Drive: 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche
Can It Be All Things to All People?
By: BJ Killeen
to President Lincoln, you can please all of the people some of the time
and some of the people all of the time, but you can't please all of the
people all of the time.
This is a
concept I think the folks at General Motors don't quite understand. I'm
talking about trying to make vehicles that appeal to all of the people
all of the time. My two biggest concerns right now are the Buick Rendezvous
and the Chevrolet Avalanche. The 2002 Rendezvous, for those of you who
aren't familiar with the product, is what GM calls a "crossover"
vehicle. It's not quite an SUV, and not quite a minivan, but falls somewhere
in between for those who really can't decide what they want. The same
goes for the Avalanche. Is it a truck? Is it an SUV? Is it lifestyle vehicle?
Is it a passenger vehicle? What Chevrolet wants you to say is that it's
all of those things in one package. Is that a good thing? Chevrolet is
betting that you'll say yes, and spend your $30,000 on it. But sometimes
when a product tries to do everything well, it ends up not doing any one
This is the
feeling I got from the Avalanche. Is it a bad vehicle? Not at all, but
I'm seriously trying to figure out who is going to buy it. Those who need
a serious work truck will opt for the Silverado. Those who want a good
ride with cargo versatility probably will vote for a Tahoe or new TrailBlazer.
But Chevrolet insists the Avalanche is not a "niche" vehicle.
If it's not, then what is it? I see the Avalanche as kind of the answer
to a question no one asked. Let's face it, history has a way of proving
this point. For example, the Nissan Pulsar with the coupe-to-wagon conversion
didn't do so well. Neither did the convertible Dodge pickup truck. How
about the Subaru Brat, with the seats on the outside of the cabin in the
back bed? And remember the Nissan Axxess and the Mitsubishi Expo crossover
that is the production truck's real bed complete with molded ATV tire
says its target audience is 30 to 45 years old, 80 percent male, with
an average household income of $80,000. Chevy also claims that it has
had over three million hits on the Avalanche website, with many being
qualified potential customers. I think that sometimes it's easy to confuse
interest with curiosity. Chevy plans to sell 100,000 units in its first
year of production, and is placing a lot of its eggs in this new basket.
Avalanche has been around the country on tour at auto shows, county fairs
and other events, it should be familiar to you. The truck is based on
the Suburban platform, and features the 285-horsepower/325 lb-ft of torque
Vortec 5.3-liter V-8 as the only powerplant. When the 2500 Series comes
along later, it will offer the 8100 engine under the hood instead of the
5300. The Avalanche also features a choice of 2- or 4-wheel drive, as
well as a tow capacity of up to 8300 lbs on 2-wheel-drive models.
But the biggest
standouts on the Avalanche are the Convert-a-Cab system and the Midgate
design. To learn more about how these features work, check out "Driving
the Avalanche" article. These are good ideas that work well in
this execution, but I'm not really sure how often people will be fussing
with the window removal section since it does take a bit of manipulation.
Give me a power-operate sunroof any day. I will admit, though, that with
the rear window removed, there's minimal air blowing into the cabin. It
does prevent retention of the heater's warm air, so if you have the glass
out in cold weather, you would probably crank up the heat an extra notch.
My time in
the Avalanche consisted of a day's drive in and around the Palm Springs,
California, area, including a side trip to the Camp Ronald McDonald Apple
Canyon Center to donate a handful of supplies that included appliances,
lumber, and assorted power tools. The object was to drive the fleet of
Avalanche's hauling this variety of cargo so we would get a chance to
experience the handling and ride characteristics both loaded and unloaded,
as well as the many seating/cab configurations on the drive up to the
was carrying with a power washer and barbecue grille, and both fit easily
in the bed without having to drop the back seat. On the highway and under
load, the Avalanche tended to wander on the road, but when we unloaded
the cargo, the ride improved and the vehicle tracked straight. Once we
put the rear window back in (since it was uncharacteristically cold at
the camp), the road and tire noise was drastically reduced.
On the way
to Borrego Springs we had a chance to drive the Avalanche up and around
some of the desert mountains, and it felt pretty confident. Their was
a minimal amount of body roll for a vehicle this tall, and on the two-wheel-drive
model with the recirculating ball steering, the feedback was good with
only a minute dead spot on center.
Avalanche only has one engine option: GM' 285-hp/325 lb-ft Vortec
features three suspension setups: standard is the ZQ1 for a smoother ride,
the optional Z66 Premium for two-wheel models, and the familiar Z71 for
off-road driving. On the highway we were in a truck with the standard
suspension, and it provided decent comfort but not overly floaty.
to lunch was via a sandy stretch of dirt road that didn't really require
four-wheel drive, but it was a good chance to check out the Z71 suspension
and speed-sensitive steering system that comes on the off-road version.
The cargo area also had some weight in it, with off-road bikes or ATVs
that we transported to the lunch site smack dab in the middle of the Anza-Borrego
The Z71 suspension
on the Avalanche, as on other GM off-road vehicles, worked well at keeping
the occupants in their seats, and the specially tuned jounce bumpers and
large Bilstein gas-shocks minimized the drastic wheel hop that occurs
as you bounce up and down over rocks as you move quickly in the dirt.
been noticing lately, GM products, and the Avalanche in particular, have
seen drastic improvements in their quality of fit and finish. Off-road
driving is where the squeaks and rattles shake loose, but the Avalanche
was quiet and solid.
But the Avalanche
wasn't designed to take on serious off-road excursions, nor was it designed
to be the best-handling vehicle on the road. It's a good compromise between
both, but isn't the best at either one.
else to note: this is a big truck and is obviously skewed toward taller
folks. Items such as the storage areas in the bed rails are a good idea
if you can reach down into them, which takes someone 5-ft 10 or taller.
Reaching into the bed also needs to be done by someone with a long reach.
It's not difficult to climb inside the bed, Chevy has provided lots of
footing areas for that, but you can't put the hard or soft tonneau covers
on from the outside alone if you're short.
marks the competition as the F-150
Super Crew, the Dodge
Dakota Quad Cab, and the Ford
Explorer Sport Trac, even though none of those can change the cab
and midgate sections. I see these vehicles (Avalanche included) as novelty
items, which will amuse some, while others would rather have a more single-purpose
vehicle without all the extras, and at a more affordable price. Once the
newness wears off, it might be a tough sale two or three years into its
lifecycle. If the Avalanche does sell well, expect to see this midgate
idea on a variety of other products from GM in the future.
instrument panel. A white face gauge cluster is optional.