Chevrolet Avalanche Introduction
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Chevrolet pulled the wraps off the next-generation Avalanche at the Chicago Auto Show, ending a furry of recent presentations to introduce the automaker’s new fullsize SUV lineup. The Avalanche, of course, is the flexible kingpin of the group, offering sport-utility interior comforts with the load-carrying ability of pickup bed. Chevy has already shown the new Tahoe and Suburban. Their GM cousins from GMC and Cadillac have also made public debuts.
Key upgrades on the new Avalanche include sleeker styling, vastly improved interior, stiffer frame, new front suspension, additional safety protection, emphasis on fuel economy and availability of an all-alloy 6.0-liter V8. Familiar features such as the side cargo bins and unique Midgate that opens up the bed for increased cargo will carry over from the first generation truck that debuted as a 2002 model in 2000.
Missing from the new Avalanche will be side cladding and the availability of a 2500 or ¾-ton model.
“It’s a cleaner look and more integrated styling,” explained assistant chief engineer Tim Herrick in an interview with PUTC. “And the 2500 volumes were rather small.”
Available in the dealership in the second quarter of this year, the Avalanche is offered in LS, LT and LTZ models in both 2- and 4-wheel-drive. At first, only a 5.3-liter V8 with Active Fuel Management (formerly referred to as Displacement on Demand) and variable valve timing (VVT) will be under the hood. It’s rated at 320 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of peak torque. Active Fuel Management seamlessly switches between 8 and 4 cylinder power to save power when cruising under light loads. Two versions of the 5.3L engine are available: one with an iron block and an aluminum version that is standard in 4WD models. Both are flex-fuel capable and can run on E85.
Later in the year, the 355-horsepower 6.0-liter V8, also with VVT and Active Fuel Management, will be available. VVT adjusts the cam timing depending on engine speed to provide more low-end torque or high-end horsepower. The new 6.2-liter all-aluminum V8 with more than 400 horsepower will be offered in the Cadillac Escalade EXT, Cadillac’s version of the Avalanche. The EXT also gets a 6-speed automatic while the Avalanche is saddled with the aging 4L70 4-speed.
“We have a limited number of 6-speeds,” said Herrick. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the 6.0-liter had a 6-speed in future model years.”
Many Avalanche enthusiasts had hoped for a diesel option. With the elimination of a heavy-duty model there’s no chance a Duramax in its current form will be offered in an Avalanche.
“No 900 (GMT900 code name for GM’s fullsize truck/SUV platform) SUV has a diesel option,” said Herrick, “Though, we’re looking at those options very carefully.”
Improved aerodynamics is the foundation to the Avalanche’s new styling. The windshield is laid back, there’s a smoother roofline and the wraparound front air dam is lower and wider. More important, engineers tightened up tolerances and gaps between fascias, lamps and grille openings to help eliminate air leak paths. Designers also paid more attention to improving the body-to-wheel proportions with the help of a new family of 17- and 20-inch wheels.
The new design is not without critics, especially from current Avalanche owners. Forums dedicated to the Avalanche have run early photos with mixed and very strong reactions. Many owners like their cladding, and one survey noted that more than 40 percent of the respondents preferred their vehicles over the new design. Some of the criticism even goes as far as suggesting that the new Avalanche is only one degree of separation from a Honda Ridgeline.
“I have a hard time believing that,” laughed Herrick.
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