Chevrolet Avalanche — Big man in town

By Al Vinikour

Years ago Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons had a hit record entitled Big Man in Town. This came to mind when I recently tested a 2013 Chevrolet Avalanche. Like many of my relatives it was BIG!

Ask anyone and they would describe it as a truck. However, never one to avoid controversy, GM’s premier division describes it as having “the passenger comfort of an SUV with the cargo capability of a truck.” This is primarily thanks to its exclusive Midgate that opens to extend the cargo-area from five feet, three inches to eight feet, two inches. Sort of like David Banner being transformed into The Incredible Hulk.

Avalanche was first introduced in 2001 as a 2002 model. Motor Trend named it the 2002 Truck of the Year and during 2003, its third full year of production, sales reached 93,482 units; sales for the 2011 model year barely squeezed out 20,000. In April of 2012, however, General Motors announced it would cease production of Avalanche and its upscale sibling Cadillac Escalade at the end of the 2013 model year.

With the clarity of hindsight it would not surprise me if later in the decade one sees this behemoth as a collector’s item.

The 2013 Avalanche is commemorated with the Black Diamond Avalanche and is available in three models: LS, LT and LTZ. All three can be equipped with FWD or 4WD. It features body-color bed surrounds, a unique badge on the sail panel of every vehicle produced, additional features on LS and LT models and lower prices across the lineup. 

The Avalanche is based on GM’s full-size SUV platform and offers a maximum towing capacity of 8,100 pounds. It makes an excellent work vehicle AND lifestyle vehicle. With its rear seat up and the Midgate closed the Avalanche has room for up to six passengers.

To maximize storage capability the rear seat must be folded. Rear-seat legroom is a plentiful 39.1 inches. Thank heavens its standard equipment includes assist steps (running board for all of us old-timers) and grip handles so that expands the demographics beyond Special Forces personnel. Ground clearance is a minimum 9.1”. Once “atop the mountain” the Avalanche offers a very inviting cabin.

There is almost no exposed metal hardware or latches. Avalanche also has the segment’s largest center console storage bin, a large glove box and numerous storage compartments.

Once inside it’s like sitting in a very large passenger vehicle and it can be equipped like one as well.

Standard or available interior features include perforated leather seating with heated and cooled driver and front passenger seats, heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear-seat entertainment system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, a choice of Bose Centerpoint Surround Systems, Navigation radio with touch-screen operation, remote vehicle starter, power adjustable pedals and a host of others. All the technologies are user-friendly. Instrumentation is large and legible…just the way I like ‘em.

At the heart of the 2013 Avalanche is its 5.3L V-8 that’s also E85-capable. It produces 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. It’s coupled to a six-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. Standard rear-end ratio is 3.08 but with a trailer-towing package it comes with a 3.42 axle ratio.

Fuel economy estimate is 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway. Avalanche rests on a variety of wheel sizes ranging from 17-inch to 20-inch. 22-inch wheels can be dealer-installed.

Curb weight of this beast is 5,705 pounds (2WD) or 5,803 pounds (4WD). One major thing I noted is that the Avalanche does not ride like a typical truck, especially one that size. Michigan roads are hard to assess a vehicle’s ride because they’re so bad, but whenever I did encounter a stretch of road that somehow escaped nature’s fury (and the state’s hit-and-miss maintenance) it was pleasantly surprising to not feel like I was piloting an 18-wheel Freightliner.

Safety is prevalent with systems and features like StabiliTrak electronic stability control, Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist standard rearview camera, a strong body that provides a safety cage around occupants, a wealth of airbags, etc.

There’s also a ton of special packages and stand-alone options as well as a lot of dealer-installed features. MSRP of the 2013 Chevy Avalanche starts at $35,980 and goes up to $44,580. That’s a fairly small investment to make for a future collectible.