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 on the street, 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 5 ft 3 in to 8 ft 2 in. Sort of like Dr. David Banner (or Bruce Banner, if you didn’t like the television show changing the good doctor’s name) 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, however, barely squeezed out 20,000. In April of 2012, General Motors announced it would cease production of Avalanche and its upscale Cadillac Escalade sibling at the end of the 2013 model year. (Hummer’s H2 SUT, Sport Utility Truck, died earlier, along with the brand.) It was an easy decision to make with a new Silverado for 2014, and revamped versions of the full-size SUVs to follow, especially in light of declining sales. However, with the clarity of hindsight, it would not surprise me if, in about a decade, one begins to view this behemoth as a collector’s item.
The 2013 Avalanche is commemorated with Black Diamond Avalanche badging, and is available in three models: LS, LT and LTZ. All three can be equipped with either 2WD 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, offers a maximum towing capacity of 8,100 lb., and makes both an excellent work and lifestyle vehicle. With its rear seat up and the Midgate closed, the Avalanche has room for up to six passengers and the quiet you expect from a large SUV. To maximize storage capability, however, the rear seat must be folded which makes it necessary at times to choose between cargo and passengers. Thank heavens its standard equipment includes assist steps (running board for all of us old-timers) and grip handles, which expands the demographics beyond Special Forces personnel. Ground clearance is a minimum 9.1in. Once “atop the mountain” the Avalanche offers a very inviting cabin familiar to Tahoe and Suburban drivers.
Avalanche also has the segment’s largest center console storage bin, a large glove box and numerous storage compartments. The contractor on-the-go or Special Forces person has plenty of room in which to store their tools of the trade. 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, a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear-seat entertainment system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, a choice of Bose Centerpoint Surround Systems, navigation with touch-screen operation, remote vehicle starter, power adjustable pedals and a host of other items. All the technologies are user-friendly. Instrumentation is large and legible… just the way I like it.
At the heart of the 2013 Avalanche is its 5.3-liter V8 that’s also E85-capable, and has an aluminum engine block (to reduce weight) on 4WD models. It produces 320 horsepower, 335 lb-ft of torque, and has Active Fuel Management. This lets the engine run on four cylinders in light-load conditions to save fuel. Also helping on the fuel economy side is a six-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. Standard rear-end ratio is 3.08:1, but with the trailer-towing package it comes with a 3.42:1 axle ratio to help acceleration, as well as transmission and engine oil coolers. Estimated fuel economy is 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway, which may not seem like much in a world awash with supposed 40 mpg sedans. However, in addition to its cargo and passenger carrying capability, off-road talent (in 4WD trim), the Avalanche has a curb weight of either 5,705 lb (2WD) or 5,803 lb (4WD). Al things considered, 20 mpg highway doesn’t look too bad.
Avalanche rests on a variety of wheel sizes ranging from 17 to 20 inches. Or you also can order even larger, GM designed and engineered 22-in wheels from the dealer. Despite these large wheels and tires, one major thing I noted during my time with Avalanche truck is that the does not ride like a typical truck, especially one that size. Michigan roads are hard to assess a vehicle’s smooth-road ride because they can be 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 that should make it easy to order that one-of-one vehicle Barrett Jackson and other auction houses seem to covet. 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.