A transformer truck for the in-between haulers.
by Dan Lyons
With SUV popularity showing no signs of waning, manufacturers are hunting for more niches of this category to exploit — and this year’s big niche is the full-size, sport ute/pickup hybrid. Ford got there first with the Explorer Sport Trac; and now Chevy is following with the Avalanche, a transformer go-bot of a truck that might have trailed Ford out of the gate, but looks to pass Sport Trac with a bigger package laden with a truckload of versatility.
Eye of the beholder
The Avalanche is a styling polarizer. This is either one cool truck, or a styling collision between cladding and sheetmetal. Whether you like the look or not depends on how you feel about plastic body trim.
And yet, the Avalanche looks like exactly what it is – a cross between a big sport-ute and a big pickup. Up front, it’s dominated by quad headlights and an underslung, beefy bumper, with recessed fog lamps. In back, it’s a short-box pickup, with liberal amounts of plastic, from the wedge-shaped sail panels angled off the back of the cab, a wraparound bumper with multiple steps built-in, and a lockable, accordion design, three-piece hard bed cover. The side-on view shows high, square-cut wheel openings, full-size doors front and back and what looks to be a 50/50 mix of metal and plastic.
Inside, it’s a tale of two portals. Open the front door, hop up into the cabin, and you take in a nicely detailed interior, worthy of any good pickup or sport-ute. All switchgear is easy to find and use, and the optional six-way power seats on my test truck were capable of suiting just about any size driver and front passenger. A center console splits the bucket seats, and storage spaces large and small are found just about everywhere you look – on the dash, in the console, on the door panels. Hop in back and you know you’re not in a pickup anymore. Full-size doors yield to seats big enough for full-size people - as many as three across.
Behind the back seats lies the key to the Avalanche. Chevy calls it Convert-a-Cab, a clever design that allows the driver - in a matter of moments - to configure the vehicle for five-passenger seating* with a five-foot, three-inch box, or as a two-seater with a covered, eight-foot box (8’1”). Rear seats are of a 60/40 split, folding design and both rear window and the area below – hereby christened the mid-gate by Chevy – are individually removable. “Reconfigurability” Chevy calls it, and even if it’s not a word, we like the concept. The options presented are many and varied. Avalanche allows for something as simple as flow through ventilation (with window out), or a full, open box that will swallow the pickup truck staple load of 4x8 sheets of plywood.
*(Chevy claims six, but the person up front in the middle would not be a happy camper.)
In practice, Avalanche demonstrates its utility and flexibility as advertised. The cargo configurations are both varied and well thought out. It’s a very versatile, workable design, even down to the small stuff. There are twin covered storage units, mounted sidesaddle on the hard tonneau cover, usable for anything from tools to ice (drains included for easy cleanup).
Built on the Chevy Suburban platform, the Avalanche is a big truck. It weighs in at 5678 lb in 4x4 trim and handles accordingly. The tall-tail Avalanche presents a visibility problem for low objects directly behind. Note to drivers of sports cars: if you’re behind an Avalanche, you can’t be seen. Around town and on the highway, Avalanche has plenty of power but you pay for your fun. The only available engine in Avalanche is a 5.3-liter Vortec V-8. It produces a healthy 285 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. The Vortec 5300 is strong and smooth with a predictably large appetite for petrol. My test truck, a 4x4 with no-cost-option 4.10 rear end, was EPA rated at a rather disheartening 13 mpg city/17 highway.
Towing capacity ranges from 8100 lb on 4x4 models to 8300 lb on 2WD models (with the 4.10 rear axle). Optional suspension packages allow the buyer to tune the chassis for on or off roading. The Z66 on-road option group for 2WD models includes road-ride oriented shock and spring rates, all-season touring tires, electronic traction assist and a locking rear differential.
Off-roaders choosing the 4x4 Avalanche can check option package Z71 and add a beefed-up suspension with 8.8” of ground clearance, chunkier 17” tires, undercarriage skid shields, a high capacity air cleaner and a locking differential. GM’s Autotrac four-wheel-drive system is accessible by means of a dashboard button. In addition to 2WD, 4WD high and 4WD low, there is an AUTO 4WD setting with an active transfer case. The system monitors road traction conditions and transfers torque delivery from rear to front wheels as necessary.
While opinions differ on Avalanche’s styling, there’s no disputing its well-designed versatility. It combines the best features of pickup and sport-ute in a big, brawny package. A well-dressed example like my test truck pushed $37,000. That’s pretty large money, and it throws the Avalanche in with some stiff competition. However, its highly versatile, truck/ute personality is this Chevy’s edge and should play well in what is an increasingly specialized market segment.
2002 Chevy Avalanche
Base price: $ 30,965
Price as tested: $36,963
Engine: 5.3-liter V-8, 285 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Length/width/height: 221.7 x 79.8 x 73.6 in
Wheelbase: 130.0 in
Curb weight: 5678 lb
EPA city/highway: 13 city/17 highway
Safety equipment: Dual front and front side-impact airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control
Major standard equipment: Vortec V-8, Goodyear Eagle 265/70R17 on/off road tires on 5 spoke aluminum rims, Convert-a-Cab with Mid-Gate
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
Copyright © 2001 by the Car Connection