Anyone who says sport/utilities aren't changing the way trucks are built has never been in an Avalanche. The moment you climb into this truck and discover its unique features and innovative space management, you realize Chevrolet's created a new subsegment in the truck market.

When we tested the all-new Avalanche for Motor Trend's 2002 Truck of the Year competition, we were impressed by its strong powertrain, voluminous interior, unique styling (though opinions weren't unanimously favorable on this aspect), and inventive convertible cab. Such attributes helped the Avalanche take home the hardware two years ago and earned it a spot in our one-year-test fleet.

Our red 1500 Avalanche 2WD carried a base price of $30,465, to which we added leather/power seats ($1115), electric sunroof ($1095), the Z66 premium on-road suspension ($835), a self-dimming rearview mirror with OnStar functions ($546), and runningboards ($395). The total, including destination, came to $35,171.

This isn't cheap for a 2WD pickup/ute, but this one's feature packed and versatile to the extreme.

As soon as the Avalanche arrived, our staff put it to the test. The MTTV crew used it as a multipurpose production vehicle to store camera gear in the sealed, lockable bed, while comfortably carrying crew members along with Motor Trend staff in the cabin. On location, the crew used the composite bed panels as a sturdy, elevated platform from which to shoot.

The water hounds among us took every opportunity to exercise the Avalanche's optional Z66 suspension by towing their beach beauties to the docks. They found that the self-leveling suspension and tow/haul mode on the transmission simplified the towing process. The full-size rear seat also provides a cozy place for friends and family.

The Avalanche handles well, too, and owes more of its chassis and suspension to the Tahoe/Suburban than it does the standard pickup, and with that comes an additional measure of sophistication. Our One-Year truck was more than able to keep up with fast company, which included an SL55 AMG and a Ferrari 360 Spider, when we visited Mario Andretti's Napa Valley winery last year.

Most of our staff found the interior an inviting place. Senior Editor Ron Sessions says, "The seats are enveloping and supportive and the cloth fabric is attractive, comfortable, and grippy." The flimsy-looking instrument panel left us desiring more, and the lack of useable clothes hooks in the back seat was odd, but those were the only gripes concerning the otherwise hospitable interior.

Unfortunately, the view from the Avalanche's driver seat reveals a less-than-ideal scope out the back window. The truck's high rear deck makes it difficult to see stationary items when reversing or to know what's behind you when in traffic.

The addition of an electronic parking-assist system would greatly enhance maneuverability in parking lots and around driveways.

Those of us who enjoy recreation on two-wheeled transportation (some with engines, some without) found the Avalanche an ideal companion. On several occasions, with the Midgate folded down and the rear window removed, we managed to fit two dirt bikes or up to three mountain bikes in the bed.

Strapped down and loaded with a full tank of gas, the Avalanche's impressive fuel range gave us the option to seek out far-off trails and remote off-highway vehicle areas. Add to that the ability to keep drinks and food cold by filling the two top-box storage compartments with ice, and what you have is the perfect truck for the adventure seeker.

All Avalanches come standard with integrated steps in the rear bumper. This simple, novel touch proved useful time and time again. Our truck's optional runningboards helped with ingress and egress, though they banged some shins and dirtied a few pant legs along the way.

Chevrolet's 5.3-liter OHV V-8 is a good choice for the Avalanche's size and weight, providing a spirited 0-to-60 sprint of 8.2 seconds. The engine works well with the 4L60-E four-speed automatic, delivering smooth upshifts and logical downshifts. Not a single person who drove the truck came away wanting more power. Chevy also offers its big-block 8.1-liter V-8 for those with super-sized towing needs or cubic-inch desires.

The Avalanche's around-town ride is much more supple than what Chevy would've achieved had it used its standard half-ton truck platform. Detroit Bureau Chief Jack Keebler notes, "The rear-suspension's coil springs make for a surprisingly comfortable, sure-footed ride in this big truck." Indeed, the majority of our staff was surprised by the confidence and quietness the truck exhibited over most roads.

