What's New for 2011
The Chevrolet Avalanche carries into 2011 essentially unchanged.
Like peanut butter and chocolate, sometimes combining two seemingly unrelated things results in something that's a pleasant surprise. In the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche's case, it's the combination of both pickup and SUV attributes that proves to be so appealing. The Avalanche is based on GM's full-size truck architecture and comes in a four-door crew-cab body style. Unlike a truck, however, the Avalanche's cab and bed aren't separate; instead, the Avalanche features an SUV's one-piece body.
Separating these two sections is an innovative "midgate" that gives the Avalanche its unique flexibility. With it in place you have a quiet, comfortable SUV-like interior; fold it down and you get an extended cargo area that stretches all the way from the lockable tailgate to the back of the front seats. The three-piece hard tonneau cover over the bed can either be left in place to keep cargo secure or removed to carry taller items like dirt bikes or large home appliances. As with all big trucks, the Avalanche's main downside is its plus-sized dimensions, which can make it a handful in heavy traffic and tight spaces. The other notable downside is a price tag that's substantially higher than comparable crew cab pickups.
Truck shoppers who like the Avalanche's versatile design might also want to check out the Honda Ridgeline; though it lacks the Avalanche's cargo room and towing capacity, it offers an equally innovative SUV/pickup hybrid design in a more nimble, less expensive and more fuel-efficient package. And if luxury is your thing, you might also look at the Chevy's upscale cousin, the Cadillac Escalade EXT. But overall we think the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche is a solid pick for people needing the best of both the pickup and SUV worlds.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche is a full-size crew-cab pickup with a removable rear window and exclusive midgate. There are three trim levels: base LS, midlevel LT and premium LTZ.
The LS features a composite cargo bed, a removable three-piece cargo cover, side assist steps, a roof rack and deep-tinted rear privacy glass. Inside you'll find full power accessories, dual-zone manual air-conditioning, front bucket seats with a power driver seat, Bluetooth, OnStar and a single-CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, an iPod/USB port, satellite radio and rear-seat audio controls.
The LT adds rear parking assist, dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable pedals, remote engine start, a premium Bose sound system and enhanced OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation. The top-drawer LTZ offers standard 20-inch polished alloy wheels, outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, an adaptive suspension, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a navigation system, a rearview camera and a Bose surround-sound audio system. Many of these upper-trim-level features are available as options on the lower trims.
Add the Z71 Off Road package and you get specialized springs and shock absorbers, upgraded 18-inch off-road tires, front recovery hooks, a skid plate and a high-capacity air cleaner. The Z71 looks different, too, thanks to beefy fender flares, an aggressive front fascia and tubular side assist steps.
Depending on the trim level, other stand-alone or packaged options include 20-inch chromed wheels, power running boards, an integrated trailer-brake controller, a sunroof, a front bench seat and a rear-seat entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche is available with either two-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). LS and LT 4WD models get a single-speed transfer case, while a two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing is standard on the LTZ and available as an option on lower trim levels.
All 2011 Avalanche models come equipped with a 5.3-liter V8 that generates 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. A properly equipped 2WD Avalanche can tow up to 8,100 pounds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined for both 2WD and 4WD models.
Standard safety features on the Chevrolet Avalanche include antilock disc brakes, stability control, front side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, plus GM's OnStar emergency communications system.
The Avalanche has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures. However, its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to the new methodology) were a top five-star rating in all front- and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Climb up into the Avalanche and you'll find a passenger cabin that can seat up to six passengers with the available 40/20/40-split front bench seat or five with the standard front buckets. The interior has a comfortable, quality feel to it with clearly laid out gauges and controls.
When it comes time to haul stuff instead of people, the Avalanche's 5-foot-3-inch cargo bed expands to just over 8 feet with the midgate folded down. The transformation process is relatively easy if you leave the rear window and hard tonneau cover in place, but you'll need to remove and stow the rear glass and bed cover to take full advantage of the Avalanche's full pickup-like capabilities.
Cargo bins along the side of the bed provide a home for small items and feature drain plugs so they can do double-duty as rolling ice chests. The rear tailgate and bed cover also lock to keep valuable cargo secure.
Without a full load, the 5.3-liter V8 under the hood of the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche gives the big truck better-than-average acceleration. Both handling and steering feel are respectable, but maneuverability is hampered by the Avalanche's substantial size and huge blind spots to the sides and rear of the vehicle. With the midgate buttoned up, the Avalanche is a bit smoother and quieter than a traditional pickup.