CHEVY SHAKES UP CROSSOVERS
by Casey Williams
Comparing the new 2010 Chevy Equinox to its predecessor is like putting on your first pair of Gucci loafers after wearing boat shoes your entire life. Your perception of what a crossover can and should be will change with the first tap of the throttle and roll of the wheels. Where the first-generation model, which replaced the hideous Chevy Tracker, had an overwhelming sense of plastic and the turning radius of a school bus, the new Equinox ranks with the best Japanese and German mid-size crossovers. It also posts impressive fuel economy ratings. This is going to shake things up.
If you didn’t see the bold Chevy grille on the front, you’d probably guess the Equinox is a Lexus or Acura – GM’s entry-level brand would never cross your mind. Equinox’ strong fender forms, sculpted body lines, chrome window surrounds, 17” aluminum wheels, and upturned side glass are at once elegant and rugged. Look close, and you will see details like the chrome luggage rack with honeycomb pattern in its base shroud. It is a little thing, but shows a surprising attention to detail.
Designers also worked over the interior. Five people fit very comfortably in optional heated leather seats with contrasting color inserts. Like the Malibu and Traverse, Equinox receives a Corvette-inspired dual dash design that is also available with contrasting colors. Large analog gauges go perfectly with the small diameter leather-wrapped steering wheel that feels perfect in one’s hands. A glovebox that can hold a netbook, rear seat center armrest, and door cubbies are nice. There is a lot of hard plastic on the dash and doors, but at some point, Chevy has to design for a price. All of it looks good with refined textures. Blue lighting seeps out from around the center controls and door handles to bathe passengers in a fog of illumination.
Our test model was loaded to the power sunroof with in-dash navigation, backing camera, bluetooth phone connectivity, USB port for MP3 players (gives full control of the portable unit over to the dash knobs), tilt/telescoping steering wheel, XM Satellite Radio, and CD player. Kids will enjoy the twin rear seat displays for movies or video games. Pioneer’s 8-speaker audio system will thump you stupid. Safety is enhanced with head curtain airbags.
Like its siblings, the GMC Terrain and Cadillac SRX, Equinox rides on an athletic four-wheel independent suspension system that is connected to a car-like body structure. Not only does this provide excellent handling on curvy roads, but also absorbs rough pavement with nary a shudder. The wagon always feels solid, well-planted, and ready for a hard run. Electronic stability control and four-wheel ABS brakes are standard. One has to keep reminding himself that this is not a sport sedan.
The same feelings will come when accelerating onto a freeway or on the open road. Base models come with a 2.4-litre direct injection DOHC four-cylinder engine that generates 182 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque – connected to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission that always finds the right gear on the highway. That’s more than enough power to move the Equinox off the line quickly and at any sane speed. It is also the only way you’ll get class-leading 22/32-MPG city/highway – better than some compact cars. If your inner demon demands speed, or you have a boat to tow, step up to the 3.0-litre direct injection V6 and its 264 horsepower and 222 lb.-ft. of torque. Both engines are available with front- or all-wheel-drive.
Numbers don’t tell the entire story. Before I could even get behind the wheel, my partner had driven the Equinox and told me how much he liked it. This is a guy who owns a Volkswagen, is no fan of American cars, and would only drive a Chevrolet if the brand were followed by Camaro. My 54-yr. old mother also couldn’t wait to see it. After a weekend drive, she decided there was nothing she didn’t like. There’s a good chance an Equinox will soon replace her Chevy mini-van.
Before the Equinox, I spent a week driving around Southern California in a bright red Mercedes GLK. As you would expect, the Mercedes is a fine automobile with plenty of cargo space. Although the Equinox is no pimp Mercedes, it is not much of a compromise either. Interior quietness, handling, solid feel, and a full load of options were on par with Germany’s finest. Prices for the Equinox start at a very affordable $23,185, but came to $33,025 for our loaded four-cylinder front-drive test model. Compare it to similar competitors and you’ll be surprised.
2010 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ
Five-passenger, FWD Crossover
Powertrain: 182-HP 2.4-litre I4, 6-spd. auto. trans.
Must-have features: Style, economy.
Fuel economy: 22/32-MPG city/hwy.
As tested price: $33,025.
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Photos Courtesy of GM