Pros: Innovative midgate; strong chassis; powerful engine; 5- or 6-passenger seating; nice interior amenities.
Cons: Less of a workhorse than traditional pickups; poor rear visibility; cumbersome to maneuver in tight spots.
What's New: Commemorative, final-year edition; Fairway Metallic exterior color; dealer-installed heated seats; grade braking in normal transmission mode.
The 2013 Chevrolet Avalanche blends the cargo-hauling attributes of a pickup with the people-moving skills of a full-size SUV. Sharing the same basic architecture as the Chevrolet Suburban, the Avalanche mimics many of the big utility vehicle's interior design elements. At the same time, the Avalanche brings a usable bed for hauling basically any material or object a pickup can handle.
The secret to this full-size truck's dual persona is its 2-piece midgate. This inventive folding bulkhead allows the Avalanche's 5-foot bed to extend an additional three feet into its cab. Opening the midgate and removing the rear glass changes the truck's SUV-like cabin configuration into a front-row-only pickup with an 8-ft bed. This versatility means the Avalanche excels at carrying either cargo or passengers.
Taking functionality even further are lockable exterior storage boxes--ideal for tools or supplies--and a lockable hard tonneau cover turns the Avalanche's well-lined bed into a large, protected cargo compartment.
But like some other vehicles that try to do too much, the Avalanche is not quite as functional in either of its roles as dedicated vehicles. A traditional pickup beats the Avalanche in cargo-hauling duty. And because the Avalanche lacks a third row, many SUVs are better people movers.
With the Avalanche in its last year of production, changes for 2013 are minor. All models are marked with a Black Diamond Edition badge to denote the final year. Grade braking is available in normal transmission mode, and dealer-installed heated seats are offered. A new exterior shade called Fairway Metallic will be available later in the production run.
Comfort & Utility
The Avalanche's interior uses better materials than are found in most vehicles in the Chevrolet lineup. The dash is laid out logically and ergonomically, with well-configured gauges and solid-to-the-touch controls.
This truck offers both 5- and 6-passenger interior configurations, with either two bucket seats--plus an enormous center console--or a 40/20/40 split-folding bench up front. Both setups give front-seat occupants plenty of head- and legroom, and the high seating position allows excellent forward visibility. All the seats are nicely cushioned. There's plenty of space for up to three adults in the rear seating area. Behind these fold-down seats is the truck's removable midgate.
There are two primary cargo-hauling setups for the Avalanche. Both involve folding down the rear seats and removing the midgate. If you also remove the rear glass, the result is an open bed that extends all the way up to the front. This configuration is perfect for carting long items, such as lumber. The other choice is to leave the rear glass in place and cover the bed with a lockable tonneau cover. This provides a massive storage area that's not exposed to the open air, for such tasks as moving low furniture or boxes.
The Avalanche comes in three trim levels: LS, LT and LTZ. All three feature a rugged cabin with practical and convenience-oriented content. The base LS offers 6-way power-adjustable front seats, heated mirrors and a 6-speaker stereo with iPod connectivity. The midlevel LT upgrades with standard dual-zone automatic climate control and heated seats. The top-of-the-line LTZ offers perforated leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel and a premium 8-speaker sound system. The LT and LTZ offer an optional sunroof.
The Avalanche offers nothing particularly innovative, but technology content is comprehensive here, with Bluetooth, OnStar, iPod connectivity and a backup camera as standard even on the entry LS. LT and LTZ trim levels include all of these plus available navigation with real-time traffic updates and a rear DVD system.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Avalanche gets its power from a big 5.3-liter V8 producing 320 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque. Energy is transmitted to either the rear wheels or to all four through a standard 6-speed automatic transmission. 4-wheel-drive versions offer either a single-speed or 2-speed transfer case, depending on model. The Avalanche has a maximum towing capacity of 8,100 lb.
The flex-fuel Avalanche runs on either regular gasoline or E85. EPA fuel mileage is rated at 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway on gasoline and 11/16 mpg on E85 for both 2- and 4-wheel-drive models. Active Fuel Management aids fuel economy by deactivating four of the eight cylinders under certain driving situations, such as highway cruising.
For safety, the Avalanche is equipped with six airbags and the OnStar telematics system. ABS and stability control maximize the truck's road-holding prowess, and trailer sway control is standard for better management of towing maneuvers.
Despite its size and weight, the Avalanche exhibits a fine balance of ride and handling. In normal driving, it delivers a smooth, almost plush feel. Steering is a little on the light side, but still precise. The LTZ's adaptive suspension adjusts to road conditions in real time and gives the Avalanche a healthy dose of sure footedness. Even so, fast directional changes will remind you how big and heavy this truck is. Stability control is ever present in the wings to mitigate these kinds of situations, but it's never wise to push something this large to its limit, especially in tight turns.
The Avalanche can feel cumbersome on smaller city streets or in parking lots, and its enormous haunches make for difficult rear visibility. The standard backup camera helps, but it can't completely make up for poor sightlines.
In the wild, the Avalanche is quite capable, with 4-wheel-drive models providing the extra traction needed in slippery conditions. Choose the Z71 package if trail readiness is a must. In addition to styling extras, it adds gas-charged monotube shocks; 18-in aluminum wheels with all-terrain tires; an automatic-locking differential; front recover hooks; an undercarriage skid plate; and a high-capacity air cleaner.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda Ridgeline - The Ridgeline is a better-handling vehicle than the Avalanche, but the Avalanche offers a plusher ride and significantly more cargo-carrying versatility.
Chevy Silverado 1500 Crew Cab - The Silverado can haul and tow a good bit more, although the Avalanche is more versatile and has a more upscale, well-appointed cabin. Both are capable trucks.
Toyota Tundra Crew Cab - The Tundra has a better reliability track record, while the Avalanche displays greater versatility and a more compliant ride for carting the family.
To us, the most sensible 2013 Chevrolet Avalanche is the midrange LT with 4-wheel drive (and the optional 2-speed transfer case). The LT brings a comprehensive list of standard amenities for a reasonable price. Upgrading to the more feature-rich LTZ doesn't quite justify the cost premium. If you intend to use the Avalanche for all-terrain adventuring, we strongly recommend the Z71 Off-Road Package. Now that's a truck.