SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide
Niche marketing is a popular term in the auto business. Target a product to a very specific group of potential buyers, and you're more likely to make a sale, or so the theory goes. Midsized family sedans may not be sold this way, but an increasing number of vehicles are.
The new Chevrolet Avalanche is a fine example of niche marketing. What is the niche? Who is the target? If you grew up on "Transformer" toys, are fascinated by multi-purpose tools like Swiss Army (tm) knives and Leatherman (tm) tools, and have an active lifestyle, the Avalanche just might interest you.
The Avalanche is billed by Chevy's spokespeople as "the world's first Ultimate Utility Vehicle" or UUV. Like some other new vehicles, it's a cross between a sport-utility vehicle and a pickup truck. Like a crew-cab pickup, or one of the other new SUV/pickup hybrids, the Avalanche has four full-sized, front-hinged doors, ample space for five people, and a shorter-than-usual cargo bed and optional bed extender. But...here's where the trick stuff shows. What in other trucks is the fixed partition between the cab and bed is the "Midgate"(tm) in the Avalanche. With the rear passenger seat folded, the Midgate may be folded down to extend the bed from 5' 3" to a full eight feet long to carry the industry-standard 4x8 sheet of plywood. Or a couple of happy campers, especially with the available integrated tent. The backlight may be left in place or removed, allowing fresh air through the cabin. The three-piece cargo area cover is made of sturdy composite material, and is strong enough to sit on. Each piece may be removed separately, the better to carry awkward cargo like small trees or large shrubs. The tailgate locks for security, and there are large lockable "Top Box" storage spaces in each side of the cargo bed. All external locks -- doors, tailgate, and Top Box -- use the same key.
Two versions of the Avalanche are offered. The 1500 model uses a 5.3 liter, 285-hp V8, and the 2500 has the 8.1-liter, 340-hp "big block" V8. Both are offered in rear- or four-wheel drive trim. I've been driving a 4WD 1500 for the past week, and it's been an interesting experience. The Avalanche is as comfortable as the Suburban that is hidden inside, and the "Convert-a-Cab"(tm) system is truly amazing and entertaining - there should be a possible cab/bed configuration for any possible purpose. It's the largest multi-purpose tool yet made.
APPEARANCE: The Avalanche started life as a concept vehicle a couple of years ago, and has made it to production relatively unchanged. It's more highly styled than most pickups or SUVs, with a bold, angular front emphasizing the Chevrolet "bow tie" logo, prominent fender flares, and plenty of lower body cladding. The large passenger cabin sits in the middle of the wheelbase, and the plastic composite flying buttress behind the cabin moves the visual center toward the rear. Large, angular taillights complete the industrial tool look.
COMFORT: Despite its macho look inside and out, the Avalanche is surprisingly comfortable and designed for practicality. Puddle lights on the outside rear view mirrors aid access at night. Although the basic interior design is the same as in other GM full-size trucks, that's no negative criticism as controls and instruments are placed for easy use and visibility. The industrial "skid plate" pattern on the cloth inserts in the seats and door panels is unique, and fits the Avalanche's character. Patterned rubber floor mats are also appropriate. There is plenty of room for five full-sized people with front buckets, or six with the 40/20/40 bench, and the covered bed area makes for a truly huge, and secure, trunk. As mentioned above, the interior and bed may be configured in many different ways, and each "Top Box" holds more than the average sports coupe trunk. The Avalanche has a combination of comfort and versatility found nowhere else.
SAFETY: The 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche has four-wheel antilock disc brakes and front and front side air bags.
ROADABILITY: The Avalanche is really a Suburban in disguise. It shares the `Burb's wheelbase and suspension, and so has nearly identical ride and handling characteristics. The 1500 model has a solid rear axle with 5-link location and coil springs for a very smooth ride and no axle tramp over rough surfaces. The push-button four-wheel drive system is easily operated. The Chevy Avalanche feels like an SUV or car, not a pickup.
PERFORMANCE: With a maximum of 285 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, the Avalanche 1500's 5.3-liter V8 is well-suited to any task asked of it. As in other GM trucks, the four-speed electronically- controlled automatic transmission has a "tow/haul" mode for more efficient towing. Towing capacity is healthy at 8100 lbs, but hauling suffers in comparison to a regular pickup at 600 lbs. Still, that's enough for plenty of things, as heavier equipment like motorcycles, snowmobiles, and personal watercraft make more sense on trailers.
CONCLUSIONS: Is it a pickup or is it an SUV? No, it's the Chevy Avalanche, the Ultimate Utility Vehicle.
SPECIFICATIONS 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche 1500 4WD Base Price $ 33,245 Price As Tested $ 37,556 Engine Type 16 valve pushrod overhead valve V8 Engine Size 5.3 liters / 327 cu. in. Horsepower 285 @ 5200 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 325 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 130 in. / 221.7 in. Curb Weight 5678 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 19.9 Fuel Capacity 31 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular gasoline, 87 octane Tires P265/70 SR17 Goodyear Wrangler Brakes, front/rear 4-wheel vented disc Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with torsion bars / solid axle with coil springs and 5-link linkage Ground clearance 8.8 inches Drivetrain front engine, on-demand four-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 13 / 17 / 13 0 to 60 mph 8.5 sec Towing capacity 8100 lbs OPTIONS AND CHARGES 6-way power bucket seats with sport leather and cloth trim $1,115 Power sunroof $1,095 Off-road package - includes: P265/70R17 off-road- rated tires, specially-tuned shock absorbers and springs, locking rear differential, skid shields, high-capacity air filter, aggressive floormats, 17-inch aluminum wheels $ 835 Convenience package includes: self-dimming driver's-side mirror, OnStar communications system with 1-year subscription, electronic climate control $ 546 Destination charge $ 720