.3-liter V-8 can now be equipped with GMs StabiliTrak electronic stability system. All Avalanches add a multizone climate control system, the instrument panel has been restyled, and a new family of Radio Data System (RDS) radios is available. Chevrolet claims that the gas mileage of models with Autotrac four-wheel drive (4WD) has improved.
Exterior Based on Chevys 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, which is darker in color for 2003. The rear bumper incorporates built-in steps for easier access to the 5-foot-3-inch cargo box, which is made of steel and composite materials.
When a configuration change is needed, the rear seat folds and the midgate lowers to expand the cargo area by 34 inches. Once the new configuration is complete, the cargo space measures 8 feet 1 inch long, which is enough to hold a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood. 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 220.8 inches long overall, 74.5 inches tall and 79.8 inches wide on a 130-inch wheelbase, the Avalanche 1500 has an 8.6-inch ground clearance with its standard 16-inch tires. Optional 17-inch tires are available. A Z71 Off-Road Package or Premium Z66 On-Road Package may also be installed. One available accessory is a self-contained sport camping tent that fits onto the cargo bed.
Interior The Avalanches seating 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.
An outdoors-oriented North Face Edition option group for the 4WD Avalanche 1500 features a white instrument cluster, two Summit Pod backpacks, two Water Duffalo bags and the Z71 Off-Road Package. For 2003, the North Face interior has Medium Gray trim.
Under the Hood Available with rear-wheel drive or Autotrac 4WD, the Avalanche 1500 and the North Face Edition are powered by a 285-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 engine that generates 325 pounds-feet of torque. The engine teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission, which has a tow/haul mode. Available Autotrac 4WD automatically distributes power among the four wheels to maintain traction. The Avalanche 2500 packs a 340-hp, 8.1-liter V-8 that generates 455 pounds-feet of torque.
The 2WD Avalanche can tow 8,200 pounds, and the 4WD model is able to haul 7,900 pounds with the Trailering Package installed. Towing capacity reaches 12,000 pounds with the 8.1-liter engine.
Safety Antilock brakes with dynamic rear proportioning, side-impact airbags and daytime running lights are standard. Dual-stage airbags and a passenger-sensing system are new for 2003.
Driving Impressions Although the Avalanche looks immense from the outside and it 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, and it gives the driver an intriguing choice of layouts depending on the days work ahead. Even with the midgate up, this vehicle holds virtually tons of cargo.
Unabashedly trucklike in its 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 eases the rough spots. You never forget that youre in a truck, but the Avalanche has certain carlike qualities, such as unusually light steering and braking. It is easy to maneuver in the city, and it feels solid and in control on the highway.
The Avalanches performance is fairly exuberant for passing, which puts this vehicle on par with other GM 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 it is quiet inside.
The seats are quite comfortable, nicely cushioned and well bolstered, and they 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.