2003 Chevrolet Avalanche Reviews and Ratings

Crew Cab 2500 4WD

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2003 Chevrolet Avalanche
Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

Longer than a Suburban, the Chevy Avalanche combines the comfort of a Tahoe with the load-hauling capability of a long-bed Silverado pickup. That's an impressive combination for someone who wants the utility of a full, eight-foot bed, yet needs seating for four, five or six people.

It may not be cheap, but the Chevrolet Avalanche is one slick, innovative truck. Introduced last year and revised for 2003, this is an impressive concept vehicle that made it all the way to production. The key to its versatility is the Midgate, GM's clever tailgate that separates the cabin from the pickup box. Normally, the Avalanche can carry five adults in comfort and a large amount of cargo in a covered 5-foot 3-inch indestructible bed. But the rear seats fold down like in an SUV, the Midgate folds forward like a tailgate and voila! You have an eight-foot bed capable of hauling 4x8-foot sheets of plywood. Your plywood (or drywall) stays dry inside the covered bed, out of the pouring rain. Or take the cover off the bed, remove the rear window, and you can park an ATV back there. (We've done this.)

For 2003, the Avalanche is available without the plastic body cladding. We think it looks better, cleaner, if a bit plainer this way. But don't worry. Cladding is still available. Made of a practically bullet-proof material that will protect the rocker panels from years of flying gravel, it comes in a darker color for 2003

For 2003, the Avalanche benefits from a long list of improvements to all the full-size pickups and SUVs from GM. The new electrical system architecture ha. New features improve safety, comfort, convenience, and performance. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the attention to detail seen throughout the Avalanche. The people who designed this thing are into fishing, hunting, and boating, and the execution shows, with flush-mounted cargo lights that illuminate the bed, foldaway tie-down hooks, and footholds and handholds for climbing onto the cargo cover, made of a highly rigid material can easily support your weight.

Model Lineup
Chevrolet Avalanche comes in two weight ranges: 1500 (often referred to as half-ton) and the 2500 (three-quarter ton). Both are offered in 2WD and 4WD.

That makes four possible permutations, which retail as follows: 1500 2WD ($31,394); 1500 4WD ($34,394); 2500 2WD ($33,294); 2500 4WD ($36,294). Two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models use the same suspensions and have the same ground clearance.

Avalanche 1500 models are powered by a 5.3-liter Vortec V8 producing 285 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque. It comes with the 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission and is rated to tow 8200 pounds with 2WD, 7900 pounds with 4WD. (Trailer brakes are required.) Published payload capacities are 1363 pounds with 2WD, 1322 pounds with 4WD.

Avalanche 2500 models are powered by the Vortec 8100, an 8.1-liter V8 rated at 340 horsepower and 455 pounds-feet of torque. It comes mated to a 4L85 heavy-duty automatic transmission with overdrive and tow/haul mode. In place of the 1500 model's five-link rear suspension with coil springs and automatic load leveling, the 2500 rides on heavy-duty leaf springs. Towing capacity is boosted to 12,000 pounds, with two or four-wheel drive. Payload ratings for the 2500 are 2241 pounds with 2WD, 1958 pounds with 4WD.

Avalanche comes in only one trim level, but it's very complete, with nearly every luxury you might find in a premium automobile. Relative to the 1500, the 2500 does not add any luxury equipment or interior appointments, but it does come with its own heavy-duty carpeting and floor mats, a larger (37.5-gallon) fuel tank, and skid shields on 4WD models. Wheels are forged rather than cast, and tires are higher-profile 245/75R16's, rather than the 1500's 265/70R16s. Available as an option for 1500 models are 17-inch wheels with 265/70R17 tires.

New for 2003 is a Driver Convenience Package ($717) that includes multi-zone automatic climate control; power adjustable pedals; a HomeLink universal transmitter; power-folding outside mirrors with turn signals and ground illumination; and programmable, steering-wheel-mounted controls for the audio system, OnStar, trip computer and message center.

The North Face Edition ($5100) for the 4WD 1500 features Chevy's Z71 off-road suspension, green and black seats, floor mats with North Face logos, a white instrument cluster, the Driver Convenience Package, and The North Face badges on the C-pillars. Medium-gray interior trim and inner door panels are new for 2003. Sage Green exterior paintwork is still exclusive to the North Face Edition, with Sunset Orange, Onyx, Black, Pewter and Summit White available as well. Also included are two Summit Pod backpacks, as well as Water Duffalo storage bags.

Introduced last year, the Chevy Avalanche is an impressive concept vehicle that made it all the way to production. One thing that surprises many people is the size of the Avalanche. It doesn't look that big in photos, but it's big, three inches longer than a Suburban. Yet it feels tight and surprisingly nimble on mountain roads.

The Avalanche is essentially a modified Chevrolet Suburban; the two vehicles share fully 85 percent of their parts. So like the Suburban, the Avalanche is built on the same superb platform as the Silverado pickup. GM's engineers created the Avalanche by lopping off the rear roof structure and quarter windows of a Suburban, and redesigning the back end. When the Avalanche's rear seats are in place, there's a 5-foot 3-inch bed, which is long enough for most tasks. When that's not enough it converts into an 8-foot bed by taking over the rear seats.

