We've heard the Chevy Avalanche defined in many ways: a Suburban with a rear-end problem, a Silverado crew cab that's been backed into a brick wall, even a giganticized Pontiac Aztek. These descriptions are understandable; the Avalanche is one of those category-breakers that defies pigeonholing. Whether or not you like this vehicle, it's the only one of GM's oddities in the recent past that really caught on with consumers.

Its popularity shouldn't be surprising because the Avalanche comes from good stock. Mainly based on the Suburban, the Avalanche uses components from the Silverado line. Moreover, it slots in neatly between both sizes of the 1500 Silverado. With a 130-inch wheelbase (same as the Suburban), the Avalanche is three inches shorter between the axles than the longbed Silverado, but 11 inches longer than the shortbed model. Overall lengths among the Suburban, Silverado longbed, and Avalanche are about even.

What makes the Avalanche much more than an open-air Suburban, though, is the innovative midgate system, which includes a removable wall between the front of the bed and the back of the cabin. With the wall and window in place, the bed length is five feet, three inches, or about what you'd get with any of GM's midsize crew-cab trucks. But remove and stow the panels and fold the seats, and the total available length exceeds eight feet. Apparently, buyers loved this compromise. The Avalanche isn't a great motorcycle hauler, for example, because of the sail panels, high liftover, and short bed. But it's great for carrying the other lifestyle gear that normally rattles around in the cargo hold of most full-size SUVs. And, it should be noted, it's possible to keep the smell of odiferous cargo out of the cabin.

The Avalanche gets many of the Suburban's underpinnings. Available in half-ton (1500, coil springs) and 3/4-ton (2500, heavy-duty leaf springs) models, it can be had in rear drive or with GM's excellent Autotrac four-wheel-drive system. Power for the 1500 came solely from the 5.3 liter Vortec V 8 (rated at 285 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque), while the 2500 was powered by the 8.1 liter V 8 (340 horsepower, 455 pound-feet). A four-speed automatic was standard across the board.

Chevy kept the Avalanche lineup simple, adding and subtracting packages through this generation's five-year life cycle. The Z66 On-Road package included upgraded suspension, while the Z71 Off-Road package came with suspension optimized for the rough stuff with stronger shocks, bigger tires, and a few skidplates. For 2003, a "de-cladded" version was offered. Potential buyers who didn't like the aggressive plastic exterior features were temporarily mollified. Dual-zone climate control became standard along with a dashboard redesign. In 2004, the StabiliTrak system, which was an option with four-wheel-drive models, became available for the rear-drivers. OnStar became standard in 2005, while there were no changes of note for 2006, the last year of this generation.

It's so closely aligned with the Suburban, the Avalanche suffers from similar durability problems. Brakes are the big deal here, with a long-running issue concerning brake boosters and anti-lock hardware. There are two recalls on the brake system, but there are many more Technical Service Bulletins. Be sure any Avalanche you're considering has had all the updates done. There are occasional complaints of transmission slippage--look for a vehicle that's done little towing and has had prompt transmission-fluid service.

During a test drive, listen carefully for driveline noises and steering creaking or clunking caused by faulty lower control arms. Because there were few changes throughout the life of this model, there's not a lot to recommend a late one over an early one. Let the specific options, colors, and condition be your guide.


2002-2006 Chevy Avalanche
Body type 4-door SUT
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Driver, passenger
Engines 5.3L/285-hp OHV V-8; 8.1L/340-hp OHV V-8 (2500)
Brakes, f/r Disc/drum, ABS
Price range, whlsl/ret (IntelliChoice) $10,365/$15,199 (2002 2WD 1500); $20,759/$27,948 (2006 4WD 2500)
Recalls Too many to list, see www.intellichoice.com
NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/pass Three stars/four stars





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