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The Chevy Avalanche successfully combines the hauling capacity of a long-bed pickup with the comfort of a five-passenger SUV. We found it an innovative, well-designed vehicle, impressively executed.
Avalanche switches roles via its ingenious Midgate, a removable rear bulkhead between the passenger compartment and the pickup bed. Along with a hard, tonneau-like bed cover, the Midgate allows the Avalanche to be configured as a Tahoe-sized sport utility with a five-foot pickup bed and comfortable, five-passenger seating. But fold down the rear seats and open the Midgate, and it's a pickup with an enclosed eight-foot bed, capable of securing valuable gear from thieves or shielding drywall from weather. Remove the rear glass and the tonneau panels and it's capable of hauling an ATV.
Versatility is what makes the Avalanche so desirable. It also offers an 8,000-pound towing capacity, making it an excellent choice for pulling an enclosed car trailer or a fairly big boat. It's as long as a Chevy Suburban and can haul a lot of stuff, with payloads over 1,400 pounds and a bed designed for abuse.
Avalanche was launched for the 2002 model year. It was redesigned and re-engineered for 2007, and there are no major changes for 2008.
As good as the first generation was, the revised version is better, with vastly superior driving dynamics, including an improved ride and taut handling. The previous-generation Avalanche handled impressively well for a Suburban-sized truck, but this new one handles much better.
The cabin is nice. It has a more car-like look and feel than on pre-2007 models, with a classier dash and more comfortable seats. Combined with better-integrated driver-assist and entertainment features, the creature comfort upgrades were as welcome as the modernized mechanicals. Also, the Midgate, removable rear window, tonneau covers and other features now snap together even better than before, and everything appears to be of high quality. The Avalanche is well-designed throughout, with impressive attention to detail.
For 2008, side curtain airbags are now standard on all models. XM satellite radio is also standard. 2008 models get a few interior detail changes, including more storage space designed into the standard 40/20/40 split bench front seat, brighter pointers in the instruments, and more woodgrain trim in the LTZ.
The 2008 Chevy Avalanche comes in one configuration: a half-ton, full-size pickup with four doors, room for up to six passengers, and a unique fold-down rear bulkhead allowing access to an enclosed bed. The heavy-duty Avalanche 2500 was discontinued last year.
Several engines are offered; how many depends on how you count. There are two standard 5.3-liter V8s, one making 320 horsepower in the two-wheel drive (2WD) version, another 310 horsepower in the four-wheel drive (4WD) model. Flex-fuel capability is a no-cost option with 2WD and standard with 4WD. A 366-hp, 6.0-liter V8 is optional ($1,095) on up-level LT and LTZ models with both 2WD and 4WD. The only type of transmission offered is a four-speed automatic, although you get a more heavy-duty unit with the 6.0-liter engine. Four-wheel-drive models come with an electronic transfer case.
Avalanche LS 2WD ($33,435) and LS 4WD ($36,485) are the entry-level models. Seats are cloth covered benches, front and rear. The front splits 40/20/40 with six-way power for the driver and manual recline on both driver and passenger side. The rear seat splits 60/40. Other standard features include dual-zone air conditioning, the usual array of powered utilities, plus multi-media stereo with XM satellite radio, OnStar, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, front and rear carpeted floor mats, two auxiliary power outlets, ready-to-tow trailer setup and P265/70R17 all-season tires on 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Options include a stereo upgrade adding an in-dash, six-CD changer ($300); luggage rack ($195) and cross rails ($90); auto-lock rear differential ($295); tow-friendly 4.10:1 rear axle ratio, instead of the standard (and more economical) 3.73:1 ($100); an engine-block heater ($75); transmission oil cooler ($95); and white-letter-highlighted tires ($125). Power-adjustable pedals and rear park assist, which were available separately last year, are now bundled with a remote starter as the Convenience Package ($610). And on the LS only, the standard three-piece hard cargo cover can be deleted for credit ($600) and replaced with a soft cover.
Avalanche LT 2WD ($34,305) and 4WD ($37,355) feature an upgraded interior with cloth bucket seats, OnStar with Directions & Connections navigation service, a center console, and rear-seat audio controls with dual headphone jacks. Halogen fog lamps are standard. A front bench seat is a no-cost option. Other options, in addition to those offered on the LS, include automatic, dual-zone climate control ($195); a DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system with remote and wireless headphones ($1,295); touch-screen, DVD-based navigation system with voice recognition ($2,250); Bose premium speakers ($500); power tilt-and-slide sunroof ($995); universal remote transmitter ($120); rain-sensing windshield wipers and heated washer fluid ($230); and P275/55R20 blackwall tires on painted ($695) or polished 20-inch aluminum wheels ($1,795).
