I love playing the role of taxi driver when I have a test car. As a single woman, I sometimes have a very singular view of the cars I drive. But you put a firefighter or a mom in the passenger seat, and you get a whole new perspective.
This week, I had a mother or two car-seat-sized children in the jump seat, and she fairly oozed all over the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox
. The very first thing she pointed out was the amount of rear legroom, which is perfect for a Snap N Go car seat. Or two as the as the case may be.
She currently drives a Lexus GX 460, and she said that 3-row behemoth doesn't have this kind of room.
One downside of the huge legroom, however: It's really hard to reach the toys if they fall on the floor.
She didn't check out the rear cargo area, but I suspect the 31.4 cubic-feet of cargo volume is more than adequate to fit a stroller. It was certainly more than enough space for my gym bag, yoga mat and running gear. And the optional cargo cover ($245) is a must if you plan to leave anything in your car and park outside (says the girl who's had her car broken into twice when a cargo cover wasn't available).
Time Magazine recently wrote an article about all the female-centric features on this car, and while I wouldn't have necessarily thought of it in those terms, I have to say that there are things on this car that only a woman would notice but a man would absolutely appreciate.
Take for example, the center console. It's deep enough to fit a medium-sized purse. Or a laptop. And the tray at the top is perfect to store a man's wallet, cell phone or house keys. The little cubby hole at the bottom of the center stack is a nice place to set a cell phone, iPod or small purse while driving.
Then there's the extra little lip at the bottom of the door. It fully covers the door sill and protects it from dirt and wetness. This translates into clean trouser bottoms if you brush up against the door sill when you enter or exit the vehicle. Men may not wear white pants as much as women, but let me tell you the dirt shows just as prominently on khakis.
The gas pedal is a subtle nicety. But one I noticed when I had the occasion to wear 4-inch heels during the test week. The little spike fitted comfortably underneath the pedal, and the gently sloping angle kept me from twisting my ankle at an odd angle to accommodate the stilts. While a man might not overtly notice this, it will make longer drives more comfortable for his ankle as well as mine.
In terms of driving position, the standard 8-way power adjustable driver's seat was perfect. Height, lumbar, seat bottom and forward-backward range was sufficient for petite and tall drivers alike-still leaving a decent amount of legroom in the rear no matter the position.
In addition to general seat comfort, there was an overall ride comfort. I drove the Tahoe and Equinox in back-to-back test weeks, and I was actually surprised by the fact that the Equinox had a smoother ride. Over potholes, crevices and divots, the Equinox fairly glided over whereas the Tahoe unpleasantly registered every bump and hump in the road.
Not to mention the fact that the smaller size makes for a much more nimble vehicle. Whether I was driving on narrow city streets, crowded highways that required a lot of bobbing and weaving or alleys with obstacles like roosters (don't ask), I was able to maneuver easily.
A favorite feature on the test vehicle was the rear camera, which was included as standard fare on the top-of-the-line LTZ model. In addition to a wide rear view, the camera has curved projectory lines that give an extra visual aid for backing up while turning your wheel-perfect for parallel parking. And believe me, I was able to park in some extremely tight spaces during the test week because of this feature.
Since the vehicle was an LTZ front-wheel drive model, it had a base price of $25,445. Which is quite decent for what you're getting. We're talking about that rear camera, in addition to premium cloth seats, Pioneer premium audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, side-impact airbags, roof rack side rails, XM Radio (additional subscription fee required, but 3 months free) and a Multi-Flex sliding rear seat with 3-position recline. Not bad when you consider that the base, base pricing for the LS model is $23,185.
The test vehicle did add about $4K in options, however, which jacked the price up to $29,075. The add-ons included: navigation ($2,145); the cargo management package ($245); and the power, programmable liftgate ($495).
While I loved the navigation system with it's weather updates and visual traffic cues, I probably could have opted out of this one in favor of my Palm Pre nav and weather updates. But the latter two options are must haves. In fact, I think the cargo management should be standard. But the liftgate is just a plain nice feature that allows you to open and close the rear hatch with the touch of a button-need I point out that this is great for moms with full arms. Plus, you can also set the height to full or 3/4, which satisfies a multitude of driver sizes.
The one option I missed: heated front seats. Luckily, this can be added for $549.
The exterior of the Equinox is a nice improvement over the previous generation, but it's not a revolutionary design that's going to leave people staring after you as you drive past. It's functional and not ugly. But that's about it.
It's the interior where this vehicle shines. The center stack is a departure from the standard General Motors cheapo, generic button placement. It has an ebb and flow that reminds me of Infiniti. And while it took me a while to get used to all the new visual eye candy, it became easier to navigate as the test week wore on.
I absolutely loved the cloth seating surfaces in the test car. The edges were solid black, with a white-and-black weave pattern insert. Oh, and the stitching was red. This matched the red inserts at the bottom of various cubby holes, and the overall effect was well done without being over done.
The behind the wheel gauges remind me of the Camaro's with the silver rims and 3D design, and I absolutely loved the info center between the speedo and tach that switched between your choice of odometer, average fuel economy, instant fuel economy, digital speed readout and various vehicle settings.
OK, so this is the point of the review where I switch over to what I didn't like.
And basically, it can be summed up by the engine. The test vehicle had the base 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, direct-injection engine. And while it didn't completely suck, I just didn't love it. This engine delivers 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration from a stop was decent, but the passing acceleration that seemed a bit clunky. Not to mention the fact that the engine was just loud-inside the vehicle and out.
There is an up-level V-6 engine available that adds 82 horsepower and 50 pound-feet of torque. This boost in power also boosts towing capacity up to 3,500 pounds, up 2,000 over the I-4 engine. It also adds $1,500 to the sticker price.
Another disappointment from my end was the fuel economy. EPA promises city/highway ratings of 22/32 mpg for the FWD, 4-cylinder model. Yet I hovered around 21 mpg in a week of combined driving. And I was driving in ECO mode the entire time.
So, I'd probably opt for the V-6 engine if I were getting this SUV, and I'd try to check my lead foot at the door.
But other than that, I pretty much loved this thoughtful new vehicle from Chevy (yes, Chevy). If you're looking for something in the mid SUV range that seats 5, including 2 car seats comfortably, I'd definitely add this to your must-test list.