As it marches into what it hopes will be a robust, profitable, post-bankruptcy era, GM’s Chevrolet division continues to introduce new products to round out its portfolio of cars and trucks. Part of any mainstream car builder’s vehicle line should include crossover SUVs, which combine the versatility and macho looks of old-school sport utility vehicles with car-like ride and fuel efficiency.
Joining the fairly large Traverse in Chevy’s lineup is a revised Equinox SUV for 2010. While the Traverse occupies the family-hauling three-row station in the grand plan for GM’s entry division, the Equinox is a smaller size with seats for five and a trimmer profile.
Aside from new styling that mimics both the Traverse and Chevrolet’s Malibu sedan, the big news for the Equinox is that it now comes with a much more fuel efficient engine and transmission combination as standard equipment. The previous Equinox was only available with a V6 engine, but the 2010 model looks to the future with a 2.4 liter four cylinder with direct fuel injection for precise combustion control.
Even bigger news is the standard 6-speed automatic transmission, which makes the base engine quite livable thanks to enough ratios to keep the power in the sweet spot. One of GM’s “Achilles heels” over the past few years was that its base engines were saddled with antiquated 4-speed automatics, while the rest of the industry had moved to 5-speeds as the norm.
With the new combination of four cylinders and six gears, the Equinox is ready to take on the venerable Honda CR-V, which is considered the benchmark of the compact SUV segment. Even though Chevy’s engine is not quite as smooth as the Honda’s, its output is impressive at 182 horsepower. The transmission works perfectly with the engine, and helps it achieve fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg city and 32 highway. (The all wheel drive option knocks those numbers down a bit, to 20 and 29 due to the extra weight.)
For those in need of more power, a 3.0 liter V6 is still available, but you’ll take a hit on the gas mileage with ratings of 17 and 24/25. Though gasoline is staying at a reasonable price right now, about a year ago buyers were clamoring for smaller engines in their new cars, fearing we’d never see prices below $4 per gallon ever again. A pragmatic buyer today will probably choose the base engine in order to be prepared for possible future gas price increases.
Of course there’s more to the Equinox than its engine. If you’ve driven the current Chevy Malibu, this interior will feel very familiar, with stylish controls laid out in a logical fashion down the center stack from the dash to the console. Simple things like adjusting the radio or fan speed are easy and intuitive. Unfortunately, you can’t say that about every car built these days.
Head and leg room for taller drivers is ample, something I always appreciate. One of the great things carried over from the previous Equinox is an adjustable rear seat, which can move fore and aft. Taller passengers can stretch out, or you can move the seat closer to the driver to increase cargo capacity or keep a child seat within easy reach.
I was actually kind of pleased to spend time in a test car that wasn’t fully loaded up with every option and package. Like most of the Chevrolet lineup, the Equinox starts as a base model called LS, but a buyer can move up to 1LT, 2LT and LTZ models. My dark red all wheel drive Equinox was a 1LT, which really had everything anyone could want in a new car, and carried a sticker price of $26,175, including shipping and the optional $320 backup camera system.
That one option is certainly worth its tariff, and places a color video screen within the rear view mirror whenever the vehicle is shifted into reverse. It’s no longer necessary to pop for a navigation system and its display screen in order to enjoy the safety advantage of a camera pointing to the rear.
You can still load up an Equinox all the way up to the LTZ package, but it starts getting pretty expensive if you do that. I have a feeling that GM is going to be smart and build the majority of these vehicles in the lower trim lines. Better to sell more vehicles to more people who are watching their budgets.
Even the lesser variants like the one I drove come with stability control, four wheel disc brakes, six airbags, and a host of other safety features including General Motors’ OnStar system which comes with one year of free service. Buyers in this segment value safety, and the Equinox delivers on that front.
I found this to be a very competent vehicle with a smooth ride and a good amount of quietness inside. On a trip to Orange County and back I averaged about 25 miles per gallon, which isn’t too bad. Overall, it wouldn’t be hard to duplicate the EPA’s mileage figures if you drive carefully. General Motors is on its way back, and the new Equinox is a nice addition to their product line. Now they just need to convince people that they’re going to be around as a viable car company. With vehicles like this, I think it’s a good bet that they have a solid start to a new future.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.