- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

If there's an automotive equivalent to a quick-change artist, the 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche is it.

The Avalanche is a pickup truck, full-size. It also has the four doors and two rows of seats you'd expect in a sport utility vehicle.

Adults, not just children, can sit comfortably in the Avalanche seats. And a bench seat is available for the front, meaning the Avalanche can carry six folks easily.

The Avalanche's already healthy-size pickup bed is expandable into the back-seat area with just a few quick steps.

A big 31-gallon gasoline tank keeps this vehicle going for nearly 500 miles.

And thanks to a wide range of accessories, the Avalanche's pick-up bed can be transformed into a bike rack or a roomy sleeping area with water-tight tent.

By adding a mobile office organizer inside the Avalanche, this brawny vehicle can double as an on-road office, too.

The possibilities seem almost endless.

But there is a price for having such a solution-ready vehicle. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2002 Avalanche 1500 with two-wheel drive, is $30,965. This is nearly $13,000 more than the starting price for a 2002 Chevy Silverado pickup, which shares the same platform as the Avalanche.

In addition, more than 85 percent of the major components of the Avalanche are shared with the Silverado and the full-size Chevy SUV, the Suburban.

So anyone familiar with the interior of those vehicles will recognize similarities in the Avalanche's blocky dashboard, the grab handle at the front of the passenger-side airbag area and the general layout of the controls.

The test 2002 Avalanche 1500 four-wheel-drive model, with a starting price of nearly $34,000 before options, was an impressive-looking vehicle with a stance and big plastic cladding that set it apart from the many other brawny trucks and SUVs out there.

With North Face Edition options that included off-road suspension and up-level, 17-inch wheels, the test Avalanche forced me to work hard to climb aboard.

There's no grab handle for the driver, so I held onto the steering wheel and pushed myself up via the armrest on the door. Whew.

Once up there, though, I towered over many of the lesser vehicles on the road.

And I never had a problem finding the Avalanche in a parking lot. The tester stood out from and over other vehicles.

Forward view is excellent in the Avalanche, but watch backing out of parking spaces. Large structural braces that link the Avalanche bed and the cab can block side views.

This vehicle also is a prime candidate for back-up warning sensors, because it's difficult for the driver to see much over the tall pickup bed and its hard cover. I had the urge to leap out of the Avalanche and personally examine the pavement behind it each time I backed up.

The well-known 5.3-liter Vortec 5300 V8 that's used in other General Motors Corp. trucks and SUVs works ably to power this 5,600-pound behemoth.

It puts out 285 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm when merging quickly with city or highway traffic.

Shifts from the four-speed automatic transmission are mostly smooth.

I felt only slight jerks when I slammed down hard on the accelerator to pass others.

Fuel economy is lackluster, with a rating of just 13 miles per gallon in the city and 17 mpg on the highway. At least the fuel tank is large, reducing the number of filling-station stops.

The ride in the test Avalanche with upgraded suspension was quite pleasant in the city, on the highway and off-road.

Passengers rode above and over road bumps without fuss. On hard bumps, there was a bouncing, truck-like sensation.

There is considerable wind noise, however, especially at highway speeds, in the Avalanche.

Side windows and good head room provided a roomy feel inside. But the middle person in the back seat only has a lap belt.

Watch as you climb into the back seat there isn't a lot of room at the doorway to slide feet, especially if you're in large work boots. But the rear floor is nicely flat.

The niftiest feature of the Avalanche is found back there, behind the rear seat backs that fold down.

Chevy calls the back wall of the passenger cabin a "midgate," and by turning a couple of latches, the rear glass window can be removed and the whole wall folded down.

That expands the length of the Avalanche's bed from 5 feet 3 inches to 8 feet 1.

I did bruise my right arm and elbow by plopping them down roughly on the top of the broad center console between the Avalanche's front bucket seats.

The console is hard plastic. So are the top door ledges by the side windows and all of the dashboard. No soft touch here, save for the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The tailgate is somewhat heavy, and its top was shoulder height on me, which meant I had to peer over the tall sides of the bed to look inside.

Folding and maneuvering the hard pick-up bed cover was an exercise for someone my size, too, but the cover wasn't as heavy as I expected.

I liked the fact you can turn off the daytime running lamps, if preferred. And the standard AM/FM stereo delivered strong sounds.

But I hated how my watch crystal was scraped when I reached down the left side of the driver seat to find the seat controls.


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