That's a lot of money for any vehicle, much less a glorified pickup, and it explains the disappointment some felt at climbing inside and being met with what was little more than a standard GM interior. Opined senior editor Eddie Alterman: "For some reason, we seem willing to accept a level of interior quality in trucks that we won't brook in cars. We forgive crappy plastics in a $37,000 Avalanche but not a marginally more expensive Corvette. With trucks accounting for more than 50 percent of the market at last check, doesn't anyone see this as an old way of thinking?" Whether the instrument panel and console looked up to the standards of a $37K vehicle was debatable,
but the interior was nothing if not functional. Cubbyholes and storage bins abounded, with spots for storing wallets, cell phones, notebooks, and soft drinks all within easy reach of the driver. And a luxurious interior perhaps would have been anomalous in a vehicle that turned out to be such a workhorse, because twelve months of hauling, towing, mud running, and various odd jobs resulted in a general griminess that spoke to the working-class roots of all pickups, faux SUV or not.
When staff members needed to move a household, pull out a tree stump, make a run to the dump, or haul landscaping supplies, this big brute was ready. It takes only a couple of minutes to convert the Avalanche to full-truck mode. Simply take off the three bed-cover panels, flip a handle to remove the rear window, and fold down the two rear seats. With a nonskid removable plastic bed liner, the Avalanche is ready to swallow boxes, couches, broken-up concrete, or a gas grill. Chevy's workhorse 285-horsepower, 5.3-liter OHV V-8 proved up to every task, although for those who need more power and towing capability, an 8.1-liter V-8 producing 340 horses is optional. Even Gillies, the Avalanche's most staunch critic, was forced to acknowledge its all-around utility: "For any Brits who wonder why Americans love pickups, my weekend's hauling and dumping would convince 'em."
Also convincing was the Avalanche's reliability. Besides regular oil changes and tire rotations, maintenance amounted to warranty repairs to a broken turn-signal stalk and a malfunctioning taillight. Fender damage from an encounter with a parking-garage pillar set us back $1635.26, a $52.90 wheel-well fascia was damaged during a photo shoot, and an errant stone cracked the windshield. The running cost of $0.13 per mile isn't bad for a vehicle that averaged a paltry 14 mpg. On the other hand, the Avalanche took a huge hit-more than $16,000-in the depreciation department.
Some of the items with which we took issue have been addressed since the delivery of our Four Seasons Avalanche. Chevrolet says the '03 model has "improved brake performance, better pedal feel, and quieter operation." It also comes standard with a WBH (without body hardware) package, which should help to quiet the fashion police. Pricing remains about the same, which is to say dear, although Chevy offered a $4000 rebate in February, perhaps to clear dealer lots for the new WBH models.
After a year, we were pretty happy with this nonconformist truck from Chevrolet, even though it failed to convert the nonbelievers. The revolutionary Midgate is indicative of the sort of innovations that used to distinguish American car companies, and we applaud GM for its forward-thinking take on the pickup truck. Like many good ideas, however, it may prove to be ill timed. With gasoline prices heading toward $2.00 per gallon, dilettante SUV buyers might gravitate toward vehicles with better fuel economy. And hardcore truck users are likely to stick with the tried-and-true full-size pickup, eschewing this odd half-breed. It's a shame, because the Chevrolet Avalanche is arguably the best of both worlds.