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Chevy's Avalanche
the Missing Link

By MARK MAYNARD
Copley News Service

Of the 100 million households in the United States, about 30 million of them have a pickup or SUV in the garage. Chevrolet thinks its 2002 Avalanche could take the place of two vehicles.

Chevy AvalancheIt could -- and that's a good argument for the head of household who wants a new truck -- but at about $35,000 each, I expect most two-car families would keep a car and dump their older truck for the Avalanche.

Not that the United States needs another big sport-utility on the road, but Avalanche is like nothing else already on the market.

Chevrolet calls its 2002 Avalanche the missing link between the Silverado pickup and the Suburban. It can be a six-passenger transport with a 6 1/2-foot bed that can be flip-folded into a three-passenger pickup with 8- to 10-foot bed.

The Avalanche has a secure cargo area, 8,700-pound trailering capacity and generous seat space for four or five people.

Built from the Suburban, it has a 6 1/2-foot bed instead of a third row bench seat. And unlike a four-door pickup, the bed is deeper and extendable into the cabin and at the tailgate.

The Avalanche engineers were clever in using the space. Peeling back the roof allowed lockable storage bins -- top boxes -- to be designed into the bed walls. The watertight and lockable boxes are about the size of a large briefcase and are useful storage places for just about anything, including ice and drinks, which the engineers say passed the desert test.

Chevy AvalancheLights built into the boxes also light the bed.

The greatest asset to Avalanche is in its midgate. Designed as the convertable rear wall of the cabin, the midgate can be used three ways:

  • Pop out the window for air flow; the glass is easily locked into the lower half of the gate.

  • Leave in the window but fold the lower half of the gate to open 8 feet of pickup bed.

  • Lower the entire midgate to carry an ATV, dirt bike or other piece of bulky, awkward cargo.

Drop the 23-inch-deep tailgate -- with built-in cup holders -- and you've got almost 10 feet of bed. And an optional bed-extender guard will be offered to corral cargo.

The various conversions can be done by one person, but it is faster with two.

Chevrolet says there are 25,000 reconfigurations possible, including two-tier loading to the bed, eight tie-downs and the optional roof rack.

Chevy AvalancheCutting away the roof line required structural reinforcements, some of which were cleverly disguised in the triangular sail panel that bolsters the rear window. The Suburban floor pan also was reinforced to carry up to 1,300 pounds.

The bed is protected by a soft tonneau cover, but the optional three-piece hard cover is more versatile. It is watertight, theft-resistant (by the locking tailgate) can be removed one piece at a time (depending on the load to be carried) and it will support 250 pounds, either cargo or a someone standing on it to reach the roof rack.

Climbing into the bed is simplified by a step built into the bumper and a hand grab in the corner of the top rail. Stepping into the cab also seems lower than a pickup; step rails or running boards are unnecessary, unless as aids to reach the roof rack or for cosmetic styling.

At the recent media preview near Palm Springs, Calif., Chevrolet showed journalists about a dozen of the bed configurations, including an optional tent.

In a vacant hotel parking lot, each Avalanche was loaded with a variety of building supplies, sheets of plywood, appliances, fencing, carpet, a pneumatic wood splitter, 5 gallon drums of paint, fence posts, generator and more.

Driving the trucks with a substantial load was a good test of the horsepower and suspension.

Driving impressions are embargoed until June 1 -- probably so you won't delay buying a four-door pickup or a Suburban -- but I will mention that the 4WD Avalanche feels better balanced than a Suburban and doesn't have the bouncy ride of a pickup.

And airflow with the midgate wide open in the 45 degree mountain air was remarkably unruffling.

Chevy expects to sell 100,000 vehicles in 2001, but expects demand to be higher. If all goes well for the launch -- no recalls, no strikes -- availability should be better nationwide by July and August.

Spec Box ...

  • Body style: 3-passenger, regular-cab pickup
  • Engine: 5.3 liter, V-8
  • Horsepower: 285 horsepower
  • Torque: 325 foot-pounds
  • Transmission: Four-speed automatic
  • EPA fuel economy estimates: 13 mpg city, 17 highway
  • Curb weight: 5,800 pounds

Pricing ...

Two-Wheel Drive -- $30,965 to $35,000

Four-Wheel Drive -- $33,965 to $38,000 for 4WD

Uplevel Avalanches ...

In addition to the standard models, there will be a 2500 Series Avalanche, and a North Face Edition, which probably won't be available until late summer.

  • I had concerns that even a 285 hp V-8 wouldn't be quite stout enough to heft this truck's weight. It was, but for those who have bigger loads to pull there will be a heavy-duty 2500 Series model built on a three-quarter ton chassis with 8.1 liter V-8 rated at 340 hp and 455 foot-pounds of torque. Available in two- or four-wheel drive, the 2500 will pull a 12,000-pound trailer and comes with a 371/2-gallon fuel tank, 61/2 more than the half-ton Avalanche. Prices start at $32,865 for 2WD and $35,864 for 4WD.

  • The North Face Edition is a marketing relationship with the well-known camping and mountaineering firm. This truck will be offered in four paint colors: Sunset Orange, black, pewter, white and a special sage green metallic only available on this Avalanche.

The interior will be accented with cedar green and black leather seats, special door trim panels, heavy-duty floor mats, white-face gauges, two North Face day packs that clip to the seat backs and two North Face "duffelos," or rubberized, watertight duffle bags.

Special hardware includes an off-road suspension with specially tuned Bilstein shock absorbers, 17-inch blackwall tires, locking rear differential, skid plates and a high capacity air filter.

Available in 4WD only, prices start at $37,465.

Avalanche Add-Ons ...

Even though a fully loaded Avalanche tops out at $38,000, Chevy has designed a line of dealer-installed options.

With the launch of Avalanche, accessories are being moved out of the parts department and into the showroom so shoppers can customize their truck at the time of the sale.

Consumers spend $23 billion a year on aftermarket add-ons for their vehicles and General Motors wants a bigger piece of that action.

"We are now developing accessories with the development of a vehicle," says Jim Kornas, marketing chief for GM's Service Parts Organization. "GM is serious about building this business."

It will be more convenient for owners, Kornas says, and the dealer-installed items get the full company warranty.

Some of the extras for Avalanche are a grille guard, soft or hard luggage carriers, custom-fitted truck cover, hot/cold beverage console, step rails and running boards, bike-ski-canoe carriers and a second-row seat liner to prevent cargo from damaging the seat back when the midgate is lowered.


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