2011 Chevrolet Avalanche Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
March 8, 2011

The 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche flexes its midsection to show off a versatile Midgate, but you'll notice its luxe features and nicely trimmed cabin, too.

Some GM pickups are defined by ultimate towing capacity or luxurious cabins, while others are hallmarked by their low prices. The Avalanche is related to all of them, but it's completely different thanks to the standout feature that lets it transform from SUV to full-size pickup--the midgate.

With the midgate, it's a simple few steps to swapping interior room for cargo-bed capacity. Lower the Avalanche's rear window, flip some latches and the rear wall of the cockpit folds down, extending the otherwise short pickup bed to near full-size dimensions--while also removing three seating positions from the equation. It's a big trade-off, for sure, but many truck drivers see it as a better fit for everyday driving than a full-time, long-bed, crew-cab truck.

The Avalanche stands out for its flexibility, but the rest of the package gets nods too, for sweet acceleration and handling with real feedback--something not normally found in big pickup trucks. It's also fairly plush in higher trim levels, with a nicely detailed cabin, wide but cozy seats, and of course, the unique talents of the midgate available at a moment's notice.

Review continues below

It's beginning to show its age in small ways, but the Avalanche remains the only choice for shoppers who want a better balance of utility from their pickup truck.

7

2011 Chevrolet Avalanche

Styling

Beneath the blocky, function-driven sheetmetal of the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche lurks an upscale interior.

Since it was introduced in 2002, the Chevrolet Avalanche has been the automotive equivalent of a Transformer, thanks to its flexible cabin and bed that intersect with each other in a clever way when you need more space.

The current Avalanche emerged in 2007, and it's changed very little in terms of styling in the model years since. It's a pickup truck in its side silhouette, but the thick pillars right behind the rear doors are a big clue that the Avalanche has something different baked into its DNA, just like the Honda Ridgeline--which doesn't have the midgate feature of the Chevy. The most distinctive pieces are those pillars, because in this generation, the Avalanche shed the vast expanses of plasticky trim that dominated and cheapened the first-generation truck.

The Avalanche has a nicely brief truck bed, bulging fenders, and a big twin-grille front end that shares genes with the front ends on the latest Malibu and Traverse. And while it looks like a Tahoe from the front, it's nearly as long as a Suburban.

Inside the 'Lanche, the well-conceived six- and five-passenger versions get distinct interiors. The dash is fairly curvy for such a large, utilitarian vehicle; it's quite carlike. In the five-passenger version, there's a wide center console trimmed with woodgrain plastic. Six-person versions have a higher, plainer dash. The door panels echo the fenders, and the gauges are big and clearly laid out, with minimal fuss.

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2011 Chevrolet Avalanche

Performance

The 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche can't hide its bulk, but it does offer decent power and handling for such a large vehicle.

Chevrolet pickups have slimmed down their powertrain offerings in the past few years, and for the 2011 Avalanche, the choice is singular. Order the midgate-equipped pickup and you'll be getting a 5.3-liter V-8, a six-speed automatic, and a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive. Period.

The V-8 is one of GM's best drivetrains, so the lack of drivetrain options isn't a major concern. In this installation, it turns in good, not great, performance figures of 310 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. It's a workhorse of an engine, able, torquey, and pleasant to listen to from the driver's seat, though it can be easy to tax if you load it up with passengers and a trailer. It's also outfitted with cylinder deactivation and flex-fuel capability, which give it a greener tinge than some of the engines from Toyota, Dodge and Nissan. Shifting duties are handled by a great six-speed automatic.

Like its GM truck cohorts, the Avalanche has a capable chassis, with an independent front suspension, well-sorted steering feel and good ride damping. Though the Ram 1500 is still one of the best for ride quality, and Ford's F-150 and its new electronic power steering is zingy, the Avalanche feels predictable and lively, by truck standards. It's bulky for sure, and makes for a tight squeeze in some spots, but it's fairly maneuverable.

Chevy offers a Z71 off-road package that beefs up the running gear for trailblazing; the package brings bigger wheels and tires and a more punishing ride quality.

The Avalanche tows up to 8,100 pounds and hauls up to 1,350 pounds of payload.


    8

    2011 Chevrolet Avalanche

    Comfort & Quality

    The poster child for truck flexibility, the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche flip-flops from six-seater to full-size pickup at the tilt of its midgate.

    The Chevy Avalanche owes much of its great interior space to its cousins, the Tahoe and Silverado, and it shares their comfortable seats front and back, and high-quality look and feel.

    Few folks won't fit in the Avalanche's wide, generously proportioned front seats. The five-passenger versions have rather flat but spacious bucket seats divided by a Hoover Dam of a center console; six-passenger versions are pure bench seat, just like they used to build them. In front or in back, the Avalanche provides soaring headroom, good shoulder and leg room, though the rear seats sit a bit too vertically to be truly comfortable over the longer haul.

