The newly designed 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is a match for top American and Asian rivals, with improved styling, new engines, lots of room and especially good highway fuel economy.
This Chevy from the reorganized General Motors Corp. comes with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).
List prices are $22,440 for the base LS, $23,360 for the mid-range 1 LT and $25,445 2 LT and $28,045 for the top-line LTZ.
The new Equinox has a good amount of comfort, convenience and safety equipment, including electronic stability and traction control, besides lots of air bags.
I found during a preview of the 2010 Equinox in the Detroit area that the new 2.4-liter, 182-horsepower four-cylinder engine performs virtually as well as the optional 3-liter, 264-horsepower V-6, at least with just two occupants aboard.
Load the Equinox with people and cargo, and the V-6's higher horsepower and added torque (222 pound-feet vs.172 pound-feet) will provide more punch. But Chevy estimates that nearly 75 percent of Equinox buyers will opt for the less costly, more economical four-cylinder.
"It's a four-cylinder world now," one Chevy executive at the preview said, likely with an eye on stricter upcoming federal fuel-economy standards.
Both engines are fairly quiet and sophisticated, with direct fuel injection, four overhead camshafts and variable valve timing. They require high revs for the best acceleration, but the standard, responsive six-speed automatic transmission helps allow low revs during highway cruising.
The engines sound nearly the same during brisk acceleration, partly because the four-cylinder works with numerically higher front-drive and AWD final-drive ratios, which enhance acceleration.
The 0-60 mph time with the four-cylinder is 8.2 seconds with front-drive and 7.8 with the V-6 and front- drive. Expect AWD versions to be a little slower.
Fuel economy, at least on highways, is a definite Equinox plus, especially for the four-cylinder version. It delivers an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway with front-drive and 20 and 29 with AWD. Figures for the V-6 are 18 and 25 with front-drive and 17 and 24 with AWD. Only regular-grade fuel is needed for either engine.
The 2010 Equinox drives in a very carlike manner. A rigid body structure and an all-independent suspension allow good handling and a supple ride. The brake pedal has a progressive feel and controls vented all-disc anti-lock brakes.
Fairly large 17-inch wheels are standard for the four-cylinder version, with 18-inchers standard for the V-6 model. Optional for the V-6 Equinox are 19-inch wheels.
This crossover has the same fairly long 112.5-inch wheelbase as its predecessor, but is about one inch shorter in length and an inch wider. It draws exterior design inspiration from the Chevy Malibu sedan and Traverse crossover and retains the automaker's "signature global face" with a two-tier grille and prominent gold bowtie insignia. Other design elements that definite the Equinox as a "true Chevrolet" include dual round taillights.
Wheels are at the body's far corners, and a wider front track enhances ride and handling. The Equinox is better looking, partly because it has wraparound headlights, strong fender shapes, a distinctive roofline and a windshield base moved forward about three inches for a sleeker profile.
One clever feature is rocker panels integrated into the doors to make it easier to get in and out and to prevent pant legs from brushing against dirty "rockers."
The Equinox is firmly constructed, with no shakes or rattles from early production models driven at the preview. It's built on a body-integral structure with single-piece body side stampings and targeted applications of high-strength steel.
The cabin is quiet because noise-absorbing elements are built into the chassis, engine compartment and interior. It also has GM's first application of Active Noise Cancellation technology on four-cylinder models. That technology uses--odd as it may seem-- microphones in the vehicle.
Features offered include USB audio connectivity for personal music devices and a DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system with two independent screens that flip up from the top of the front seats to enable DVD viewing on one and gaming on the other.
There's also a programmable power-operated tailgate that moves well up and out of the way to prevent head knocking, a rear-vision camera and a range of premium-feature audio systems with up to eight speakers and 250 watts of output.
The Equinox comfortably seats four occupants. Front seat fore-aft travel is 10 inches to keep long-legged drivers happy. And there's also a tilt/telescopic steering wheel and power-adjustable driver seat height feature.
The rear-seat area is especially roomy partly because the back seat slides fore and aft nearly eight inches for the best rear legroom in the Equinox's class. However, the center of the rear seat is too hard for comfort for a third rear occupant and is best left to the fold-down armrest with its dual cupholders.
With the 60/40 rear seat moved all the way forward, the cargo area offers 31.4-cubic feet of storage. There's decent cargo room with the rear seat in its central position, but the seatbacks don't sit completely flat when flipped forward for more cargo space.
Wide doors with large handles make it easy to slide in and out of the firm, supportive front seats. Rear seats also are firm, but don't offer as much support. Front occupants sit high.
White-on-black gauges can be quickly read, and large outside mirrors help driver visibility. Nifty ice-blue ambient lighting encircles the console cupholders and is within the door pulls.
But audio and climate control system controls are rather small. The ignition switch is awkwardly hidden behind the steering wheel. And the transmission lever partly blocks a driver's access to the dual console cupholders when in the "drive" position. Power windows go down--but not up--with a "one-touch" express feature.
Interior storage is good, with a moderate-sized glove compartment, exceptionally deep covered center console bin, closed shallow storage bin above the center dashboard stack and storage pockets and beverage holders in all doors.
The hood raises on a single strut and has an inside cover for noise insulation. Fluid filler areas can be easily reached without getting clothes dirty.
Chevrolet spent lots of time and effort making the new Equinox above-average. This is the kind of vehicle that the reorganized GM needs to become more competitive, although it was designed long before Washington became involved with the U.S. auto industry.
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