Nearly every family has one - the one misfit character who dances to the beat of his own drummer - you know, the middle brother who has embraced the Goth look with white face makeup, black nail polish and lipstick, a monochromatic black wardrobe, and angry speed-metal. But, more often than not, the misfit sibling grows out of their "weird" stage and becomes somewhat more mainstream. Maybe they still have a few unique quirks but by external appearances are relatively "normal."
Now in its second generation, Chevy's Avalanche has undergone a similar transformation. The first-generation resembled a homely lovechild between a Pontiac Aztek and a Silverado Crew Cab. Panned by the critics for the liberal use of plastic cladding, Chevy later offered a "bare" version of the Avalanche with unadorned fenders and doors halfway through its production cycle. For the newest version, Chevy has almost completely abandoned the compulsion to make the Avalanche a stylistic standout, for better or for worse. The overall lines closely resemble the new Tahoe and Suburban. The flying buttress C-pillar supports remain, but for all intents and purposes, the new model looks like a Suburban with its back half chopped off.
The LTZ package includes all...
The LTZ package includes all the up-level amenities. The navigation and rear entertainment unit are stand-alone options but were included in our test vehicle.
Our tester was the fully decked-out LTZ trim level, meaning it had leather, navigation, XM, a DVD player, memory seats, power adjustable pedals, and just about every other item that could conceivably be checked on the options sheet. Equipped as such, it rolls off the showroom floor for a hefty $47,730. But, the case could be made that you're really getting two vehicles in one: stretched-out five-passenger SUV comfort and longbed cargo utility, without the Titanic-like length of a conventional longbed Crew Cab. In terms of noise, vibration, and harshness, not only is the new Avalanche a giant leap forward from its predecessor, it's also subjectively the most refined of the new GMT-900 SUVs. A lot of bystanders asked, "Doesn't it leak or have a lot of wind noise?" It seems GM's experience in refining the Avalanche's formula has paid off in a tight and rattle-free design. With the midgate closed, there is nary a squeak, rattle, or whistle to be heard. Even with the midgate wide-open, hauling a 4x8-foot sheet of plywood, the cabin is still remarkably isolated from road and wind noise.
Road, engine, and exhaust noise are also more muted than in the Tahoe, Yukon, and even the Escalade. Interestingly, the Avalanche, and its first cousin, the Escalade EXT, are assembled south of the border in Silao, Mexico, whereas the short and long-wheelbase conventional SUV derivatives are bolted together in Arlington, Texas. It appears "Made in Mexico" is no longer the stigma it once was. The other GMT-900 SUVs we've tested also had ever-so-subtle interior squeaks, rattles, and second-order harmonics. The Avalanche did not exhibit any such symptoms. Whether we got a particularly well-assembled example, or the Mexican plant has raised the bar for assembly quality, we don't know, but we sure came away impressed with our tester.
At first glance, the design and function of the midgate concept seems hopelessly clunky. The bed is covered by three hard plastic tonneau panels that have to be individually removed to open up the bed area. The rear window must be manually removed and stowed on the backside of the midgate. With GM's power-folding second-row seats on the SUVs, it's surprising the Avalanche doesn't employ more automation with its cargo stowage system. However, upon closer examination, it's evident why GM stuck with its simple, manual modular system. Because the midgate can be lowered independently of the rear glass, the Avalanche allows for a completely enclosed cargo area with the midgate down and the bed panels in place. If the rear window simply lowered into the midgate, this functionality wouldn't be available. And as cool as a roll-top power tonneau would be, the mechanism would probably take up more room and add more complication than it would realistically add to utility and functionality. So, even though the cargo system requires a certain amount of fiddling, it still gets an A for overall versatility.
With the midgate folded down,...
With the midgate folded down, the Avalanche will accommodate the proverbial 4x8-foot sheet of plywood.
The midgate can either be...
The midgate can either be folded with the rear window...or independently of the rear window. With the tonneau panels in place, this creates a fully enclosed 8-foot-long cargo compartment.