Say what you will about legacy costs, screwball UAW agreements, and brand hyper-proliferation, General Motors has undeniably talented designers and engineers. Those folks have in recent years created stellar products such as the current Cadillac CTS, the new Chevrolet Malibu, and a quartet of well-executed full-size crossovers. The problem, though, is that GM’s efforts—including the above standouts—tend to arrive late to their games. And even then, many whiff in their first at bat, only hitting home runs during their second generation. By the time GM gets into it, the competition has put a few runs on the scoreboard and the General spends the rest of the game playing catch-up.
Such is the case with the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox compact crossover. Following a rather milquetoast first generation (which itself arrived nearly a decade after the U.S.-market Toyota RAV4), the nearly all-new Equinox is far more praiseworthy, a fact you can tell simply by scanning its winsome styling. Like its big, three-row brother, the Chevrolet Traverse, the new Equinox is sleek and rather large for its class. It’s very expressively styled, with a hunkered-down road stance and more sparkling body jewelry than a Las Vegas can-can dancer. Fat fender flares break up the tall body sides, and blackout D-pillars visually shorten what is ultimately a long vehicle by wrapping the upper rear end in what looks like one piece of glass. Body seams are kept to a minimum, with paper-thin slits replacing the outgoing model’s finger-thick gaps. Slick.
Swank, Spacious Interior
More glitz can be found inside. The Equinox’s dashboard is easily the most futuristic and detailed in its class, with silver-trimmed, Camaro-like “squircle” gauges bracketing a classy LCD containing an array of trip- and vehicle-related data. The dash and door panels are rendered in a variety of silver, gray, and chrome materials. They’re mostly rigid except for the main touch points, and the center-stack button arrangement takes some learning. We sampled three different color combos: all black, chocolate and black, and black and stone gray, with our favorite being the latter. Each is subtly enhanced with red seat stitching and red rubber liners in most of the storage cubbies (of which there are lots). The elbow-deep center console is equipped with a power port, USB and aux jacks, and most important, a light in the event that you drop something into that deep abyss.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon
BASE PRICE: $23,185
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection / DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 145 cu in, 2384cc (I-4) / 183 cu in, 2994cc (V-6)
Power (SAE net): 182 hp @ 6700 rpm (I-4) / 264 hp @ 6950 rpm (V-6)
Torque (SAE net): 172 lb-ft @ 4900 rpm (I-4) / 222 lb-ft @ 5100 rpm (V-6)
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manumatic shifting
Wheelbase: 112.5 in Length: 187.8 in Width: 72.5 in Height: 66.3 in Curb weight (mfr’s est): 3750 lb lb
PERFORMANCE (MFR’S EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 8.7 sec (I-4, FWD) / 7.8 sec (V-6, FWD)
EPA city/highway driving: 17–22/24–32 mpg
Remedying one of the previous model’s chief shortcomings are the seats: the front buckets are far more comfortable and supportive than the chair-shaped balloons that came with the last Equinox, and the wide rear seat (which slides up to eight inches fore and aft) is no longer as flat as a diving board. Those short of thigh might find the cushions in front a touch long, but otherwise, the seating position is exceptional.
For our drive opportunity, Chevy brought along a couple of base model competitors, a Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V for side-by-side comparison. With almost no options, both were predictably spartan next to the comfortably equipped Equinoxes we had been driving all day. However, we were surprised just how dated their designs appeared and how comparatively cheap the materials were. While we’ve complained about lackluster materials in recent Toyotas, the fact that the Equinox outshined the Honda was unexpected.
Fuel Economy First, Speed Later
For the first time, the Equinox is offered with a four-cylinder engine. In spite of developing just three fewer horsepower than the previous model’s 3.4-liter V-6 (182 versus 185), the direct-injected, 2.4-liter four achieves a remarkable 22 city/32 highway mpg when driving only the front wheels and 20/29 with all-wheel drive. The smaller motor also allowed Chevy to keep the Equinox’s weight from exploding, at least in the base trim, which Chevy pegs at 3750 pounds. An available 264-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 serves as the step-up motor (replacing last year’s 3.6-liter V-6). Fuel economy with that engine drops to a less remarkable but still respectable 18/25 mpg (17/24 for AWD).
Now, while the Equinox is certainly on the porky side no matter what’s under the hood, we found ourselves attracted to the four-cylinder models. With a claimed 0–60 time of a leisurely 8.7 seconds according to GM, it isn’t all that much slower than the V-6, which GM puts at an unimpressive 7.8 seconds. Our impressions confirm that both get about the task of acceleration in a rather relaxed fashion, although each is smooth and quiet as they rev up to their redlines.
Both engines feature direct injection and are mated to six-speed transmissions with manumatic shifting (still a novelty in this class), although to actuate the manual mode, one must slip the gear selector down to “M” and then use the thumb-rocker on the side of the shift lever to execute up- and downshifts; there are no steering-wheel controls nor separate gates to work with. Given that, we see the manual shifting capability as geared more to those who tow than gear-rowing enthusiasts. Response seemed crisper and quicker when the gearbox was simply left in drive, anyway.
Shhhhhh! This is the Buick of Crossovers
Don’t expect much from the chassis, which itself starts with a stiffening of the last-generation’s Theta architecture. The electric power steering drains feel in order to save fuel, and the brakes are merely ho-hum. The CR-V and particularly the RAV4 offered much more steering feel, although both were far noisier than the whisper-quiet Equinox. The Equinox is shockingly calm and vibration-free inside, the result of a rigid structure, soft bushings, and compliant suspenders. Feel free to think of the new Equinox as the Buick of compact SUVs—we do.
In spite of its added content and superior powerplants, Chevrolet has dropped the price on the Equinox by more than a grand on all trim levels. The base LS starts at $23,185, with the 1LT package coming in at $24,105, 2LT at $26,190, and the top-rung LTZ at $28,790. All-wheel drive costs $1750 on all trim levels, while the V-6 (available only on 1LT, 2LT and LTZ models) costs $1500. Fully equipped with stuff like a sunroof, a tow package, OnStar-enhanced navigation, a 40-GB entertainment system, and slick independent DVD screens that flip up from the front seatbacks, it is possible to stack the Equinox past the $37K mark, which seems like a lot to us. Alas, many of its competitors are cheaper—some by a little, some by a lot—but none convey the same quietness and refinement as the Equinox.
On sale now, the 2010 Chevy Equinox expands the General’s roster of seriously competitive players. It may be relatively bland to drive, but this new Equinox is good enough at crossover-y tasks (like family-hauling, cargo-carrying, and commuting) to establish a fan base moving forward. That’s a good thing, as GM needs all the good players on its roster it can get.