2009 Chevrolet Avalanche Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
March 13, 2009

By offering the best of both worlds, the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche makes choosing between a truck and an SUV a heck of a lot easier.

TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven the Chevrolet Avalanche in order to give you an expert opinion, and to provide the most conclusive review for truck shoppers, TheCarConnection.com has researched available road tests relevant to the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche.

Since its introduction in 2002, the Chevrolet Avalanche has won over tens of thousands of consumers with its ability to adapt. As an SUV with the Midgate closed and the rear seat up, the Avalanche can comfortably transport six people, and as a truck with the Midgate folded, the Avalanche’s truck bed grows in length from 5'3" to 8'2". The Avalanche is, without a doubt, the most flexible SUV on the market.

Based on the Chevrolet Suburban and sharing many common parts as well as the same wheelbase dimensions—and very closely related to the Cadillac Escalade EXT—the unique SUV/truck hybrid is defined by its unique Midgate and the one trick it performs. Like the rest of GM’s light-duty pickups, the Avalanche was comprehensively retooled for the 2007 model year, and it’s seen only minor changes since then.

A new transmission is the biggest news for the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche this year; replacing the old four-speed transmission is a new six-speed Hydra-Matic 6L80 automatic transmission. The new transmission improves fuel economy because the two additional gears allow the engine to operate at lower rpm when traveling at freeway speeds. The lower engine speed also contributes to reduced engine noise.

Review continues below

The 2008 Chevrolet Avalanche is available in LS, LT, and LTZ models and with either rear- or-four-wheel drive. The standard engine is a 320-horsepower 5.3-liter V-8 with Active Fuel Management, which deactivates half of the engine’s cylinders when cruising or coasting. A 6.0-liter, 366-horsepower V-8 is available; it also has the system to reduce fuel consumption. But the 6.0-liter engine still brings a significant fuel-economy penalty; the 5.3-liter has ratings of up to 14 mpg city, 20 highway, but with the 6.0-liter that drops to 12 mpg city, 17 highway.

The 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche shares its interior with the Chevy Silverado pickup and Tahoe SUV, and the experts at TheCarConnection.com like these trucks. Their comfort and controls are first-rate and simple to use. If you haven't been in this newest generation of GM light-duty truck, you owe it a look. With the exception of a couple of cheap bits here and there, you'll find little to gripe about. Seats are generously proportioned in front especially, and there’s plenty of space in back for adults. Some drivers will opt for the optional rear camera system, though, as rearward vision can be obscured.

The Avalanche offers more technology features than most buyers might expect, which is also the case with GM’s other full-size trucks. Rear park assist, DVD navigation, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with an eight-inch screen are all on the options list, and the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche includes Bluetooth wireless phone connectivity with steering-wheel controls.

The Avalanche comes with most of the safety features that buyers look for, including head-curtain side airbags, anti-lock brakes, and StabiliTrak electronic stability. For more reassurance, the Avalanche earns top five-star ratings in federal frontal and side impact crash tests. There’s also an optional integrated brake controller system, which provides immediate and measured brake force signaling to electric-controlled trailer brake systems.

Hard-core Avalanche users in the back country will want to go for the heavy-duty Z71 Off-Road package, which features larger recovery hook openings; larger, more prominent fog lamps; and specific grille texture and platinum chrome grille trim. Also, those with bigger budgets will want to take a look at the top-of-the-line LTZ, which packs on the enhancements to a level that’s comparable with GMC’s Denali models, bringing a Centerpoint Surround Sound Bose speaker system, heated and cooled 12-way power memory seats with perforated leather-trimmed seating surfaces, and a dressed-up appearance.

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2009 Chevrolet Avalanche

Styling

Inside the unique exterior styling of the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche lurks an upscale interior.
 

Cadillac builds a similar vehicle to the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche (the Escalade EXT), but the Avalanche is the original transformer and it keeps getting better. Turning it from a short-bed pickup to a sort of long-bed with a partial roof covering is a simple process of flipping down its Midgate to extend its pickup bed inside the cabin.

