Engaging Avalanche comes with 'if onlys'
Chevrolet Avalanche, a version of the reengineered full-size pickups and
SUVs that General Motors began selling late last year, has a remarkably
engaging driving persona and could be a terrific truck.
If the back seat had more room. And the front seats were more comfortable.
And the fuel economy were better.
And if the price for a deluxe version - the one with the stuff you want -
weren't creeping so close to $50,000.
Despite those drawbacks, Avalanche has its allure:
.It no longer looks ugly. The redesign that it shares with all of GM's
full-size trucks for 2007 helps greatly. Plus, Chevy discontinued the
grotesque side cladding.
.It's clever, as always. The modified cargo box has deep, covered side
compartments that will hold a lot of beverage containers, some groceries or
truck supplies, such as spare oil. They have drains, so you can fill them
with ice and use them as coolers. The three-piece hard tonneau cover seals
the cargo box, making it useful as an enormous trunk.
The signature feature - movable passenger-compartment rear bulkhead - allows
Avalanche to be used for five or six passengers with short box (5 feet, 4
inches) or two or three passengers with long box (8 feet, 2 inches).
.It's a new GM truck. That means it has a premium interior; smooth ride;
agile handling, especially for its size; and optional and standard features
desirable enough that they can tempt you to overlook drawbacks. For
instance: GM's 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. OnStar emergency calling
system. Remote-control engine start. Easy-to-program driver information
center. Smooth, powerful V-8 engine. Easy-to-use four-wheel drive.
That smooth ride largely is because Avalanche is based on the new GM SUVs,
which use comfort-oriented coil springs on the rear suspension, rather than
the pickups' leaf springs.
.Four-speed automatic transmission. Cadillac and some GMC trucks have
six-speed boxes, which typically boost fuel economy 5% or more vs.
four-speeds. "Over the next couple of years, you'll see us switch all our
four-speeds to six-speeds as we get more availability," says Carl
Hillenbrand, product manager for the Chevy Silverado pickup, formerly of
.Rear visibility. The tall tailgate and cargo box block vision, so the $250
rearview camera is almost mandatory. But you can get the camera only if you
get thousands of dollars in other options.
.Front seats. Too much lumbar bump. You can't retract it fully as you can in
some rival trucks.
.Fuel economy. No better than any other big truck, 12 or 13 mpg around town,
despite GM's "active fuel-management" feature. Cylinder cutoff, it's called
generically. It shuts off half the cylinders when they're not needed for
smoothness or power.
.Head restraints. None for the middle rear rider, a potential safety hazard.
On the other hand, the safety belt for that slot is mounted to the back of
the seat, positioning it low for a youngster in a booster seat.
.Back-seat room. Too little, despite the generous 39 inches of legroom GM
It's a fair bet that if you buy an Avalanche, you plan it as a family
vehicle, with lots of back-seat room so the kids have squirm-and-sprawl
space. You don't get it in any of the new GM trucks.
In comparison, specification sheets show the back seat of a 2007 Toyota
Tundra CrewMax pickup has 5 inches more back-seat legroom than Avalanche.
Hillenbrand argues that there's plenty of room in Avalanche's back seat. He
says some drivers might compromise it, though, by sliding the front
especially far back: "The front seat has 2 more inches of travel, for tall
drivers. We changed it at the request of our tall customers, of whom (GM
CEO) Rick Wagoner is one." Wagoner is 6 feet, 4 inches.
Still, Hillenbrand acknowledges, "We have been talking about the room in the
rear of the Tundra (CrewMax) and are thinking about what that might mean for
our future designs."
That rear-seat issue is a heartbreaker, because Avalanche and the rest of
the new GM trucks are otherwise remarkably nice to drive and use.
I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.
- Margaret Thatcher
Click to see the full signature.