The bed is protected by a well-designed lockable cover rated to support 250 pounds. You can walk all over it, and the cover keeps your cargo dry, clean, and safe from thieves. Fold the Midgate down and you can fill the bed with drywall. Close the tailgate and drive home in a downpour without any fear of seeing your drywall turn into wet wall. The Midgate, tailgate and portions of the cargo box are made from a composite material called PRO-TEC. This material is exceptionally durable, and resists dings, scratches and dents. Two Top-Box Storage compartments on either side of the cargo box provide a combined 3.5 cubic feet of lockable storage space. These compartments have drains, so they can be filled with ice and used as coolers.

The edgy front styling of last year's Avalanche gave it a unique look among Chevrolet's full-size light trucks. For 2003, Chevrolet has applied the same look to the Silverado pickup (but not the Suburban and Tahoe), so the 2003 Avalanche doesn't look quite as different as it did before. However, the Avalanche is still distinguished from the Silverado by its more exaggerated fender flairs, and by its extensive body cladding. The composite cladding, which is darker in color for 2003, does serve a purpose: It is as tough as iron and impervious to flying gravel.

This year, the Chevy Avalanche interior benefits from extensive improvements GM has built into all of its 2003 full-size trucks and SUVs. Multi-zone manual climate control is now standard on all models. A new instrument cluster promises better readability.

Safety improvements for 2003 include dual-level air bags with an automatic passenger-sensing system. Other improvements for 2003 extend to things you can't see, such as a new electrical system architecture. The standard alternator now produces 145 amps, and an automatic battery-protection system shuts off the lights 10 minutes after you turn off the ignition.

New entertainment options for 2003 include a DVD player and XM Satellite Radio. The 2003 Avalanche offers a new family of radios with RDS (Radio Data System). A six-speaker CD system is standard with bench seating; order the bucket-seat option, and you can get premium Bose speakers and a six-CD changer.

Most of the interior features of a well-trimmed Suburban are found in the Avalanche. That means a comfortable cabin for passengers and good ergonomic design for the driver. The seats in the Avalanche are identical to the first two rows in the Suburban. The Avalanche comes with a coffee warmer, and the ultimate in sun visors. Map lights are available; in fact, Chevrolet has provided generous illumination throughout the cabin. Flush-mounted cargo lights in the bed rate very high on our coolness scale and can make a big difference when loading cargo at night.

Of course, the most interesting feature on the Avalanche is the Midgate, which allows the Avalanche to convert from a five- or six-seat SUV with a 5-foot, 3-inch cargo box, to a two- or three-passenger pickup truck with an 8-foot, 1-inch box. The Midgate works similarly to a folding rear seat in a wagon or SUV. Flipping the seat bottoms forward and folding the seat backs and Midgate down provides flat cargo space and access to the cargo bay behind it. Instead of carpet, however, the Midgate is backed with a tough composite material impervious to gravel or anything else you can throw at it.

But there's more: The rear window of the cab can be quickly removed and stored out of harm's way. The bed cover comes off in three pieces and slides into a nice fabric bag; these pieces attach to the side of the bed to minimize the space they take up. Now you have a fully functional pickup with an open eight-foot bed. You can park an ATV in back, with the front tires and fenders where the rear seat was moments before.

Of course, this results in an open-air driving experience; there's nothing separating you from the open pickup bed. But wind noise is minimal, with no buffeting. Only a slight breeze reminds you that your ATV is sitting on the back seat. GM engineers achieved this through extensive tuning in the wind tunnel, and a pair of flying buttresses that also add structural rigidity and can be used as tie-downs.

Alternatively, you can fold down the rear seats but leave the Midgate in place, which leaves cargo space inside the cab; there's nearly 54 cubic feet of interior cargo volume with the rear seat folded and Midgate in place.

The new-for-2003 Driver Convenience Package ($717) includes power-adjustable pedals, which move up to 3 inches closer to the driver. That's a real boon for the vertically challenged, who won't have to sit as close to the steering wheel (and air bag) in order to reach the pedals. The adjustable pedals have a memory function, making it more convenient for mixed-height couples to share the same truck. The Driver Convenience Package also includes an eight-button, steering-wheel-mounted control system that the driver can program to access trip-computer functions, as well as OnStar and entertainment systems. Dual-zone automatic climate control also comes as part of the package.

XM Satellite Radio ($325) offers 100 coast-to-coast digital channels, including 71 music channels (more than 30 of them commercial-free) and 29 channels of sports, talk, news, and children's entertainment. Chevrolet claims that XM's sound quality is close to that of a compact disc.

An optional rear seat entertainment system ($1295) includes a DVD player with a flip-down screen to keeps rear-seat passengers entertained. It comes with two sets of wireless headphones, auxiliary audio/video jacks, a remote game plug-in, separate audio controls for the rear compartment, and a mute button.

