Chevrolet Equinox — Proving its value

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When we read the news that General Motors was going to increase production of the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox and its platform mate, the GMC Terrain, by 40,000 units a year because of brisk sales we were driving an Equinox. It helped us understand why GM is expanding production at its Canadian plant.  

A month before our week with the 4-cylinder Equinox and another with the 3.0-liter V-6 we had spent a couple of weeks behind the wheel of a Terrain; one outfitted with the 264-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 and the second week with the 4-cylinder. We were impressed with both vehicles.

The success of the Equinox points
up that sales are there for the taking for manufacturers who build vehicles that appeal to the public. That’s basic economics. And the Equinox and Terrain crossovers are definitely appealing in many ways.

What happens in the next few years is anybody’s guess, but for the present General Motors is coming up with a growing number of vehicles that we would not hesitate to recommend. The Equinox has been added to the list, with just a caveat or two.

At the risk of being booed off the stage by fellow auto writers, we must say we liked the previous generation Equinox. It was spacious and could be outfitted with a fuel-efficient and energetic V-6 engine. While its styling didn’t sparkle, it was no ugly duckling.

But the compact crossover segment has become crowded with refined, well-built and gas-stingy vehicles, and the original Equinox, we admit, was a step behind the segment leaders. For the most part that is no longer the case.

The new version has sleek new styling, a very nice looking and well-crafted cockpit although with still far too much hard plastic, and a comfortable and spacious cabin. It also boasts one of the most fuel-efficient engines in the business for its class, and build quality that here-to-fore has escaped the General.

Styling sells cars — or at the least gets people into showrooms — and the Equinox has the goods with a taut, muscular stance — yet with soft, appealing curves — which includes large, bulging fenders. Its well-done Chevy nose sets a just-right tone.

Inside, Chevrolet has got it just right as well with a handsome dashboard and stunning center stack. The General has been heaped with criticism in recent years for its sub-par interiors. Chevrolet has taken the extra step to get it the new interior right, and few we think will argue that the new look isn’t a major improvement.

The Equinox remains a five-passenger crossover — Chevrolet officials say customers were not demanding a third-row seat (Chevrolet has the larger Traverse for that) — and it has paid off in limousine-like rear passenger space. The rear seats can be moved 10 inches fore or aft allowing for luxury like stretch-out room.

Although cargo space is on the small side compared to competitors, it’s still a very useable 31.4 cubic feet behind the seats. When hauling is the order of the day, cargo capacity can be increased to 64 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded. Unfortunately the front passenger seat does not fold flat limiting the ability to carry longer items.

For comparison, the two-row Honda CR-V and the three-row Toyota RAV4 both have 73 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats folded.

Here’s something the competition in this segment does not have — a power programmable liftgate allowing the driver to adjust the height to prevent, for example, banging against the raised garage door. It’s a $495 option on all but the LTZ and well worth it.

We like the energetic 3.0-liter V-6, but the better choice may be the frugal four. If you don’t tow things or your load is seldom more than four passengers and a100 pounds of cargo, then we recommend the 182-horsepower 2.4-liter direct injection four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The performance is satisfying, the engine is hushed with a melodic tune even under demanding acceleration, and it has a measured 0-to-60 time of about 9 seconds (for comparison purposes). The Equinox is a willing companion during merging and passing. This engine will not let you down. And the best part — it’s rated at a class-leading 32 mpg highway and 22 city in two-wheel drive mode. If you need all-wheel drive peace of mind, gas mileage slips slightly to 29/20 highway/city.

You will need to move to the less fuel efficient 3.0-liter V-6 (17/24) with AWD if you tow a boat or travel trailer. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds. In addition to the difference in gas mileage, the 264-horsepower V-6 will add $1,500 to any trim level.

The Equinox is one of quietest small-to-mid sized non-luxury SUV-like vehicles we have ever tested. The one exception is the booming sound of the 3.0-liter especially under acceleration; otherwise the quieter Ecotec 4 allowed the desirable interior solitude that stood out at highway speeds, enough to draw a couple of favorable comments. And at the same time, the ride proved comfortable, the suspension well controlled.

On the flip side, the Equinox is no weekend road carver. But, hey, who buys a vehicle like this to get their driving thrills on Sunday afternoon?

Some have complained that the Equinox sticker is too high, but after some research we found it in line, if actually just slightly higher, than the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape. And one good thing, all four trim levels, including the loaded LTZ, can be purchased with the 4-cylinder engine. In other words, you can get all the goodies without moving up to the V-6.
All the stuff many people need — and want — is standard equipment, which makes the starting price of a two-wheel-drive LS $23,185 and the upscale AWD LTZ at $30,540 looked even better.

Standard features include 17-inch wheels, full power, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, air conditioning, the OnStar system, and a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio and CD player. Standard safety includes antilock brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, brake hill holder, and side curtain airbags.

Our well-outfitted 2LT with all-wheel drive and 4-cylinder engine carried a bottom line of $31,025. Options included rear entertainment, leather seating and the programmable liftgate.

The AWD LTZ included the rearview camera system, rear parking assist, the power liftgate, heated power outside rearview mirrors, heated front buckets with leather, power driver’s seat, Bluetooth, steering wheel audio controls, a USB port plus all that was included in the 2LT above as standard equipment; plus $1500 for the 3.0-V-6, $900 for 19-inch chrome clad wheels and $795 for a tilt and sliding sunroof brought our total to $33,735 including destination charges. In either case that’s lots of good stuff in what is proving to be a darn good vehicle.

Base price: (LS) $23,185; as driven (2LT) $31,025
Engine: 2.4-liter direct injection 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 182 @ 6,700 rpm
Torque: 172 foot-pounds @ 4,900 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.5 inches
Length: 187.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,935 pounds
Turning circle: 40 feet
Luggage capacity: 31.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 64 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 mpg highway, 20 mpg city
0-60: 8.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V

The Good:
• Class-leading fuel economy (4-cyl)
• Quiet, handsome interior
• Exceptional rear passenger room

The Bad:
• Cargo space not as much as chief rivals

The Ugly
• More costly than competition