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2012 Chevrolet Avalanche Review

2012 Chevrolet Avalanche

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


2012 Chevy Avalanche

2012 Chevy Avalanche

Photo © General Motors
I'm going to miss the Avalanche. The 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche is the last of its kind, as General Motors is discontinuing the pickup/utility after this model year. I grabbed one of the last Avalanches out of the GM press fleet in Los Angeles, and drove it around for a nostalgic week. The 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche LTZ 4WD that I drove had a base price of $50,305 ($53,715 as tested) with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and EPA fuel efficiency estimates of 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway. Let’s drive.

First Glance at the Chevy Avalanche

Avalanche is an odd duck. Both pickup truck and SUV, it is also neither thanks to its unique "Midgate." The Midgate is a door in between the seating cabin and the 63.3" long, 45.5 cubic foot bed. Fold down the Midgate and the second row of seating in the four-door cabin, and it is possible to carry a stack of 4' x 8' plywood with the tailgate closed. The 3-piece hard tonneau cover makes the bed into a lockable trunk space for everyday use. With the Midgate closed, second row in place, the Avalanche's cabin is as roomy and comfortable as the front two rows of a Chevy Tahoe. Pickup truck purists may scoff at the Avalanche, but it just might be the perfect solution for the buyer who only needs pickup capability some of the time.

Because the Avalanche was conceived as this in between vehicle, it looks more balanced than a crew cab/short bed pickup truck, as the bed and cabin are more unified. Thanks to a makeover for 2009, Avalanche is no longer burdened with an excess of exterior plastic. I think it's a strikingly good looking truck with a lot of presence, thanks to design elements that it shares with the Chevy Silverado.

My loaded LTZ test vehicle was equipped with 20" polished aluminum wheels, running boards and assist steps, as well as a chrome grille and luggage rack rails, all standard with the LTZ trim level. The shiny parts added a welcome dose of flash, and made the Blue Granite Metallic paint look even better.

In the Avalanche Driver's Seat

2012 Chevrolet Avalanche

2012 Chevrolet Avalanche

Photo © General Motors
Sitting in the Avalanche driver's seat will feel very familiar to anyone who has driven a full-size Chevy pickup or SUV in the past five years. Avalanche's seat is generous and all-American-sized -- that is to say, broad in the beam. One feature that I've always missed in the GMT900 platform that underlies the current generation of Chevy, GMC and Cadillac full-size trucks and SUVs is a telescopic steering column. Instead, we get a tilt-adjustable wheel and power adjustable foot pedals. Luckily for me, the vehicle fits me perfectly -- but check your fit carefully.

Avalanche has plenty of useful storage in the front cabin, with a big center console that can swallow a laptop computer and a useful glove compartment in front of the passenger seat.

GM's excellent infotainment/navigation system is included with the LTZ trim level, optional on other trims, accessed primarily through a touchscreen display in the center stack. The display is too low in the stack for my taste. I found that I had to take my eyes off the road in order to change settings. Most infotainment commands can be accessed via redundant steering wheel controls, so the longer I drove the Avalanche, the less I had to take my eyes off the road, but it still could be better.

GM's secret weapon, as always, is OnStar. Pushing a button on the rear view mirror puts you in touch with a real live person who can help you find your destination and then download navigation instructions directly to your onboard system. The great thing about OnStar is that you can interact with an advisor while you are on the go -- you don't have to pull over to the side of the road in order to change your destination

On the Road in the Chevy Avalanche

All of the packaging cleverness and good looks wouldn't mean a thing to me if the Avalanche didn't drive so well. It does, though. That GMT900 platform shows its strengths again, one of which is excellent handling. Avalanche is composed and smooth, and more than holds its own on twisting pavement. There's less bouncing and bad behavior from the back of the vehicle than on a Silverado Crew Cab, probably thanks to a more balanced front-to-rear weight distribution and 13.5" shorter wheelbase.

Avalanche is available with just one basic powertrain: A 5.3-liter V8 engine that's tuned to produce 320 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque (figures are slightly higher with E85 fuel), hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission with either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Curb weight is between 5,840 and 5,969 lbs, so this baby is no lightweight, but the power and weight seem very well matched. If you need to tow, Avalanche is ready with 7,900 lbs (4WD) or 8,100 lbs (2WD) capacity, and a payload of 1,263 (4WD) or 1,326 (2WD). A hefty 31.5 gallon fuel tank yields a potential 661.5 mile range -- very impressive.

Avalanche... Journey's End

2012 Chevrolet Avalanche

2012 Chevy Avalanche

Photo © General Motors
Some vehicles go away and you never miss them. Others have a stay that is too short. I'd put Avalanche in the latter category, but the bean counters at General Motors are responsible for the bottom line. After peaking at 93,482 units sold in 2003, Avalanche sales bottomed out in 2009 at 16,432. Sales rebounded a bit in 2011 with 20,088 Avalanches rolling out of dealerships, and this year has been up another 24% or so. But Avalanche is still doomed, at least for 2013 (Dale's note: Chevy seems to be using the same photos for the 2012 Avalanche as it released earlier this year for the last model, the 2013 Black Diamond Edition, which has disappeared from view, at least for now).

If I needed Avalanche's towing and hauling capability, I might try to save some dough by choosing an LS 2WD model (starting at $36,800) or an LT 2WD (starting at $40,195). The $50,305 starting point for a loaded LTZ 4WD gives me a severe case of sticker shock -- I'm way too cheap to pay that much for luxury features in a truck.

I'd also look at the competition -- there isn't really any direct competition for Avalanche, but I'd consider the Honda Ridgeline, I'd also look at the Crew Cab/short bed pickup trucks, and think long and hard about whether or not I would get enough use out of the Midgate, or whether I might not be better served by a bed extender.

I really wish I had the extra money and space to pick up an Avalanche and just park it in my garage with the other odd ducks I would buy. The Subaru BRAT, Dodge Magnum, Chevy El Camino, Ford Ranchero, Volkswagen Pickup and the Amphicar would welcome the Chevy Avalanche to my museum of useful, multipurpose vehicles that never got the chance they deserved.

Disclosure: A review truck was provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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