Option packages for the LT include 2LT ($2,125), with automatic climate control, the universal remote, the six-CD stereo, leather upholstery, power adjustable pedals, rear park assist and remote vehicle starter. The 3LT package ($3,190) includes all 2LT equipment plus 12-way power and heated front bucket seats with two-setting driver memory; outside mirrors with dip-to-park, integrated turn signals, driver-side auto-dim and ground courtesy lighting; and the Bose premium speakers. A rear-view camera ($250) is available on LT models with navigation. A discount package ($3,790) bundles navigation, DVD entertainment, and the rear-view camera.
The Z71 Off-Road package ($1,830) is available on LT models with 2WD or 4WD. It includes heavy-duty springs and jounce bumpers, gas-charged shock absorbers, tow hooks, wheel flares, P265/65R18 on/off-road tires, skid plates, tubular assist steps, a high-capacity air cleaner, and unique exterior trim.
Avalanche LTZ 2WD ($40,825) and 4WD ($43,875) come standard with leather upholstery,
The Chevy Avalanche is a truck, and it's a big truck. In fact, the Avalanche is just an inch shorter than a Chevy Suburban. (To be precise, it's 1.1 inches shorter.) The Avalanche rides on the GMT900 platform, meaning it shares its basic structure with the Suburban, Tahoe, Silverado and other full-size GM pickups and SUVs. The current Avalanche doesn't look as massive the first-generation (2002-2006) models did, even when they were ordered without the side cladding. But in practical terms, the new Avalanche is just as big as the previous-generation models. (To be exact, the new one is 0.4 inches shorter.)
Compared with pre-2007 models, the current Avalanche features significant styling changes, though many are subtle. A fresh face brightens the front end. Thick, horizontal lines emphasizing the substantial girth remain, but are now integrated well with the body-colored grille and headlight surrounds. Lighting elements share space in single units, replacing the previous model's bifurcated assemblages. A bold bow-tie icon graces the grille crossbar. A high-relief lower fascia houses tow hooks and tries to look like the leading edge of a skid plate (although you'll have to order the Z71 package to get the real thing).
The side aspect is mightily spruced up, with a faster, more laid-back windshield leading to smooth, gracefully sculpted flanks topped by understated, flush-mounted windows. Gaps between body panels are tight. Full-round door handles accommodate gloved hands. Squarish wheel wells look under-filled, even with the optional 20-inch wheels. Essential as the signature feature of the Avalanche are the angular flying buttresses connecting the roofline to the prominent plastic bed cover; and the only design cue that clashes with the sleeker look of the new model.
The tailgate presents a more traditional pickup look than that of the previous models. It's less stylized, with bumper and release assembly now painted body color. That assembly also now functions as a base for the optional rearview camera. Chevy says this can help a solo driver hitch up a trailer; we haven't tested this yet, but it could save a lot of trial and error. We have used the rearview camera for parallel parking and other maneuvers in tight quarters and can attest to its value. This system is not a gadget. It speeds parking and maneuvering and can help alert the driver to the presence of a child or adult behind the truck. The tailgate is now spring loaded to lighten its perceived weight, but it still seemed heavier than its counter-sprung counterparts on the Ford F-150 and the new Toyota Tundra.
The interior of the new-generation Avalanche breaks with Chevy tradition much more than the exterior does. The new cabin marks a watershed in ease of use, not to mention ease on the eye.
Following a pattern established in the new Tahoe and Suburban, the interior designers slashed several inches from the top of the dash, rounded it off and smoothed it out, effectively pushing it down and away from the front seat occupants. Everything about the dash and instrument cluster is leaner, cleaner and, dare we say it, more like a car's. A large, round tachometer and matching speedometer dominate the gauge cluster, complemented by four smaller dials reporting information vital to the operation of a truck capable of hauling heavy loads or pulling large trailers or transporting as many as six occupants.
All of the instrument pointers have been made brighter for 2008.
The new center stack houses controls for stereo and climate management, two power points, and buttons for optional features such as the power adjustable pedals. Models with bucket seats have a center console with a large, open storage bin outfitted with a removable dual cup holder. Aft of this is an equally large, but not especially deep storage compartment beneath a padded, hinged cover that doubles as a center armrest.
For 2008, the standard 40/20/40 front bench seat incorporates some storage in its center section as well. The glove box isn't as expansive as it looks when closed. Front door panels have hard-plastic fixed map pockets with molded-in can holders.
Locating the shoulder belt anchor from the outboard side of the seatback to the B-pillar allowed a slimmer, lighter and more secure seat assembly, and we appreciated that. We thought the bucket seats could use more thigh support, however, and they felt more bench-like than sporty.
The rear seats offer adequate and decently contoured space for adults, even those a few inches taller than six feet. The rear seatbacks don't recline, nor do they fold all the way flat with the head restraints in place, unless, that is, the front seats are moved almost all the way forward on their tracks.
