Back to the Wild cont'd.

Oct 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

2002 Chevy Avalanche



THE AVALANCHE IS a lurid spectacle of American automotive engineering. Part Chevy Suburban, part Chevy Silverado pickup, and part Death Star, the Avalanche's signature characteristic—after the OnStar navigation system and the coolers built into the pickup bed walls—is its Convert-a-Cab System. This allows you to fold down the rear leather seats and rear cab wall (the "midgate") to extend the pickup bed almost three extra feet into the cab, putting an end to the consumer's eternal conundrum: buy a truck or an SUV? Or not. As with any compromise, sacrifices must be made. SUV drivers lose a closet's worth of internal cargo space, while truckers better think twice before filling the bed with manure if they put the midgate down.

A mutant like this deserved a demanding road trip, so a few friends and I drove the 'Lanche out to Diablo Canyon, an arroyo framed by basalt cliffs just off the Rio Grande known for its great climbing. The trick: Reaching Diablo requires about ten miles of driving on stomach-churning washboard, followed by some desperate fishtailing down a sandy arroyo. In a lesser rig, the washboard will rattle your eyes out of their sockets; the arroyo has been known to ensnare full-size trucks. This did not faze the Avalanche, however. We hummed merrily over any and all obstacles, spinning through the arroyo as handily as if we were in a dune buggy.

The truck's digital thermometer told us it was 95 degrees outside, so we set up the aftermarket tent (aka The Boil), which attaches to the pickup bed, to provide some shade. We had filled the built-in coolers with ice and fluids so that later we could reach in and pull out bottle after bottle of chilled Gatorade.

As we were humming back over the washboard on the way home, I had an epiphany: A vehicle as powerful, capable, and adaptable as the Avalanche could open up whole new worlds of adventure. Previously, a trip to Diablo Canyon was a nerve-racking endevour; on this trip it was a simple drive. I began to fantasize about climbing peaks in Colorado reachable only by car-eating jeep roads. I imagined plowing steadfastly through snowstorms to make first tracks on the slopes the next morning. Is it a lurid hybrid? Yes, but it's one that lets me expand what's possible. —Nick Heil

285-horsepower V-8 engine; full- and part-time four-wheel drive; 70 cubic feet cargo capacity (with "midgate" folded down); 5 passengers; 13 mpg city, 17 mpg highway; $37,589 (as tested);

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