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A civilized cabin, surprisingly suave ride, snazzy look, hefty towing capability, and a very cool removable mid-gate make the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche a worthy full-size pickup.The Bad
Tepid gas mileage, a hefty pricetag, and some challenges in maneuvering crowded parking lots might make some pass on the hulking 2011 Avalanche.
The CarGurus View
Although it boasts the cabin space and semi-tamed ride of an SUV, as well as some spiffy styling, the 2011 Chevy Avalanche can play with the big boys when it comes to towing and hauling ability. A hefty appetite for gas and a steep sticker price, however, may keep this hefty beast from turning more than a few tire-kickers into buyers.
At a Glance
Exhibiting many attributes of a full-size SUV, the 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche nevertheless packs the looks, versatility, and hauling capability of a full-size pickup. Able to seat five passengers, this snappy crew cab pickup features four forward-opening doors and also comes with a bed just over 5 feet long, tonneau cover, and, in an inspirational piece of engineering, a mid-gate arrangement whereby the rear window and wall of the cabin can be removed for an additional 3 feet of length. A more compliant suspension, meanwhile, keeps the Avalanche from picking up the traditional poor ride and handling habits that plague traditional pickups, while optional front bench seating deletes the standard bucket seats in favor of an extra passenger.
Available in three trim levels, the base LS, midlevel LT, and top-shelf LTZ, the capable Avalanche is delivered with standard rear-wheel drive (RWD). All three trims, however, are available with on-demand four-wheel drive (4WD), and the LT is additionally available with the highly regarded Z71 Off-Road Package. All three trims are powered by an ethanol-capable Flex Fuel V8 engine with cylinder deactivation, and all three carry a standard auto-manual transmission that’s good to tow a sizable load using the standard trailer hitch and wiring. A heavy-duty trailer towing package with extra engine cooling, 3:2 axle ratio, and integrated trailer brake is also available.
Though the 2011 Avalanche remains essentially a mirror-image of its 2010 counterpart, a few items, such as the six-speed auto-manual transmission and a USB connection, are now standard across the lineup. Additionally, a single-speed transfer case is now the norm on 4WD trims.
The Honda Ridgeline provides the Avalanche with its only head-to-head competition. However, prospective buyers might want to check out Chevy’s own Silverado or Ford F-Series pickups before deciding on the pricey Avalanche. Any of these full-size trucks will do some serious towing and toting, but few can boast the Avalanche’s good looks and passenger-friendly cabin ambiance and ride qualities.
Returning in the 2011 Chevy Avalanche are a standard 5.3-liter V8 powerplant and six-speed auto-manual transmission. This combination boasts 320 hp at 5,400 rpm and 335 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, and the V8 additionally features E85 ethanol Flex Fuel capability. Variable valve timing and the deactivation of four of the eight cylinders at highway speeds give the Avalanche 15/21 mpg in RWD versions, while fuel efficiency figures are unavailable for 4WD trims. Trailer towing capacity is touted to be some 8,100 pounds with the available heavy-duty Trailering Package.
Though deemed perfectly adequate by most reviewers, with enough power to get through ordinary duties, the V8 is, altogether, nothing very special. The six-speed is considered smooth and responsive by virtually all reviewers, while no significant difference was noted off the line between the RWD and the heavier 4WD trims. Many reviewers do compliment the Avalanche for having little engine noise, even under heavy acceleration. The V8’s fuel economy, however, is not among its high points in the minds of most reviewers.
Ride & Handling
Standard for the 2011 Avalanche are a short-and-long-arm front independent suspension, front and rear stabilizer bar, and multi-link rear suspension. The LTZ complements this setup with an active, self-leveling suspension system that works well for trailer towing, but is a bit chaste for seriously abusive off-road use. The LS and LT roll on 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season radials, while the LTZ mounts 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, again with all-season tires.
Needless to say, reviewers credit the LTZ for having the most comfortable ride of the three trim levels, though most agree that even the lower trims demonstrate a surprising competence in dealing with all but the roughest roads. Steering is noted by most reviewers to be nicely balanced, though a pretty sizeable effort is needed on the wheel in low-speed maneuvering, and this big Chevy’s sheer size, according to all reviews, puts it at a distinct disadvantage in crowded spaces. Brakes, however, are described as powerful and true, with no mushiness or hesitation in pedal feel.