The fit and finish impressed us. Tolerances between panels were tight. The wood grain trim didn't quite pass the authenticity test, but it added at least a hint of upscale. The optional leather upholstery and other materials favored durability over luxury without looking or feeling cheap.
Outward visibility is about what's expected from a full-size pickup. On the Avalanche, the hood drops away fairly steeply from the base of the windshield. The flying buttresses hamper quick lane checks, although the large outside mirrors compensate somewhat. When deployed, the roof-mounted, rear seat video screen for the optional entertainment system pretty much fills the middle portion of the inside rearview mirror.
In all but one measure, those aforementioned five or six occupants enjoy as much if not more room in the current Avalanche as in 2006 and earlier models. Front seat hiproom, for instance, has grown by more than two inches, rear seat headroom by more than an inch. Rear seat hiproom dropped by an infinitesimal two-tenths of an inch. It's like sitting in the first two rows of a Chevy Tahoe. In leg and headroom, the new Avalanche equals or marginally betters the interior dimensions of the most comparably configured competition, the Ford F-150 SuperCrew shortbed; although the Ford scores nearly an inch and a half more rear-seat hip room.
The Midgate is what separates the Avalanche from other pickups. With the Midgate and bed cover in place, you have a four-door truck with a huge, lockable trunk. Fold the seats down and the trunk gets even bigger. Lift off the bed covers, fold the seats back up, and it's a pickup with a short bed. Think of it as a Chevy Tahoe with a short pickup bed. Finally, fold those rear seats and the Midgate and remove and stow the back window and bed cover, and it's
The ride and handling of the current Avalanche is remarkable and a big improvement over the pre-2007 models. It benefitted from a new front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, which transformed directional stability and responsiveness. Fully boxed frame members increase strength without adding bulk, giving the suspension a more solid base from which to manage ride dynamics. It all works.
Steering is more crisp than casual. Occupants suffer little head toss over moderate pavement heaves. Body lean in corners is nicely controlled.
The brake pedal feels firm and delivers controlled stops, even when a green light at an intersection seems to jump directly to red, compelling a hurried stomp on the pedal with nicely limited nose dive.
There's less wind buffeting in the open-air configuration than you'd expect. For this, credit those flying buttresses behind the cabin, which channel most of the bluster back to the rear out over the bed.
The Avalanche is a workhorse for routine hauling. The bed is designed to take abuse and offers a 1,408-pound payload rating.
Tow ratings for the 2008 Avalanche are 8,200 pounds for 2WD, 8,000 pounds for four-wheel drive. This latest-generation of GM trucks make superb tow vehicles. We've found they feel extremely stable at highway speeds with a 20-foot enclosed car trailer.
The engines deliver adequate acceleration, very linear. This is a heavy truck, however, weighing over two and half tons, empty, and we wouldn't call it quick. The transmission changes gears smoothly, although kickdowns for merging onto freeways or overtaking slower traffic were sometimes slow.
The 5.3-liter iron-block V8 is rated 320 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque. Its equipment code is LY5, which is important only to distinguish it from the LMG-code engine, which is a no-cost option with identical output ratings but is designed to offer flex-fuel capability to run gasoline or E85 ethanol.
The 5.3-liter V8 in the 4WD Avalanche has an aluminum block to save weight. Coded LC9, it is flex-fuel capable but rates a marginally less mighty 310 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque.
The L76 aluminum-block 6.0-liter V8 is optional for LT and LTZ models with 2WD or 4WD, rated 366 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. It is not flex-fuel capable.
All three engines feature Active Fuel Management, which electronically shuts off four of the eight cylinders when they are not needed. A good idea in theory, but a truck as heavy as the Avalanche needs all eight cylinders nearly all of the time. In our test time with the Avalanche we covered around 300 miles, about evenly between interstate and local surface streets; and the telltale in the dash information display indicating cylinder de-activation appeared only on downhill grades or while coasting, most often to a stop. And this was without ever towing anything, or hauling anything heavier than a week's groceries. Running entirely on gasoline (we had no access to ethanol), our 4WD Avalanche averaged 14.4 mpg.
2008 EPA fuel economy estimates are 14/20 mpg City/Highway for either 5.3-liter engine with 2WD, 14/19 mpg with 4WD, 12/17 mpg for the 6.0-liter with 2WD or 4WD.
The 2008 Chevy Avalanche is a superb truck when it comes to flexibility for hauling cargo and people. It can be converted from pickup to SUV in a couple of minutes. And it's a superb vehicle for towing. From ride and handling to looks and packaging, it's a refreshing upgrade of an innovative concept that delivers unmatched flexibility without sacrificing function.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Carmichael, California.
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