Edmunds praises the “sleeker exterior styling” in this generation. “The previous Avalanche's body cladding is gone, replaced with integrated rocker panels and bumpers,” Cars.com says. “Key elements of the previous model remain—namely the triangular pillars descending from the cab's C-pillars to its bed.” Kelley Blue Book notes that the Chevrolet Avalanche 2009's "monochromatic exterior features wraparound fascias that eliminate bumper-to-body gaps," adding that a "sleek windshield angle extends into a smoother roofline, the front air dam is low and wide and prominent fenders with integrated wheel flares complement the bulging power-dome hood." Cars.com contends the Chevrolet Avalanche 2009 "closely resembles the 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe up front, though with an overall length of 221 inches it's nearly as long as Chevrolet's full-size Suburban SUV." ForbesAutos deftly describes the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche as "a cross between a full-size SUV and a full-size pickup truck,” while Edmunds comments favorably on the 2009 Chevy Avalanche's "versatile Midgate-based body style.”

Reviewers generally like the interior of the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche, but not all are that descriptive as to why. ForbesAutos simply reports that the 2009 Chevy Avalanche's "nice two-tone interior is crafted from high-quality materials," and Car and Driver pays a halfhearted compliment to the “decent interior.” Cars.com is more specific, noting that the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche takes "interior styling cues [that] echo the Tahoe and Suburban, with a curvaceous dashboard.” They add, “Gone are the boxy dashboard and chintzy controls from the previous version, replaced by a carlike environment that's far beyond GM's previous interiors—and even beyond the current Toyota Sequoia, for that matter.”

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2009 Chevrolet Avalanche

Performance

The 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche performs well, with great towing capability, but it still drives like the large truck that it is.

The fuel efficiency of the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche could be better, but it does combine a significant amount of power with agile handling.

In terms of handling, Kelley Blue Book quips, "piloting an Avalanche through crowded urban streets is no picnic because of the vehicle's bulk, though maneuverability is better than some might expect." Edmunds observes that while "the Avalanche is certainly no sports car around corners, it deals with them in a competent, predictable manner while delivering a quiet and comfortably controlled ride on the highway." The 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche handles well because of a "revised suspension [that] provides a comfortable ride and more precise handling," according to ForbesAutos, allowing that the truck "may be too large for some motorists (or garages) to handle." Car and Driver acknowledges that the Avalanche is "big and hard to maneuver, [but] for a monster truck, the Avalanche drives pretty well, with good steering and brake-pedal feel."

ConsumerGuide says that "acceleration with the 5.3-liter V8 is good around town," but remarks that the 2009 Chevy Avalanche has only "adequate highway passing power." Cars.com says, “The 5.3-liter V-8 produces adequate acceleration around town, and it's whisper-quiet.” Car and Driver calls the Avalanche “not quick.” Edmunds begs to differ, however: "despite its considerable size and heft, the 2009 Chevy Avalanche is relatively quick, even when equipped with the standard 5.3-liter V-8." Edmunds acknowledges, "acceleration and fuel economy begin to suffer when the truck is loaded down with passengers or cargo." Towing power is impressive, rated at well over four tons. The available 6.0-liter, 366-horsepower V-8 also shuts off cylinders under low engine loads to reduce fuel consumption.

As mentioned, the 2009 Chevy Avalanche isn’t the most fuel-efficient SUV. Cars.com points out "all three engines feature cylinder deactivation, which automatically shuts down four cylinders during low-load driving situations like highway cruising." Nonetheless, "the Avalanche is not frugal, even with the Active Fuel Management System," according to Kelley Blue Book. The EPA reports 14 mpg city and 20 highway for the 5.3-liter V-8 and 12/17 mpg for the 6.0-liter engine.

Two- and four-wheel-drive drivetrains are available with the Avalanche. A heavy-duty Z71 Off-Road package is optional and features larger recovery hook openings; larger, more prominent fog lamps; and specific grille texture and platinum chrome grille trim. Eighteen-inch wheels and tires are also part of the package.

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2009 Chevrolet Avalanche

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche offers comfort for up to six and has impressive interior quality.

Because of its Midgate, the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche offers a fair amount of versatility, and despite a limited bed, there’s ample storage space.

