What's New for 2012
The Avalanche's standard stability-control system now includes trailer sway control and hill start assist for 2012. Heated seats are also now standard on the LT, while the LTZ gets a heated steering wheel.
The 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche is essentially a cross between two popular body styles: part four-door crew-cab pickup and part full-size SUV. To create it, Chevy designers and engineers grafted a 5-foot-3 pickup bed onto the underpinnings of the brand's venerable Suburban SUV, creating a unique truck that combines the best qualities of both.
The innovation that really makes these individual parts transcend their humble origins is the two-piece "midgate" behind the rear seats. Folding the rear seatbacks forward and opening the midgate transforms the Avalanche from a five-passenger SUV into a pickup with an 8-foot load floor that stretches from just behind the front seats back to the lockable tailgate. A three-piece hard tonneau cover turns the space into secure storage for low-profile items like surfboards and toolboxes, and can be removed to make room for large loads like dirt bikes or major appliances.
While these uncommon attributes make the Avalanche an intriguing alternative to old-school pickups and SUVs, this beast has its drawbacks. Topping the list are its plus-sized dimensions and limited visibility out the back. The fact that the Avalanche is more expensive, yet has a lower towing capacity than comparable crew-cab pickups is another issue buyers need to keep in mind.
The 2012 Avalanche certainly isn't for everybody. Crew-cab pickups from Chevy, Dodge, Ford and Toyota all provide much of the passenger benefits of the Avalanche, but with a lower price and greater capability. Nonetheless, this SUV/pickup combination still offers a mix of attributes that certainly makes it appealing, especially for those who prioritize passenger comfort over utility.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche is a full-size crew-cab pickup with a removable rear window and fold-down midgate. There are three trim levels available: the base LS, midrange LT and premium LTZ.
The LS features 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, a roof rack, a composite cargo bed, heated mirrors, rear privacy glass, side assist steps and a removable three-piece bed cover. Inside you'll find dual-zone manual air-conditioning, cruise control, six-way power front seats, 60/40-split rear seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel, Bluetooth, OnStar and a six-speaker sound system with a CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack, an iPod/USB audio interface and rear-seat audio controls. A 40/20/40 front bench seat is optional on the LS and increases seating capacity to six. The Convenience package adds rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, remote ignition and power-adjustable pedals.
The LT adds to the base LS equipment foglights, rear parking sensors, a locking rear differential, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, power-adjustable pedals, remote ignition and a seven-speaker Bose sound system. Eighteen-inch wheels are optional. The Luxury package adds power-folding mirrors, eight-way power front seats with power lumbar adjustment and driver memory, leather upholstery and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The top-of-the-line LTZ includes the Luxury package, but adds 20-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive suspension with automatic load leveling, a driver-side auto-dimming mirror, perforated leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a navigation system, real-time traffic, a rearview camera and an eight-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system. Power-retractable side steps are optional.
The Sun, Entertainment and Destinations package available on the LT and LTZ adds a sunroof, a rear-seat entertainment system and on the LT, navigation and real-time traffic. Optional wheels in 20- and 22-inch sizes are available on all 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.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche is offered with a choice of either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. 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 other trim levels.
Under the hood, all three Avalanche models get a 5.3-liter V8 that generates 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. Properly equipped, the Avalanche can tow up to 8,100 pounds -- about 2,000 pounds less than a Silverado. 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, plus GM's OnStar emergency communications system. For 2012, the standard stability control system now includes trailer sway control and hill start assist.
Interior Design and Special Features
Getting into the 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche requires a bit of a climb, but once you're there you'll be rewarded with a good-looking interior trimmed with quality materials. As you'd expect from a vehicle with working-class roots, designers also paid careful attention to function with well-placed gauges and easy-to-use controls (though most buttons are a little too small). Poor visibility is an issue, however, so we'd strongly recommend the rearview camera that's standard on the LTZ and available as an option on other models.
The cabin also offers comfortable seating for up to six passengers with the 40/20/40-split front seat available on the LS. The standard front bucket seats are supportive and separated by a center console with a large covered storage box, air vents and audio controls for rear seat passengers.
While all these passenger-oriented comforts set it apart from full-size pickups, the Avalanche distinguishes itself from full-size SUVs in its cargo-hauling capacity. Folding the rear seats forward while leaving the rear window and hard tonneau cover in place creates a huge cargo area, which is secure thanks to the lockable cover and tailgate. Taking advantage of the Avalanche's full pickup-like carrying capacity does require removing and stowing both the rear window and bed cover, however.
From behind the wheel, the first thing you notice about the 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche is that it accelerates smartly for such a large vehicle. Handling and steering feel are both better than you'd expect from a pickup, though the truck's super-size dimensions and equally large blind spots to the sides and rear make maneuvering in tight quarters a challenge. On the upside, the Avalanche drives a bit smoother and quieter than a traditional pickup design.