A jack of all trades, master of quite a few.

by Bob Storck

IDYLWILD, Calif. - Call it the Swiss Army Knife of vehicles if you must, but Chevy's new-for-'02 Avalanche is even more talented in its many conversions and uses. It's a truck that works as a car, and can carry just about any combination of people and things that a normal family will think of, plus solve a lot of abnormal requests.

In case you hadn't heard, the Avalanche is part sport-ute, part pickup truck, and part kangaroo. Through cleverly minimal adaptations, you can make your Avalanche haul six passengers, sheets of plywood, extreme mountain bikes, even two passengers in balmy open-air pleasure.

At the heart of the Avalanche is the exclusive Convert-a-Cab System, featuring the midgate design, which makes it the only vehicle currently available that can reconfigure from six-passenger seating to a vehicle with a protected eight-foot cargo box. Too, there are eight tiedowns in the bed, and handholds for climbing aboard, which means you can secure anything with the possible exception of a Tasmanian devil.

Along with the grab handles at the rear corners, there are slip-resistant steps built into the bumpers. The tailgate is easily removable, and all load areas are finished with dent, scuff and wear resistant heavy duty plastic that is likely to put the bed coating business into Chapter 11. The cargo box features a standard, heavy, one-piece rubber mat to help protect the floor. Since the mat is not affixed to the floor, it may be easily removed for cleaning. And the bed can be segmented by 2X wood boards to form different levels or dividers for a variety of loads. Also, the hard cover can support all but the heaviest people, with a 250-lb load rating.

Defining features

The defining feature is that midgate. It flips and folds the divider between the back seats (including the rear window) to allow up to ten-foot items to be carried without a warning flag. It only takes one person to reconfigure the vehicle, and all its removable components can be stored on board. The midgate permits a pass-through between the cab and the cargo box. It is constructed of GM's PRO-TEC composite material, making it lightweight, yet durable and strong. When the midgate is in place, the vehicle offers a five-foot, three-inch long protected cargo box and can be expanded to carry any 4X8 item, completely inside, protected and dry.

Even with the midgate closed, the bed space allows seven feet of cargo area when the tubular flip over unit is installed to add the tailgate to the load area. And the bed is covered with a standard hard cover which can be installed in any or all of three components that clip together to form a locking, secure area since the tail gate locks. Also, there is an optional soft cover that is easier to stow, although the hard covers only weigh 67 pounds total and have a handy bag, complete with tie down straps. And the truck group has considered sloppy and dark conditions with bed drains and lights in that area. For those valuable items, there are 3.5 cubic feet of locking tool boxes in the fender sides, and as a clever touch these have drains as well for occasional cold beverage use.

Underneath, it's more familiar. The Avalanche is built on Suburban bits and uses over 80 percent of its parts, but has some restructuring to make it even stiffer despite the open back end. There is a sturdy diagonal bar under the sail area's cladding, allowing that angle over the rear bed to be doubled as a tie down point.

Since the Avalanche maintains the off-road capability that made the Suburban the favorite vehicle of oil field and survey workers long before suburbanites discovered it, it effortlessly took us miles down silty and rock strewn river beds to a remote location in the Anza Borrego desert, a perfect spot for off-road activities on the bikes and quads that we easily carried. And it sealed out the dust and grit quite well with its advanced filtration systems to keep us from exhausting the local supply of Visine.

Towing and hauling

The standard Vortec 5300 V-8 engine is mated to the smooth-shifting 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission. The tow/haul mode programs the trans to hold each gear longer for better towing performance. For those with truly rugged needs, the 3/4-ton Suburban bits have been worked into an Avalanche 2500 model that includes the 8.1-liter engine and a towing capacity in excess of 12,000 pounds. It will be distinguished by some markings, revised grille, eight-bolt wheels and wheel arch protectors. Look to pay $32,865 for the 2WD version and $35,865 for the four-wheeler. And don't be surprised to find the Vortec 6000 and the diesel engines before long.

The standard heavy-duty trailering package includes a weight-distributing hitch, a seven-pin trailer harness connector and a trailer brake controller harness. The Avalanche has an 8,300-lb. maximum trailering capacity on two-wheel-drive models.

The computer-operated Autotrac active transfer case is standard on four-wheel-drive models. An instrument panel-mounted, four-button selector engages 2HI, AUTO 4WD, 4HI, 4LO and Neutral. The Avalanche offers responsive, confident handling and a smooth ride regardless of the number of passengers or amount of cargo. The braking system includes standard four-wheel anti-lock vented four-wheel disc brakes with GM's advanced Dynamic Rear Proportioning (DRP) system that automatically modulates the pressure to the rear brakes to ensure that braking loads are balanced. This provides for smooth, consistent, even braking performance.

The strikingly bold exterior styling is crafted with a form-follows-function design. "Within our own design staff, a close-knit, highly focused group of hard-core outdoor enthusiasts guided this project from concept to completion," says John Cafaro, Vehicle Chief Designer of Chevy Trucks, who also conceived the latest Corvette. "It reveals its purpose with a single glance." And with the removable rear window and the optional power sunroof, open-air driving enjoyment is easily available.

The balanced interior design maximizes passenger roominess and cargo-carrying capability in a body size that is easy to maneuver, park and garage. The overall length of the Avalanche is 221.7 inches, less than a Silverado extended-cab pickup, and it has a tight turning radius (curb-to-curb) of 43 feet.

Standard dual front airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger along with front seat-mounted side-impact airbags offer extra occupant protection. The optional OnStar service also provides several levels of around-the-clock security.

GM's after market parts group has a wonderful array of options to take care of every use. So don't be surprised to see the same Avalanche on the slopes and following behind you at Home Depot.

2002 Chevrolet Avalanche

Base price range: $30,965-45,000
Engine: 5.3 liter V-8, 285 hp; 8.1-liter V-8, 340 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, rear- or four-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 219.3 x 79.5 x 75.7 in
Wheelbase: 130.0 in
Curb weight: N/A
EPA City/Hwy: 14/18 mpg (5.3-liter V-8)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags
Major standard equipment: Convert-A-Cab system with Midgate, cargo cover
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

© 2001 The Car Connection

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