Kelley Blue Book notes, "true pickup-truck fans might shun the Avalanche's relatively short cargo bed and SUV foundation, but the Midgate gives it a degree of versatility that's absent from traditional pickups." Car and Driver raves about "cargo flexibility" in the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche, noting "this truck has GM's innovative Midgate feature, which allows pass-through capability between the cargo box and the cabin, vastly increasing versatility."

Cars.com says Chevrolet Avalanche 2009 rear seats "can fold to extend the cargo bed, but once the Midgate is down there is no partition separating the driver and front passenger from the elements." They also report that the "Avalanche's bed measures 5.3 feet long and has 45.5 cubic feet of volume—roughly equal to a four-door Dodge Dakota Club Cab." Car and Driver comments that there's "not much people space" inside the 2009 Chevy Avalanche. Cars.com states that "two rows provide seats for up to six occupants," however. Edmunds reports that the "more common front bucket-seat arrangement seats five, but the [2009 Chevy] Avalanche can accommodate up to six occupants when equipped with the split-bench front seat."

ConsumerGuide says the 2009 Chevy Avalanche is "trimmed mostly with hard plastic, but many surfaces are textured, lending an upscale appearance," and notes that "gauges are large and easy to read...the climate controls are mounted slightly low but are no trouble to reach." According to Edmunds, the interior is "constructed of high-quality materials, the cabin features straightforward ergonomics and top-notch fit and finish."

ConsumerGuide also reports that while there is "noticeable highway-speed wind rush and tire rumble...bump noise is well-suppressed, [and] engine whine intrudes only in rapid acceleration." They assert that "the Avalanche rides surprisingly well for a large pickup truck. It betrays its design with only mild bounding over large bumps."

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2009 Chevrolet Avalanche

Safety

The 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche performs exceptionally well in crash tests, but it has some visibility issues.

In addition to its great safety scores, the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche carries a long list of standard safety features.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not performed tests on the 2009 Avalanche, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Avalanche five out of five stars for front and side-impact protection. It did not do as well, receiving only three stars, in rollover resistance tests, though that can be expected for a rather tall truck.

According to Edmunds, the Chevrolet Avalanche 2009's "rollover mitigation feature senses impending rollovers and can apply individual brakes in an attempt to stop them." In addition, the 2009 Chevy Avalanche is equipped with "GM's OnStar emergency communications system." Cars.com reports that "curtain airbags are now standard," as well as "all-disc antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with rollover mitigation."

Visibility is one area where the 2009 Chevy Avalanche doesn’t shine. ConsumerGuide notes "the tall tail restricts vision directly aft." While the 2009 Chevy Avalanche "rear obstacle detection and rearview camera are helpful...the camera distorts distances, compromising its usefulness." Edmunds reports that the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche's "large size and rear-quarter blind spots hinder maneuverability in tight spots."

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2009 Chevrolet Avalanche

Features

In addition to its cargo-versatility features, the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche comes well equipped with the features luxury SUV buyers like.

Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, you can accessorize the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche nicely.

In addition to the innovative Midgate setup, which allows you to expand the pickup bed into the cabin when needed, the bed itself has some features worth mentioning. “The bed offers a non-slip mat that even held bags of ice in place. Each rear fender incorporates a lockable compartment, accessible from the top,” Cars.com reports. “A three-piece cargo cover is standard, though it's difficult to remove and even harder to stow.”

According to Edmunds, "there are two main trim levels; LS and LT, plus a premium line-topping LTZ package." Cars.com reports that "three trim levels are available: base LS, LT and top-of-the-line LTZ," and notes “all Avalanches come well-equipped with power windows, power door locks and keyless entry, as well as a power driver's seat and steering-wheel audio controls.”

Edmunds also suggests that the Chevrolet Avalanche 2009 "LT is generally more desirable because it's upgradeable with additional extras for those who want more than an entry-level vehicle" than a base 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche.

The Cars.com reviewer mentions such options as a navigation system, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and heated seats. TheCarConnection.com notes that other highlights of the options list include power-adjustable pedals, a remote start system, and Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist.

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8.0
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 9.0
Features 9.0
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