The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s Green Book gives the snazzy Chevrolet Avalanche pride of place on its list of "Meanest Vehicles for the Environment in 2002." It’s not as bad on fuel as the Chevy Suburban K2500, but at 13 miles per gallon around town, it’s a gas-guzzler supreme.
Does it have to be that way? An interesting Epionions.com review notes that it could easily have a more fuel-efficient engine and still provide plenty of versatility to the target audience. "GM could make the engines at least 30-percent more efficient … with mileage of at least 18/22 … and still get the same power," the reviewer wrote. "Maybe GM has a deal with OPEC."
Sad to say, mileage will be even worse if Avalanche owners leave the bed cover off: The loss of aerodynamics reportedly drops efficiency to less than 10 mpg.
In my further quest to measure the political correctness of this sucker, I went on Idealswork.com and checked the ratings for Chevrolet, tailoring my search to such categories as "environment," "women’s issues," "minority issues," "gay/lesbian rights," "workplace" and, why not, "animal rights." Feminists take note: Chevy flops on women’s issues (and gay rights, too). The workplace isn’t so hot either, but the company gets a great environmental rating. Hmmm. The company that makes the Hummer H2, the Chevrolet Avalanche and the GMC Denali is green?
The green team at GM cooked up the Avalanche as a show vehicle for Detroit in 2000. It was then billed as the "ultimate utility vehicle," promising "anything, anytime, anywhere." The wild-looking prototype, sort of a cross between a pickup truck and an SUV, with Terminator styling cues, survived largely intact into production. It looks not unlike a tank designed for Road Warrior III.
The "cool" look comes at the considerable price of drivability. Climbing in is like mounting a stagecoach, and the (optional) running boards will be a necessity for some. Parking the Avalanche is a nightmare, since it’s so high off the ground and none of the corners are visible. The height of the rear bed means compact cars and other lesser craft are completely invisible. One just inches forward in a parking lot, bracing for the big bang. GM has proprietary equipment to sound the alarm when collisions are imminent; on the Avalanche it should be standard equipment.
Once on the road, the Suburban-based Avalanche isn’t so bad. Despite being a pickup, it has ample room for a family of five. It’s fine in a straight line, where it benefits from the ride height, but handling is sluggish at best at slower speeds, and the brakes require considerable stopping distance. With four-wheel drive, the Avalanche can weigh 6,600 pounds, meaning that even with the big 8.1-liter engine in the 2500 range, it’s no screamer off the line. Progress is stately.
The selling feature of the Avalanche is its so-called Midgate, which converts the extended-cab, short-bed truck into a more versatile pickup with an 8-foot bed. To accomplish that, the driver must fold the rear seats forward, lower the Midgate into the cab, then remove the rear window and stow it in a special compartment. It’s definitely a cumbersome, exacting process and there are long-term durability issues.
I can see buying a $35,000 Avalanche if you do a lot of long-distance driving while towing a heavy load, like a boat or trailer, but for around-town driving it’s a nightmare all around. Given its complete lack of practicality, maybe the Avalanche will be buried by the final arbiter of negative consumer opinion.