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Chevrolet Avalanche (2002)

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig

SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Chevrolet Avalanche 1500 4WD ENGINE: 5.3-liter V8 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 285 hp @ 5200 rpm/325 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic WHEELBASE: 130.0in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 221.7 x 79.8 x 73.5 in. STICKER PRICE: $37,556

Avalanche is one of the totally new vehicles on the road for 2002. It is a Chevrolet "configurable" that is based on the Suburban. You can get a leather-and-wood version called the Cadillac Escalade EXT, but the Chevy Avalanche is the exact same vehicle.

What makes a vehicle configurable? In the case of the Avalanche, you have what is essentially a pickup. But you also have full five-passenger capability with four full doors. That's the Suburban part forward of the C-pillar.

If you don't need those extra two seats, though, you can convert the Avalanche to a pickup with a longer bed (8 feet), you can pop out the rear window and stow it so that you have an almost-convertible, or you can use it the way it comes from the store, with a covered rear deck.

Let's start at the back. The bed of the Avalanche is a short bed in normal mode. It has a cover made of a new composite material that is strong. We saw 200-pound engineers jumping on the bed cover to demonstrate its toughness, and I tested it myself when I had the truck. I weight more than 200 pounds and while the cover dented a bit (not permanently) it didn't break.

This cover is lockable, along with the tailgate, and is waterproof. True, if you trained a high-pressure hose on the seams, some water might get through, but in normals situations, it's waterproof.

The area between the inner truck bed and the outer shell is often wasted space. On the Avalanche, this is turned into lockable cargo area, with 3.5 cubic feet on each side. It's also waterproof, so that area can be used as a small ice box to carry beverages for the tailgate party.

Let's say, for instance, that your cargo is longer and wider than what you get with the standard Avalanche bed. All you do is fold the rear seat forward, remove the rear window, and fold down the midgate, which is the forward edge of the box. This creates a carrying area that extends the 5'-3" standard bed to 8'-1". It's more than four feet wide, too, so you can carry the industry standard 4 x 8 sheet of plywood of you want.

Since the Avalanche is based on the Suburban platform, which has been around forever, you know it's not totally new, although it is a new use for the platform. The interior and driving attitude is the same as with a Suburban. You have a long, wide vehicle, but it's easy to become accustomed to driving such a vehicle. One advantage to Avalanche over Suburban is that it's easier to see the back of the vehicle when you're parking.

Under the hood of our tester was a 5.3-liter Vortec V8 engine that was rated at 285 horsepower. Even though the Avalanche weighed 5600 pounds in 4WD configuration, this was enough power for normal use. Realize that the Avalanche is not a sports car, it's a truck, and it's a truck that will probably not be overloaded with buckets of dirt and gravel like the ones in television commercials. So 285 horses under the hood are enough.

The engine was connected to an electronic four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. Fuel economy with this mix is 13 mpg city/17 mpg highway. Our experience with similar vehicles indicates that you'll be happy if your mileage is in this range.

Our tester came with a base price of $33,245 and a bottom line of $37,556. Among the options were 6-way power bucket seats with sport leather/cloth trim ($1,115), electric sunroof with Homelink ($1,0095), the off-road package ($835) that included off-road tires, specially tuned shock absorbers and springs, a locking rear differential, skid shields, 17-inch aluminum wheels and a high capacity air filter. A convenience package ($546) included a driver's side self-dimming mirror and OnStar, as well as an electronic climate control.

Avalanche isn't an inexpensive vehicle. But it is versatile, while not being a cookie-cutter SUV. We used Avalanche to take some friends to dinner and they were comfortable in the back seat. And you can't say that about too many trucks these days.