I don’t want to dwell on General Motors’ problems, but the timing of the first drive of the redesigned 2010 Chevrolet Equinox weighs the compact SUV down with added significance. Is this GM’s new direction, or a hangover from too much cheap fuel? With base prices from $23,185 to $29,795, the 2010 Chevy Equinox arrives with a 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty, a 5 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty and EPA estimates from 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway (V6 AWD) to 22 city/32 highway (I4 FWD). Let’s drive.
I’m rooting for the General, so I approached my first drive of the Equinox with some trepidation. I was not a big fan of the previous generation Equinox (2004 – 2009), nor its variants the Saturn Vue, Pontiac Torrent, GMC Terrain and Suzuki XL7. I held my breath all the way to Detroit (well, maybe that’s because I was jammed into a ridiculously small airplane seat), and met up with a group of journalists and the Chevy folks at the Inn at St. John’s. After a brief presentation by the product management and engineering team, and an encouraging speech by Ed Peper, Chevrolet Division General Manager, assembled journalists were let loose on a selection of Equinoxes for a drive to Ann Arbor and back.
My first impression of the Equinox’s exterior was really a second impression – I had seen a pre-production vehicle in person at the North American International Auto Show earlier this year. The production vehicle reinforced my feeling that Chevy’s designers have done a great job of reimagining the Equinox, and bringing it into line with the competition. It all starts with stance, and Equinox has it just right, with an assertive lean forward. The vehicle definitely appropriates some of the truckishness of Silverado, shedding the minivan air of the previous generation Equinox. The rounded tail end recalls competitive designs, particularly the upscale Lexus RX. It’s a good look overall.
In the Driver's Seat
Chevy burned a lot of calories trying to figure out the right balance of packaging on this new Equinox. For now, there are four trim levels: the base LS, mid-line 1LT and 2LT, and the loaded LTZ, each available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive configuration. I won’t waste space on the complicated matrix of standard and optional equipment at each trim level. Even the LS is pretty well-equipped, and Chevy has kept as many of the options ala carte as possible, though popular combinations will be easiest to find on dealer lots.
Equinox’s interior has taken a giant leap forward, starting where it all counts – in the seat. The cloth seats in the budget LS, premium cloth in 1LT models and the available perforated leather seats in the 2 LT and LTZ feature great support and adjustability. A power arcing seat height adjustment allows a driver to go from low rider to old lady driving position, and all sensible positions in between, making adjustable pedals unnecessary. Add in tilt and telescopic adjustment for the steering column, and all-day driving comfort is easily attainable.
Equinox’s dash and control layout is attractive, contemporary and quite sensible. Materials are a step up from the previous generation, and in the examples that I drove, fit and finish were as good as any in the class. The big center console left me feeling a little cramped side-to-side, but the length of leg space and expansive head room are great. Tall guys will definitely appreciate Equinox’s front seat layout, and rear seat passengers will love it.
On the Road
Equinox represents GM’s first implementation of the new direct injection engine technology in an SUV. Both engine choices for Equinox, the 2.4 liter inline four-cylinder (182 hp/172 lb-ft of torque) and the 3.0 liter V6 (264 hp/222 lb-ft of torque) produce more power with greater efficiency than conventionally fuel-injected, normally aspirated (non-turbo) engines of the same size. The technology is amazing, simple and effective, and will be turning up on other manufacturers’ SUV engines very soon. For now, direct injection is an Equinox exclusive. Power from the four-cylinder is adequate, though the V6 is more spirited, as the numbers hint. If economy is your prime concern, go for the four-cylinder, and you’ll be plenty happy. Both engines use six-speed automatic transmissions.
Because the direct injection four-cylinder engine throws off some thrashy noises, the four-cylinder Equinox comes with a cabin noise cancellation system that operates via two roof-mounted microphones, a dedicated amplifier under the center console, and the sound system’s subwoofer. The V6 doesn’t come with the system – doesn’t need it. When you add in the dual layer acoustic glass and precisely placed sound-deadening insulation, Equinox becomes a whisper-quiet cocoon, approaching Lexus levels of silence.
Equinox can be equipped with all the extras that will make it a great family hauler. The highly adjustable second row of seating with 8” of travel fore and aft makes Equinox a great carpool vehicle for full-sized passengers. There’s no third row available.
First, the good news: This Equinox is way better than the old Equinox, in almost every way. It looks better, drives better, handles better, is more comfortable, quieter, more efficient and better built. Kudos, Chevrolet. And the pricing is very reasonable, as well, at least for the LS and 1LT models. I drove a nicely-equipped front-wheel drive 1LT Equinox with a Vehicle Interface Package ($495), Programmable Power Liftgate ($495) and Rearview Camera System ($320), and the vehicle listed for $25,415. Impressive.
Now, the not-so-good news: Equinox faces some very stiff competition in the compact SUV market, particularly the excellent Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Hyundai’s Santa Fe has plenty of fans, as does Mazda’s CX-7 and Ford’s Edge. CR-V is my personal favorite, and after driving Equinox, remains so. However, if I needed more space, and was leaning more toward a mid-size than a compact SUV, I would consider Equinox before stepping all the way up to a Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot. By building a slightly larger compact SUV, Chevy may have found a crease in the marketplace.
Will Equinox alone turn General Motors around? No, but it’s a start. The direct injection engine is definitely leading edge technology in internal combustion, and promises even greater returns in future applications. I’m just glad that GM has a solid entry in the compact/mid-size crossover field.