2011 Chevrolet Avalanche Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

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.

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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.

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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 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 Avalanche's bulk makes piloting it through crowded urban areas no picnic, though it's more maneuverable than some would 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 and Cars.com points the Chevy is far from frugal. During EPA testing, the 5.3-liter V-8 achieved 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, while the 6.0-liter V-8 saw those numbers dip to 12 and 17 mpg, respectively.

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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2011 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 provides 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 the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche's 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 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 "two rows provide seats for up to six occupants," however. Edmunds reports 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 "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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2011 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 the 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche's "large size and rear-quarter blind spots hinder maneuverability in tight spots."

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2011 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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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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