2008 Avalanche 1500 New Car Test Drive
The Chevy Avalanche is a truck, and it's a big truck. In fact, the Avalanche is just an inch shorter than a Chevy Suburban. (To be precise, it's 1.1 inches shorter.) The Avalanche rides on the GMT900 platform, meaning it shares its basic structure with the Suburban, Tahoe, Silverado and other full-size GM pickups and SUVs. The current Avalanche doesn't look as massive the first-generation (2002-2006) models did, even when they were ordered without the side cladding. But in practical terms, the new Avalanche is just as big as the previous-generation models. (To be exact, the new one is 0.4 inches shorter.)
Compared with pre-2007 models, the current Avalanche features significant styling changes, though many are subtle. A fresh face brightens the front end. Thick, horizontal lines emphasizing the substantial girth remain, but are now integrated well with the body-colored grille and headlight surrounds. Lighting elements share space in single units, replacing the previous model's bifurcated assemblages. A bold bow-tie icon graces the grille crossbar. A high-relief lower fascia houses tow hooks and tries to look like the leading edge of a skid plate (although you'll have to order the Z71 package to get the real thing).
The side aspect is mightily spruced up, with a faster, more laid-back windshield leading to smooth, gracefully sculpted flanks topped by understated, flush-mounted windows. Gaps between body panels are tight. Full-round door handles accommodate gloved hands. Squarish wheel wells look under-filled, even with the optional 20-inch wheels. Essential as the signature feature of the Avalanche are the angular flying buttresses connecting the roofline to the prominent plastic bed cover; and the only design cue that clashes with the sleeker look of the new model.
The tailgate presents a more traditional pickup look than that of the previous models. It's less stylized, with bumper and release assembly now painted body color. That assembly also now functions as a base for the optional rearview camera. Chevy says this can help a solo driver hitch up a trailer; we haven't tested this yet, but it could save a lot of trial and error. We have used the rearview camera for parallel parking and other maneuvers in tight quarters and can attest to its value. This system is not a gadget. It speeds parking and maneuvering and can help alert the driver to the presence of a child or adult behind the truck. The tailgate is now spring loaded to lighten its perceived weight, but it still seemed heavier than its counter-sprung counterparts on the Ford F-150 and the new Toyota Tundra.
The interior of the new-generation Avalanche breaks with Chevy tradition much more than the exterior does. The new cabin marks a watershed in ease of use, not to mention ease on the eye.
Following a pattern established in the new Tahoe and Suburban, the interior designers slashed several inches from the top of the dash, rounded it off and smoothed it out, effectively pushing it down and away from the front seat occupants. Everything about the dash and instrument cluster is leaner, cleaner and, dare we say it, more like a car's. A large, round tachometer and matching speedometer dominate the gauge cluster, complemented by four smaller dials reporting information vital to the operation of a truck capable of hauling heavy loads or pulling large trailers or transporting as many as six occupants.
All of the instrument pointers have been made brighter for 2008.
The new center stack houses controls for stereo and climate management, two power points, and buttons for optional features such as the power adjustable pedals. Models with bucket seats have a center console with a large, open storage bin outfitted with a removable dual cup holder. Aft of this is an equally large, but not especially deep storage compartment beneath a padded, hinged cover that doubles as a center armrest.
For 2008, the standard 40/20/40 front bench seat incorporates some storage in its center section as well. The glove box isn't as expansive as it looks when closed. Front door panels have hard-plastic fixed map pockets with molded-in can holders.
Locating the shoulder belt anchor from the outboard side of the seatback to the B-pillar allowed a slimmer, lighter and more secure seat assembly, and we appreciated that. We thought the bucket seats could use more thigh support, however, and they felt more bench-like than sporty.
The rear seats offer adequate and decently contoured space for adults, even those a few inches taller than six feet. The rear seatbacks don't recline, nor do they fold all the way flat with the head restraints in place, unless, that is, the front seats are moved almost all the way forward on their tracks.
The fit and finish impressed us. Tolerances between panels were tight. The wood grain trim didn't quite pass the authenticity test, but it added at least a hint of upscale. The optional leather upholstery and other materials favored durability over luxury without looking or feeling cheap.
Outward visibility is about what's expected from a full-size pickup. On the Avalanche, the hood drops away fairly steeply from the base of the windshield. The flying buttresses hamper quick lane checks, although the large outside mirrors compensate somewhat. When deployed, the roof-mounted, rear seat video screen for the optional entertainment system pretty much fills the middle portion of the inside rearview mirror.
In all but one measure, those aforementioned five or six occupants enjoy as much if not more room in the current Avalanche as in 2006 and earlier models. Front seat hiproom, for instance, has grown by more than two inches, rear seat headroom by more than an inch. Rear seat hiproom dropped by an infinitesimal two-tenths of an inch. It's like sitting in the first two rows of a Chevy Tahoe. In leg and headroom, the new Avalanche equals or marginally betters the interior dimensions of the most comparably configured competition, the Ford F-150 SuperCrew shortbed; although the Ford scores nearly an inch and a half more rear-seat hip room.
The Midgate is what separates the Avalanche from other pickups. With the Midgate and bed cover in place, you have a four-door truck with a huge, lockable trunk. Fold the seats down and the trunk gets even bigger. Lift off the bed covers, fold the seats back up, and it's a pickup with a short bed. Think of it as a Chevy Tahoe with a short pickup bed. Finally, fold those rear seats and the Midgate and remove and stow the back window and bed cover, and it's.