Dual front and side-impact air bags are standard equipment. For 2003, Chevrolet has added a smart system that measures the weight in the front passenger seat, as well as seat-belt tension, and automatically de-activates the air bag if a small child is sitting there. The bag re-arms when an adult sits in the seat. Also new for 2003 is a dual-level inflation system that expands the bags less forcefully in a less-severe impact. LATCH child-seat anchors are provided in the front passenger seat, and in the center and passenger-side positions of the rear seat.

Driving Impressions
The Chevy Avalanche is as big as a Suburban, but handling and performance are surprisingly good. For 2003, braking performance and pedal feel have been improved. Fuel economy for Avalanche models equipped with optional Autotrac four-wheel drive is also improved. StabiliTrak stability control is now available on 1500 models with two-wheel drive and we recommend it.

Avalanche 1500 models ride as well as a fully loaded Suburban, maybe even better. The Avalanche feels smooth, quiet, and tight, with no squeaks or rattles. The suspension soaks up large potholes and rides comfortably on rough terrain.

Handling is excellent for a big, heavy truck, even better than in the Suburban. Both 2WD and 4WD versions of the 1500 series trucks use the same suspension and ride height, with torsion bars in front and a solid axle suspended on five links and coil springs in the rear.

The brakes, already excellent, have been improved for 2003, with shorter stops, better pedal feel, and quieter operation. GM has come a long way with brakes in the past few years.

The 5.3-liter V8 delivers plenty of punch. It's a responsive engine, rated 285 horsepower and, more important, 325 pounds-feet of torque, which launches the Avalanche quickly off the line. The broad, flat torque curve, with 90 percent of peak torque available from 1600 to 5000 rpm, is designed to provide outstanding trailer-towing and load-hauling capability. A properly equipped Avalanche 1500 is rated to tow up to 8200 pounds.

The four-speed automatic transmission (4L60-E) shifts responsively. Pressing the Tow/Haul button results in quicker, harder shifts and reduces heat by limiting the amount of hunting between gears.

Autotrac four-wheel drive lets the driver select different drive modes for different conditions: 2HI drives the rear wheels only and offers the best fuel efficiency. Auto 4WD transfers power from the rear wheels to the front wheels as needed, to optimize traction in inconsistent conditions. 4HI provides the best traction in rugged terrain. 4LO is available for when the going gets really ugly. A neutral position allows the Avalanche to be flat-towed.

2WD 1500 models now offer StabiliTrak electronic traction and stability control. The traction-control function allows controlled acceleration on slippery surfaces. The stability-enhancing function maximizes handling and braking on a variety of surfaces. An array of sensors monitor steering wheel angle, wheel speed, brake pressure, longitudinal and lateral acceleration, and yaw rate; a computer uses the data to compare the driver's intentions with the actual direction the truck is headed. The system is programmed to allow for intervention thresholds, but above that point it steps in whenever one or more wheels is slipping, if the vehicle is slipping sideways, or if it is understeering or oversteering. Then StabiliTrak adjusts engine torque or the brake pressure to individual wheels to help steer the truck back to the path the driver intended. Our advice: If you opt for 2WD, order Stabilitrak.

Chevrolet Avalanche combines clever engineering with advanced materials science to provide a solution for people who need a full-size pickup with an eight-foot bed, but want comfortable five- or six-passenger seating. Its cargo bed is indestructible and can take a load of gravel. The interior is as luxurious as a Suburban's interior.

There's plenty of power from the 1500 model's V8 engine. Ride and handling are excellent. The heavy-duty Avalanche 2500 offers big towing capability. Attention to detail is impressive, both in design and engineering and in customer comfort and convenience. Overall, this is one of the most interesting trucks available today. Only its price gives us pause, but it seems reasonable given the capability and versatility this truck offers and the amount of engineering that went into it.

Model as tested
1500 2WD ($31,394)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Silao, Mexico
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Driver Convenience Package ($717) includes dual-zone electronic climate control, universal garage door transmitter, power adjustable pedals, steering-wheel mounted radio controls, power heated color-keyed mirrors

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
1500 2WD ($31,394); 1500 4WD ($34,394); 2500 2WD ($33,294); 2500 4WD ($36,294)
Safety equipment (standard)
ABS, dual-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
5.3-liter ohv 16-valve V8
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
air conditioning, AM/FM/CD, three-piece cargo cover, black rubber cargo mat, integrated top boxes in bed for storage, charcoal body cladding, overhead console, rear-window defogger, driver message center, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, self-dimming rear-view mirror with compass and outside temperature display, two power outlets, cruise control, remote keyless entry with two transmitters, tilt steering column with leather-wrapped steering wheel, trailering package including seven-pin wiring connector, high-capacity air cleaner, transmission oil cooler and trailer brake pre-wire harness, cloth upholstery, intermittent windshield wipers

Engine & Transmission
5.3-liter ohv 16-valve V8
Drivetrain type
rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
285 @ 5200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
live axle

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality Not Available
Overall Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Overall Quality - Design
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Design
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Design
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
Not Available

Overall Dependability Not Available
Powertrain Dependability
Not Available
Body & Interior Dependability
Not Available
Feature & Accessory Dependability
Not Available

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J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

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