During our extended time with the Avalanche, we noted certain design flaws surrounding its unique bed system. Heavy rains or a trip through the car wash resulted in water leaking into the bed where the removable rear window and removable cargo cover meet. If the truck got wet with the cargo cover removed, water occasionally seeped under the bed's rubber floormat, creating a potential rust trap. The mat can be removed for drying, but it's cumbersome to do so and requires a helper. The tailgate demands a firm hand when closing, or else it's prone to flopping open once the vehicle is underway. Last, when the Midgate is down, the cabin isn't securable, but, all said and done, the Avalanche is an innovative exercise in flexible people/cargo space management.

Our truck performed effortlessly during its time with us, requiring no more than two regularly scheduled maintenance trips to the dealer. Most of our staff never warmed to the truck's bold (or garish) look and all-too-prevalent use of plastic cladding, but everyone lauded its spacious interior, solid powertrain, towing ability, and industry-first Midgate system, all of which reassured us that our 2002 Truck of the Year winner was well deserving of its title.

What's New, What's Changed
The Avalanche got easier on the eyes in 2003 when Chevy introduced a version employing conventional wheel arches, sans body cladding (apparently, we weren't the only ones to gripe). Last model year also brought StabiliTrak stability assist on 2WD trucks, adjustable pedals, XM Satellite Radio, and a battery rundown system that'll shut the headlights off in case you forget.

For 2004, horsepower increased by 10 to 295 in the 5.3-liter trucks, but dropped by 20 to 320 in the 8.1-liter engines. 2004 Avalanches are offered with standard Hydroboost brakes that continue to work even if the engine ceases to.

From the Logbook
Doesn't sweat much for a plus-size contraption. Really, despite the Avalanche's generous proportions, it drives smaller than it is. The pushrod Chevy small-block V-8 and four-speed automatic are a happy combination: great low- and mid-range torque, smooth throttle tip-in and crisp shifts.
--Ron Sessions

The steering is a bit light and lacks much on-center feel at speeds over 50 mph, but this also results in low effort at slow speeds and makes parking-lot navigation a breeze.
--Thomas Voehringer

The Avalanche is the best of both worlds: It rides like a cushy Suburban and hauls like a Silverado 1500. I had the opportunity to drive the Silverado, Tahoe, and the Avalanche all in the same week, and I would by far choose the Avalanche over the other two for my own needs.
--Chris Walton

The outboard storage bins are handy for collecting trash while tailgating at the ballpark, though the tailgate itself is heavy and a handful to lower gently with one hand if the other is occupied.
--John Matthius

2002 Chevy Avalanche
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layoutFront engine, rwd
Engine type V-8 OHV, 2 valves/cyl, iron block, alum heads
Displacement, ci/cc 326.9/5358
Hp @ rpm 285 @ 5200
Torque @ rpm 325 @ 4000
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Suspension, front; rear Upper and lower control arms, torsion bars, anti-roll bar; solid axle, multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Brakes, f;r 12.0-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 17x7.5, cast alum
Tires 265/70R17, Goodyear Wrangler HP
Traction control Yes (opt)
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase, in 130.0
Length, in 221.7
Width, in 79.8
Height, in 73.5
Curb weight, lb 5678
Seating capacity 5
Cargo capacity, cu ft 41.1 (Midgate up)97.6 (Midgate down)
Fuel capacity, gal 31.0
TEST DATA
0-60 mph, sec 8.2
1/4 mile, sec/mph 16.22/83.42
Braking, 60-0 mph, ft 127
600-ft slalom, mph 54.5
Total mileage 20,362
Avg test mpg 15.5
Problem areas Loose parking-brake cover, leaky cargo cover
Non-warr cost $97.63
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $30,465
Price as tested $35,171
Current value, whlsle/retail $21,525/$23,450 (Kelley Blue book)
Airbags Dual front, front side
EPA mpg, city/hwy 14/18
Range, city/hwy, miles 403/527
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Roadside assistance 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Recalls None
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