Home : Vehicle Reviews : General Motors (GM) : The Chevrolet Avalanche: 2002 and 2004

The Chevrolet Avalanche: 2002 and 2004

Review By Dr. David A. Zatz

Review Notes: Chevrolet Avalanche
Personality Well-behaved work truck; in 2004; with luxury features
Quirks Door handle, brake release placement
Unusual features Effective brakes, fold-down rear seats with removable window glass
Above Average: Braking, usability, handling (with Stabilitrak)
Needs Work In: Minor touches, gas mileage
Gas mileage: 14 city, 18 highway (EPA, 2004)

2002 and 2004 Chevy Avalanche

The Chevrolet Avalanche takes something old (fold-down rear seats), something new (removable rear window glass), and puts them into an unusual place – a pickup truck. The Avalanche is, essentially, a crew cab pickup with removable rear glass and fold-down rear seats to effectively extend the bed by a few feet, so drivers to have a large cab without making the truck unmanageably long. The rear window stashes into a convenient pocket so it can actually stay in one piece, and not get left behind.

That’s the “magic midgate” part of the truck, as well as the much-hyped “SUV to pickup conversion.” It’s not quite as impressive as it sounds on TV, but it works very smoothly, and a single person can have the rear seat folded down and the window stashed away in a couple of minutes. Likewise, taking the bed cover off is much easier than with a soft tonneau cover, and the cover itself provides better security.

The bed is covered by three solid plastic covers, each easy to remove and reinstall, with levers cleverly covered in glow-in-the-dark plastic. They protect the contents of the bed from thieves and the elements (even a strong, gusty windstorm didn’t phase it), while making the truck more aerodynamic. Two large cargo lamps are mounted in the sides of the bed for further visibility, but they need to be turned on in the cab. Our first test vehicle (2002) had room on the sides in plastic containers for tools and other objects; these containers were part of the plastic cladding on the sides, and had their own locks. Our second vehicle (2004) looked much better, with metal sides, but no containers, for a savings of $600.

The plastic sides of the first vehicle protected against minor bumps and scratches – they reached fairly high – and also provided footholds to launch your way into the high bed. The second vehicle had a step built into the rear bumper, which could not be used when the gate was down, making it somewhat pointless – especially since the top covers can’t be removed unless the gate is down! Getting up into the bed to load or unload is rather difficult unless you’re tall, given the height of the truck. Optional side steps are helpful for getting into the spacious cab, but don’t help with getting into the bed.

The bed itself is covered with a removable plastic mat that protects against damage while holding things in place – a better (and quieter) solution than hard plastic bed mats. We appreciated being able to load up the bed with delicate cargo but heavy – used computers and monitors – without needing any protective material, and without fear of damaging the components or the truck itself. The exceedingly heavy tailgate had a lock for security, which was not tied into the power locks.

2002 and 2004 Chevy AvalancheThe Avalanche is expensive – over $30,000 – but it comes with many amenities. Our 2002 model had drink heater/coolers that worked simply and well, but could not hold, say, a large Coke bottle. It also had an oil change reminder lamp, which can help to extend the gap between oil changes considerably (because oil usually does not need to be changed every 3,000 miles, and GM’s computers are better at estimating when it really doesneed to be changed).

Our 2004 model had an extensive driver information system, with gas mileage for personal and business trips, timers and total distances for personal and business trips, and, among other features, an oil life timer that tells you how much life is left in your oil – as a percentage (e.g., “93% oil life remaining.”). This makes it a more precise way to avoid unnecessary oil changes. Also, because the system has a fairly large display, it can say things like “left driver’s door open,” which is much more informative than having a simple lamp.

Perhaps more to the point, our 2004 model had the usual clever GM features like the excellent OnStar and a well-designed optional thermostatic climate control (the temperature is quickly set by a single knob). Indeed, ours had separate controls for the driver and passenger (both in front). Standard functional features include speed sensitive steering, four wheel antilock disc brakes, and antitheft systems.

Owners can also customize various aspects of how their vehicle works – for example, whether one door or all doors automatically lock and unlock. The automatic headlights and DRLs can be overridden, but only on a drive-to-drive basis (it defaults back to automatic when the key is taken out). Fortunately, the automatic headlights go on immediately if it’s dark. We’d still prefer an easier manual override.

One of the more welcome improvements in our second test model was Stabilitrak, GM’s advanced stability control system, and the main reason why the Corvette is so much more civilized than the Viper. The Avalanche, equipped with Stabilitrak, is far better around turns than it has any right to be, given its heavy-duty construction and capabilities, and its relatively decent ride – for a truck, that is. It can swing around turns surprisingly well, with nary a peep from the massive, non-performance tires. The brakes are excellent, too. Just don’t get overconfident, because, after all, it is a darned big and tall truck.

Power is good, with lots of torque, for on-demand acceleration – hardly muscle car material, but enough for confident passing under most conditions and at just about any speed. Gas mileage is not so good, with the EPA rating it at 14 city, 18 highway. If you wanted an Avalanche for interior space and status, we suggest you get a Chevy Venture for interior space, and restore a muscle car for status. It’ll cost about the same, but give you much better mileage and a better ride – that is, the Venture will.

