– Strong enough engine
– Decent ride quality
– Tons of cargo capacity
– Needs better cabin materials
– Awful legroom management
– Way too big and hungry
It is rather apt that our latest Chevy test vehicle is called the Avalanche. It is so big and brutish that sensible folks run to avoid its charge. This region is known for pedestrians who stroll across roads even when cars are coming up fast, but the Avalanche Z71 makes them jump out of its way even when cruising slowly. That is about the only realistic reason why anyone would buy one of these trucks.
The latest Avalanche looks exactly like the Suburban up till the rear doors. Beyond that it transforms into a semi-pickup-thingy with a covered bed, giving it a bit of a unique look, although a few bystanders still eyed us as if we were commercial truckers. And it is very, very long.
Inside, we were greeted with exactly the same interior that we encountered in our previous Chevy Tahoe tester, only this time sporting a two-tone look. But the orange-and-black treatment in our tester only extends to the doors and faux-leather seats. The dashboard has the usual upscale look, with its leather-look hard plastics and metal-look panels, but knocking on it reveals hollowness underneath. The door panels have rather hard “soft-touch” plastics, but it is a step in the right direction. Build quality is solid but fitment is average, and we really didn’t like the exposed wiring under the power-adjustable front seats.
Space management is rather lopsided. For example, rear legroom is pretty decent, but front legroom feels a bit tight. The front passenger gets the worst seat in the house, with the tight footwell cut in half by the dealer-mounted fire-extinguisher on the floor, basically leaving flat space for just one of your feet. Headroom and width is excellent of course, and the rubber-floored luggage area out back is seriously huge. The cargo cover comes off in three pieces, and the rear window piece is apparently removable to extend the luggage floor into the cabin, after folding down the rear seat. Too bad the loading floor is so high up and the tailgate is so heavy for us average-sized folks. But there are numerous sizeable storage spaces inside the cabin, and enough cup-holders too.
The Bose stereo sounds average, probably due to limited spaces for speakers, but it includes an in-dash CD changer and wheel-mounted buttons. Our tester came with a roof-mounted DVD screen for rear passengers. The automatic a/c took a good while to cool during our March afternoon drives, even with rear vents. Every other common electrically-operated feature is there, including windows, mirrors, sunroof, keyless remote and cruise control. Safety includes front, side and curtain airbags, as well as stability control and ABS.
Powered by the tried-and-tested 5.3-litre V8 that we last abused in a Tahoe, its 310 hp at 5200 rpm and 454 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm offer adequate on-road performance. We garnered a 0-to-100 kph time of 10.3 seconds with the traction control on, and 8.9 seconds after turning off the electronic nannies. More importantly, it went from 100 kph to 140 kph in 7.6 seconds, which makes it much quicker than, say, a Toyota Corolla when it comes to torque-fuelled highway overtaking. It also turned out to be quicker than our Tahoe tester, but that test was in the summer, while this one was done closer to winter. With cylinder deactivation technology transforming the engine from a V8 to a V4 during cruising, we managed an unremarkable petrol-burn of 18.9 litres per 100 km, even with lots of cross-country driving. But a “Flexfuel” badge on its tail reveals that it can also run on an E85 ethanol-petrol mix, which is absolutely irrelevant in this region.
The 2638 kg Avalanche certainly feels enormous on some of the tighter city streets. Parallel parking this boat is a headache, especially since the view out the rear simply consists of open sky and no ground. Depending on rear sensors and the ability to climb footpaths, the Avalanche will eventually slide into a space, but it will still stick out of the lines in perpendicular spaces due to its length. And when you want to drive off, you have to search for the parking brake lever down under the dashboard somewhere. Thankfully, the steering is soft and the turning circle is surprisingly tight, so shopping-mall lots are somewhat bearable.
Out on faster roads, the Avalanche Z71 is a decently-comfortable straight-line cruiser and a lumbering oaf around corners. Bumps are soaked up reasonably well, although the suspension wallows when going over big dips. Wind and road noise reaches only moderate levels at 120 kph. In an interesting exercise, we took the Avalanche up and down a twisty mountain road, which exaggerated the excessive body roll seen on city roads, but it is ultimately controllable with smoother driving inputs, thereby making full use of the limited grip from the 265/65 tyres worn by the 18-inch rims. But with vague steering feel, soft brake-pedal feedback, delayed throttle response and a column-mounted 4-speed automatic shifter, this is not a truck to be hustled — especially since it takes a while for the truck to come to a halt under braking.
But supporters will argue that the Avalanche is built to climb that mountain without the use of a road, and they would be largely right. The Z71 off-road package adds tuned springs and shocks, heavier-duty automatic-locking rear diff, aggressive tyres, a skid-plate package and a high-capacity air filter, besides the unique front bumper and wheels. With selectable all-wheel-drive and low-range gearing, there is certainly no shortage of accessible power delivery in the soft stuff, and the ground clearance is pretty good too. The issue is with the long wheelbase that could see it get beached on top of a dune. Jump over the peak too quickly in order to avoid this, and the all-plastic front bumper might hit the base of the peak as you fly down fast. So potential owners should, like us, simply avoid anything too challenging.
But it is a bit obvious that the Avalanche Z71 will appeal to the bling crowd more than hardcore off-road enthusiasts. With its excessive size, above-average off-road ability, below-average on-road handling, and more cargo capacity than passenger room, the Avalanche has a niche market for those who don’t need the homely qualities of a Suburban.
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