The Chevrolet Avalanche had been in our Four Seasons fleet barely one week when it became apparent that we were in for a contentious year. In the very first logbook entry, truck aficionado and editor emeritus David E. Davis, Jr., expounded on the qualities of the big and chunky Chevy: "This is a remarkable vehicle. The harmonious interrelationship of ride, handling, roadholding, and power is very sweet. It is very carlike. In fact, there are a lot of cars that aren't this good."
Almost immediately, there followed the prickly comments of executive editor Mark Gillies: "How light can steering be? How on earth can you get away with such awful interior quality for $37,000? Can you see anything out the rear-view mirror? Which twit put the seatback adjuster there? If this is carlike, I may have been driving the wrong cars."
Clearly, we were still figuring out what to make of the Avalanche-which bills itself as "the industry's first 'configurable' truck"-and its signature folding Midgate. The Avalanche is carved from a Suburban, one of our longtime favorite SUVs, but we still had some questions about where this curious truck-SUV hybrid belonged in the automotive firmament. Was it an innovator that would define a new market niche, or was it simply another clumsy automotive novelty act such as the Suzuki X90 or the Isuzu VehiCross? Was it unrealistic to expect carlike handling from a 5900-pound truck? Was its $37,000 price justifiable? Reaching a consensus after twelve months looked unlikely, however, given the wildly divergent opinions of the pro- and anti-Avalanche contingencies within the editorial ranks.
Gillies's opening salvo sparked a war of words. Associate editor Joe DeMatio weighed in: "Yes, a little more steering feel wouldn't hurt, but, really, it's not that bad. It's best to just point this thing down the road and hit the gas." Entering the fray alongside DeMatio was copy editor Matt Phenix: "This is not a sport sedan, and anyone who tries to drive it as such gets what they deserve. Why should light steering be an issue?" Contributor Kirk Seaman volleyed back: "It's not so much how overboosted and light the steering is but how indirect. It takes cranking a good five degrees of input into the wheel before the truck responds, by which time it could easily be heading in a different direction. This leads to constant adjusting of the wheel. It was more like sailing a boat than driving." Six months on, the internecine battle had yet to abate. Gillies again: "All the carlike comments are getting on my wick. It doesn't drive like a car, unless your benchmark is a late-'50s luxury sedan. Floaty suspension, light steering, dead brake pedal. Yuck! What's more, it's ugly."
About those looks: When the Avalanche was unveiled at the 2000 Detroit auto show, design editor Robert Cumberford noted that "the stylists went crazy with their excess cladding. A cleaned-up version would be an ideal pickup for work or family." The production Avalanche, however, which made its debut sixteen months later, was virtually identical to the concept truck shown in Detroit, complete with copious amounts of gray plastic cladding and creases and bulges on every flank. When we first started tooling around town, one staff member complained about "scoffing and derision from three baseball-cap-wearing workmen in their Ford pickup," and another described it as having "hobgoblin exterior styling. Not a single surface has been left alone to be itself." Still, some found themselves strangely enamored with the quirky-looking oddball, such as business manager Kim Ewing: "I think I love the Avalanche so much because everyone else hates it. But it looks the way a truck should-rough and tough."
We eventually agreed to disagree about the Avalanche's handling and appearance, but the boat metaphor proved to be apt. On the issue of rearward visibility (or lack thereof): "You look back there, and it's like the landing deck of an aircraft carrier, with an abrupt dropoff at the far end. You have no idea what's behind your ship, and the ocean (or the road) is no-where in sight." Not only was the road invisible, but at times whole cars disappeared from both rear- and side-view mirrors when they followed a little too closely. A reverse-parking aid should be standard on all full-size trucks and SUVs; not only would it help avert parking-lot mishaps (yes, we had one), but errant children and stray animals could be saved from unfortunate driveway incidents.
Other than that, the standard equipment list on our Avalanche 1500 4WD was fairly comprehensive, as it should be for a base price of $33,465. Safety and convenience features, such as four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, front- and side-impact air bags for driver and front passenger, Autotrac four-wheel drive, a three-piece rigid cargo cover, and lockable storage boxes integrated into the rear fenders-not to mention the signature Midgate-were all standard. We added six-way power seats with leather trim for $1115, the off-road package for $835, the $653 convenience package, and $395 running boards. With destination charge, the total vehicle price was $37,183.