2002 and 2004 Chevy AvalancheWe were surprised by the quality of the ride with a moderate load. While somewhat stiff and jouncy with no load – as all full size, serious duty pickups are – the Avalanche becomes quite tame when the bed is filled with, say, obsolete computers, monitors, and laser printers. Suddenly, it seems more like a near-luxury sedan than a pickup. Sound insulation is good, wind noise present but not too strong, and the vent system fan quiet even at higher speeds.

The interior is nice and well arranged for the most part. Ours had a built in DVD rear-seat entertainment system, showing the Avalanche’s function, for most of its owners, as a family van rather than a work truck. As noted earlier, most minivans will provide surprising interior space, far better gas mileage, easier parkability, much lower pricing, and better interior amenities, but for those who plan to do a lot of towing with their kids in back, or who need to use their work truck for family chores, the DVD can be handy. It flips down from the roof, neatly obscuring much of the rear view for the driver but at least staying out of harm’s way, and allows kids to use wireless headphones while the passengers up front listen to the radio – in our case, XM satellite radio. The rear speakers automatically shut off so the stereo doesn’t make it impossible for the kids to hear their DVD. The system works well most of the time, but the kids really have to know how to work it, because it can’t be worked from the front seat – turned on and temporarily shut off, yes, but most DVDs now aren’t simple push-and-play items. You have to wait a bit, then select PLAY MOVIE, then hit PLAY, and that requires either someone reaching up and forward to hit the controls, or someone with the remote control. It also works, though not as well, with ordinary wired headsets. If desired, the rear passengers can simply listen to the radio instead – choosing a different station than the front folk.

Visibility is very good for the most part, with no serious blockages (when the DVD screen is up), large rear-view mirrors (optionally with built in turn signals), and powerful headlights. We appreciated the mirror fold-in feature, which lets you electrically fold both mirrors at once with the press of a single button, to allow easier passage around the truck – as well as the option (meaning you can shut it off) to have the mirrors tilt down when you back up. We only wish the tilt-down and tilt-up was about twice as fast, since it took the mirrors a while to catch up.

The front has the new Chevrolet styling, and is more similar to the Impala in some ways than to past Chevy trucks. People on the street seemed to find the styling fascinating, from the rugged-looking mesh grille to the Pontiac-like, grey body cladding on the ’02 and the sleek metal sides topped with plastic on the ’04.

The base price for the four wheel drive model we drove in 2004 was $35,285. Our test car also had the $3,865 preferred equipment group, which gave us six way power heated bucket seats with driver memory and leather surfaces – the heat, by the way, could be applied to the back or bottom of the seat separately – as well as rear seat audio controls, an in-dash six-CD changer, Bose speakers, the power folding, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals and auto dimming on the driver’s side, a towing package, dual zone automatic climate control, power adjustable pedals, OnStar, and universal garage door opener. The power sunroof and XM Satellite Radio added another $1,420 – not including subscription charges for XM. The rear seat entertainment system (DVD player) kicked the price up another $1,295, and side impact airbags were an extra $350. The stainless steel tube that acted as a step to get into the cab, with a nonskid top, cost another $585, but was offset by a $600 reduction from sacrificing the body hardware (lockage containers and such).

We could go on and on about the interior and such, but for the most part, this truck is a Silverado 1500 with a clever midgate, bed cover, and such, so see our Silverado review for more details.

General Motors has done it once again. The Avalanche is an amazingly well executed idea, so simple it’s brilliant, and currently unique among pickups and SUVs. It’s still a work truck – so if you want one for transporting your family, get a Chevy Venture or Dodge Caravan – but it’s a remarkably practical work truck, and it still beats anything on the Ford lots. If you’re in the market, take a look.

2002 & 2004 CHEVY AVALANCHE Specifications

Overview
Model: Chevrolet Avalanche
Body style / driveline: full-size, 4-door sport-utility vehicle/pickup, front-engine, 2- or 4-wheel drive, 1/2-ton and 4-wheel drive 3/4-ton models
Construction: body on frame
EPA vehicle class: half-ton or three-quarter-ton truck
Manufacturing location: Silao, Mexico
Key competitors: Ford Super Crew, Dodge Ram Quad Cab
 