Cabin & Comfort
In its secondary role as an SUV-wannabe, the 2011 Chevy Avalanche is admirably well endowed with passenger amenities. The base LS, for instance, includes a roof rack, trip computer, step running boards, premium cloth upholstery, six-way power-adjustable front seats, remote power door locks, power windows, heated power outside mirrors, tilting steering wheel with mounted audio and cruise controls, dual-zone air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel, simulated alloy dash trim, single-CD player with six speakers, XM satellite radio, OnStar communications with Bluetooth hands-free technology, and a USB connection among its standard amenities. Moving up to the LT, meanwhile, begets standard remote engine start, simulated wood dashboard and cabin trim, Sun Sensor automatic lighting and climate control, front and rear floor mats, seven Bose premium speakers, including subwoofer, and separate rear audio controls to the list.
The Avalanche LTZ, as befits its flagship status, boasts such extra standard amenities as leather upholstery, multi-level heated front seats, with power-adjustable lumbar supports, power-retractable, reverse-tilting, auto-dimming outside mirrors, with driver’s side auto-dimming feature, universal remote garage door opener, rear-view camera, memory for driver's settings for the seat and outside mirrors, eight speakers with 5.1 surround sound, voice-activated DVD navigation, and XM NavTraffic added to the satellite radio package.
Options include 20-inch polished alloy or chromed wheels with the LS and LT trims, as well as the beefy Trailering Package, with integrated trailer braking, extra engine cooling, and a 3.42 axle ratio, and power step running boards across the lineup. The Z-71 Off Road Package, featuring skid plates, jounce bumpers, specially tuned shocks and springs, upgraded appearance features, and a high-capacity air filter is available with the LT trim, while a power sunroof and rear-seat DVD entertainment are available only with the LT and LTZ trims.
Generally, reviewers are favorably impressed with the 2011 Avalanche’s well appointed cabin, noting gauges to be easily readable, and controls to be well-located and simple to use. An abundance of hard plastics dominates the cabin, but, according to most reviewers, some subtle and effective texturing offsets any potential low-rent look. Seats are claimed by the majority of reviewers to be comfortable and supportive, though this pickup’s high stance can prove a minor challenge to shorter folks in reaching them. Most reviewers note that the overly large roof pillars put rearward visibility at a premium. Of course, the unique and inspired mid-gate feature draws rave reviews from virtually all professional reviewers.
To complement its sheer heft, the 2011 Avalanche features a host of standard safety equipment. The entire lineup boasts four-wheel disc ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, traction and stability control, daytime running lights, and OnStar safety communication technology. Dual front side-mounted airbags and front and rear head airbags are also standard for all three trims. The LT and LTZ trims additionally carry front fog/driving lights, dusk-sensing headlights and rear parking sensors, with the LTZ also sporting standard turn-signal-integrated mirrors. The turn-signal-integrated mirrors, meantime, are optional with the LS and LT trims, with the LTZ’s standard front fog/driving lights additionally available for the LS trim.
Though no data is available on the Avalanche from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives this sharp pickup five stars in front impact testing and three stars in rollover tests for 2010. Side impact results are unavailable for 2010 trims, but the NHTSA has restructured their testing procedures, and test criteria on the 2011 Avalanche, indeed all 2011 vehicles, will be a bit more stringent altogether.
What Owners Think
As with current safety-testing data, owner feedback on the 2011 Avalanche is severely lacking. Owners of the nearly mirror-image 2010 Avalanche, however, place poor gas mileage at the top of the list of pet peeves, though most grant that they didn’t buy this big pickup for its fuel efficiency numbers. Some lackluster electronics, additionally, leave a few owners cold, while significantly diminished front legroom with the rear seatbacks folded down also leads to a bit of owner discontent.
On the positive side, owners of the 2010 Avalanche are impressed with its looks, cabin comfort, and plethora of standard features. Of course, the removable mid-gate draws loud applause from owners, as does a surprisingly smooth ride. Some owners advise, however, that the 2011 Avalanche, though a bit more civilized than the typical pickup, is still a truck at heart.
Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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