Sunday, September 13, 2009

Redesigned Chevrolet Equinox is competitive with the best in class

The new Chevrolet Equinox is smooth and quiet on the road.

The task: Take on two of the most popular small SUVs, the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.

The result: The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox.

Say again? The Equinox?

That's right. General Motors expects its all-new, 2010 Equinox to put a serious dent in the draw of the traditional best-selling compact crossovers. That's a tall order. Chevy has moved just 21,000 of the little utes so far this year, compared with Toyota selling 52,000 RAV4s and Honda selling 65,000 CR-Vs. But now that we've driven the new Equinox, we'd say it has a shot.

For starters, it looks good inside and out. The front has what Chevy calls its signature global face: the two-tier grille and gi-normous gold bow tie. The little ute has strong fenders and good-looking wraparound headlamps. The wheels are pushed out to the corners so the overhangs are nice and short. The overall look is a bit like a mini-Traverse, and that's a good thing.

The interior looks good, too. Yes, the material on the dash and door panels is hard plastic, but the design is tasteful and sharp, and everything is where you'd expect. There's plenty of room, and the rear seat can slide fore and aft almost eight inches, depending on whether you need legroom or cargo room. When it is all the way back, there is a surprising amount of legroom.

Two engines are available, both new, both direct-injected. The 2.4-liter four produces 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. GM claims it will hit 60 mph in 8.7 seconds and delivers an econobox-like 32 mpg highway in the front-drive model. Theoretically, you could get 600 miles on a tank with the FWD four-cylinder. AWD models are estimated to get 29 mpg on the highway.

The 3.0-liter V6 develops 264 hp and 222 lb-ft, will get 25 mpg on the highway and reaches 60 mph in 7.8 seconds. Both engines come with six-speed automatic transmissions; the four-cylinder has an eco mode, which adjusts shift points for better mileage.

The cockpit of the Chevrolet Equinox has a wraparound design.

Speaking of the four-cylinder, we surprised ourselves, liking it better than the six. There is nothing wrong with the six--it's a smooth engine, and there's more than enough power. But the four is a sweetie. It's the smoothest, most refined four GM has produced, and at 182 hp, there's plenty of thrust. In fact, the four, mated to the six-speed transmission, is so well suited to hauling around the Equinox's 3,770 pounds that we wouldn't even bother with the V6. It's overkill.

With either engine, the Equinox is quiet and smooth on the road. Knowing that the old Equinox suffered from quite a bit of wind noise, GM engineers focused intently on making the trucklet quieter, including using active noise cancellation, and you can tell.

The new Equinox drives like a car, and that's one of the higher compliments you can pay an SUV. The suspension is well tuned to keep body motions in check, but the ride didn't beat on us. Everything felt buttoned down, responsive and tight.

Starting at $23,185 (a $1,800 price cut), the new Equinox is much better than the outgoing model. But that's not the point. The news here is that the new Chevy is a leap far enough forward to be on par with the CR-V and the RAV4, and that's something we couldn't say before.

If you're in the market for a small SUV--and there are a million of you a year who are--this new Equinox should definitely be on your shopping list.

2010 Chevrolet Equinox


BASE PRICE: $23,185

POWERTRAIN: 2.4-liter, 182 hp, 172 lb-ft I4; FWD, six-speed automatic

CURB WEIGHT: 3,770 lb

0-60 MPH: 8.7 sec (mfr)



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