Engines

Vortec 5300 5.3L V-8 (LM7) Vortec 8100 8.1L V-8 (L18)
Type: 5.3L V-8 8.1L V-8
Displacement (cu in / cc): 325 / 5328 496 / 8128
Bore & stroke (in / mm): 3.78 x 3.62 / 96 x 92 4.25 x 4.37 / 108 x 111
Block material: cast iron cast iron
Cylinder head material: cast aluminum cast iron
Valvetrain: overhead valves, hydraulic roller follower, 2 valves per cylinder, chain cam drive hydraulic roller follower, 2 valves per cylinder, chain cam drive
Fuel delivery: sequential fuel injection sequential fuel injection
Compression ratio: 9.5:1 9.1:1
Horsepower (hp / kw @ rpm): 295 / 220 @ 5200 320 / 238 @ 4200
Torque (lb-ft / Nm @ rpm): 330 / 447 @ 4000 445 / 603 @ 3200
Recommended fuel: 87 octane 87 octane
Maximum engine speed (rpm): 5900 5000
Emissions controls: 3-way catalytic converter, positive crankcase ventilation, evaporative collection system exhaust gas recirculation, air injection reaction (available)
Estimated fuel economy
(mpg city / hwy / combined):
2WD: 14 / 18 / 16
4WD: 13 / 17 / 15
 
 
Transmissions Hydra-Matic 4L60-E Hydra-Matic 4L85-E
Type: 4-speed electronic automatic 4-speed electronic automatic
Gear ratios (:1):    

First:

3.06 2.48

Second:

1.63 1.48

Third:

1.00 1.00

Fourth:

0.70 0.75

Reverse:

2.29 2.08
Axle ratio: 3.73 std (4.10 opt) 3.73 std (4.10 opt)
 

Chassis/Suspension

1500 2500
Front: independent with torsion bars independent with torsion bars
Rear: multi-link with coil springs 2-stage multi-leaf springs
Traction assist: part of Z66 package on 2WD models  
Steering type: power recirculating ball power recirculating ball
Steering ratio: 14.0:1; 15.8:1 overall 13 – 15:1; 16.2:1 overall
Steering wheel turns,
lock-to-lock:
3.2 3.2
Turning circle, curb-to-curb
(ft / m):
43.3 / 13.2 44.1 / 13.4
 
Brakes
Type: 4-wheel vented disc with dual-piston calipers, rear drum-in-hat parking brake, 4-wheel ABS
Rotor diameter x thickness
(in / mm):
front: 12 x 1.14 / 305 x 29;
rear: 13 x 1.18 / 330 x 30
Total swept area
(sq in / sq cm):
front: 133.6 / 862;
rear: 133.6 / 862
 
Wheels/Tires 1500 2500
Wheel size & type: std: 16-inch x 7-inch aluminum
opt: 17-inch x 7.5-inch aluminum
16-inch x 6.5-inch aluminum
Tires: std: P265/70R16 all-season, steel-belted radials
opt: P265/70R17 ALZ OOR
LT245/75R16 ALS OOR steel-belted radials
 
Dimensions
Exterior 1500 2500 
Wheelbase (in / mm): 130 / 3302 130 / 3302
Overall length (in / mm): 221.7 / 5631 221.7 / 5631
Overall width (in / mm): 79.8 / 2027 79.8 / 2027
Overall height, 2WD & 4WD
(in / mm):
73.3 / 1862 73.3 / 1862
Track (in / mm): front: 65 / 1651
rear: 66 / 1676
front: 65 / 1651
rear: 66 / 1676
Minimum ground clearance
(in / mm):
P265/70R16 tires: 8.6 / 218 7 / 178
Ground to top of rear load floor (in / mm): 31 / 787 31 / 787
Approach angle: 27.4° 25°
Departure angle: 23.8° 18°
Curb weight (lb / kg): 2WD: 5437 / 2466
4WD: 5678 / 2576
2WD: 6353 / 2883
4WD: 6642 / 3013
Weight distribution
(% front / rear):
2WD: 52 / 48;
4WD: 53 / 47
2WD: 52 / 48;
4WD: 53 / 47
 

Interior

First Row Second Row
Seating capacity, 5 or 6: 2 or 3 3
Head room (in / mm): 40.7 / 1034 38.6 / 980
Leg room (in / mm): 41.3 / 1049 38.9 / 988
Shoulder room (in / mm): 65.2 / 1656 65.2 / 1656
Hip room (in / mm): 61.4 / 1560 62 / 1575
Cargo box volume, Midgate up (cu ft / L): 42.9 / 1215 -
 

Capacities

1500 2500
EPA passenger volume
(cu ft / L):
120.2 / 3404 120.2 / 3404
Interior cargo volume (cu ft / L): 53.9 / 1526 with Midgate up, 2nd row seat folded 53.9 / 1526 with Midgate up, 2nd row seat folded
GVWR, standard (lb / kg): 2WD: 6800 / 3091
4WD: 7000 / 3182
8600 / 3901
Payload (lb / kg): base 2WD: 1313 / 595
base 4WD: 1266 / 574
max 2WD: 2247 / 1018
max 4WD: 1807 / 820
Trailer towing maximum (lb / kg): 2WD: 8200 / 3720 w/ trailer brakes
4WD: 7900 / 3583 w/ trailer brakes
2WD: 12000 / 5443 w/ trailer brakes
4WD: 11900 / 5398 w/ trailer brakes
Fuel tank (gal/ L): 31 / 117 37.5 / 142
Engine oil (qt / L): 5.75 / 5.44 5.75 / 5.44
Cooling system: (qt / L): 29 / 27.4 29 / 27.4

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