    Cellphones, laptops and pop bottles get the same spacious treatment. That large center console also is wide and deep, with room for a netbook inside. The glove box is large, and the door panel pockets are usefully molded to hold large drink bottles. That said, the Avalanche lacks the flat rear floor you'll find in the Ford F-150, and it doesn't have the hideaway storage bins available in the Ram 1500 lineup.

    For a true workhorse, you're probably better served by a Silverado with the long bed. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the sheer usefulness of the Avalanche in most other user cases, though. For anyone with less than contractor-duty needs, the 'Lanche hits the bullseye for flexibility. When the Midgate door--the panel between the cabin and the bed--is in the locked and loaded position, the Avalanche is an SUV with a stubby pickup bed perfect for mulch runs at Lowe's. Lower the glass and release the midgate, and the Avalanche's bed grows into the cabin, lengthening it from 5' 3" to 8' 2", giving it something more akin to full-size pickup capacity. There's very little downside to the arrangement so long as you call it temporary, since the cabin's open to the elements from the moment you pop the midgate's latches. For more secure storage, the Avalanche's rear fenders have locking bins, but there's no real place for tools to live--another dividing line between full-size, full-time duty and the kind of weekend duty the Avalanche really excels at.

    Like GM's other pickups, the Avalanche got serious about comfort and quality when it was redesigned four model years ago. The interior's still loaded with plastic, but it's of the high-quality kind, and it's put together with more care than you might see in the basic work-truck versions of the Silverado. Big gauges and buttons are glove-friendly, and the Avalanche only lets in lots of noise when the midgate is lowered.

    8

    2011 Chevrolet Avalanche

    Safety

    Visibility isn't the best, but the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche overcomes it with cameras and sensors; overall safety is highly rated.

    Though safety ratings are in from just one of two major crash-test agencies, the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche can rely on lots of features and a strong history for its high safety score here.

    Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have changed the way they score vehicles for crash safety this year. The IIHS has rated the Avalanche based on its new criteria, and it's given the truck fairly high marks: it earns a "good" rating for front-impact protection, with an "acceptable" score for side-impact protection.

    However, the NHTSA hasn't yet given a number to the Avalanche. In the past it's earned mostly four and five stars, and it's closely related to the four-door Chevy Silverado pickup, which earns an overall rating of five stars for 2011.

    Adding to the safety narrative is a long list of features, including front, side, and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; and stability and traction control. The Avalanche's stability control includes rollover mitigation, and the truck also comes with basic OnStar hardware that notifies 911 in case of an accident.

    Safety options on the 2011 Avalanche include a rearview camera and rear parking sensors; a blind-spot warning system; and an integrated brake controller for towing systems. The camera and sensors are recommended, since the truck's high haunches can make rearward visibility a major issue in parking lots.

    9

    2011 Chevrolet Avalanche

    Features

    The 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche has luxurious features like SUVs, with some truck pieces that give it great flexibility.

    It hasn't changed much for the new model year, but the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche really didn't need to--it's offered some seriously upscale options since it was introduced a few years ago.

    The basic Avalanche, the LS, is intended more for the work crowd though it's quite nicely outfitted. It has standard power windows, locks and mirrors; keyless entry; a power driver seat; an AM/FM/XM/CD player with MP3 capability; a USB port; and steering-wheel audio controls. LT and LTZ features add on some more luxury features from a list including a navigation system; Bluetooth; Bose audio; leather seats; power-adjustable pedals; remote start; and ventilation for the front seats.

    A specific Z71 package loads up the Avalanche for off-roading, with recovery hooks, fog lamps, and distinctive trim.

    All Avalanches get the Midgate that expands the pickup bed into the cabin, and all get a three-piece locking cargo cover, nonslip bed mats, and a locking compartment in each rear fender.

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    2011 Chevrolet Avalanche

    Fuel Economy

    A lighter appetite for fuel makes the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche a little greener than its competition.

    For its size and capabilities, the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche is one of the more miserly big pickup trucks.

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the latest 'Lanche earns a competitive 15/21 mpg rating. The latest F-150s can score a bit better on the highway side, when outfitted with roughly competitive powertrains, but the Ram 1500 and Toyota Tundra both lag behind the Avalanche, even in short-bed versions.

    Chevrolet hasn't announced any plans to add diesel or hybrid technology to the Avalanche, though both drivetrain options exist within its truck lineup.
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    7.8
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    Styling 7.0
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    Comfort & Quality 8.0
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    Features 9.0
    Fuel Economy 6.0
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