- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

The 2002 Chevy Avalanche is not exactly a sport utility vehicle and it's not a pickup truck. Avalanche, a crossbreed, is dubbed the "Ultimate Utility Vehicle."

To put it simply, the Avalanche looks like a SUV with a short pickup bed. But in a matter of a minute this supposed SUV converts into a full-size pickup truck with an 8-foot bed. The magic in this abracadabra maneuver is called the "midgate."

The General Motors midgate design should go down in the automotive history books as a design innovation that will single-handedly change the way people buy trucks. There are an estimated 30 million households with both a pickup truck and sport utility vehicle in the driveway.

General Motors is betting that the Avalanche will be the all-in-one answer to the truck need. Perhaps the second vehicle in the driveway will eventually become a car.

I found the size and stance of the Avalanche intimidating. The truck is nearly 222 inches in length, 80 inches wide, stands about 74 inches high and has a curb weight of more than 5,500 pounds. I also expected to be somewhat hassled in converting the five-passenger cab into a pickup bed, thinking I'd get my shins nicked, fingers pinched and shoulders knocked. But the midgate design is so well engineered that it is easier to convert the cab than it is to make instant oatmeal.

While I simultaneously read the instructions in the owner's manual, it took me about a minute to fold down the 60/40 second-row seats and unlatch and store the rear window to convert the cab into a pickup. The rear window stores in a clever lockable hideaway in the wall between the passenger cabin and pickup box. This barrier is the vital organ of the Avalanche. It is the sheath that defines the midgate feature. It is the aorta to the heart of the Avalanche. Since the midgate is constructed so well and operates so efficiently, its development can be likened to a medical science breakthrough for the automotive industry.

Other design elements that contribute to the forceful presence of the Avalanche are the large composite moldings around the lower portions of the truck. These protective exterior elements reduce body damage from gravel and debris that kick up in off-road conditions. "Sail" panels at the back end of the Avalanche give structural support to the truck and visually connect the cab and the bed.

Many SUV owners expect a certain level of carlike comfort. The Avalanche delivers on this expectation with a quiet cabin, an independent front suspension with five-link coil spring rear suspension, and speed-sensitive steering.

Powering the 2002 Avalanche is the 5.3-liter Vortec V-8 that produces 285 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 325 foot-pounds of torque at 4,00 rpm. Chevy engineers say 90 percent of its peak torque is available from 1,600 to 5,000 rpm, which is important for owners who plan to tow or haul. Maximum trailering rating is 8,300 pounds in the two-wheel-drive model and 8,100 pounds in the four-wheel-drive version. Payload capacity is 1,363 pounds for the 2WD, 1,322 pounds for the 4WD.

My 4x4 tester had a base price of $33,245, but with the Z71 Off-Road package and other optional features the price came to $37,556. The Z71 package included 17-inch blackwall tires, specially tuned Bilstein front and rear shocks, skid shields, rear-locking differential and stylish, supersized, aggressive, rubber floor mats.

The midgate could be GM on a roll. And it all starts with the Avalanche.

MOTOR MATTERS


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