The twice annual equinox denotes the crossings of the equator by the sun, when the length of daytime and nighttime are roughly equal.
This has nothing at all to do with the small-to-midsize crossover utility vehicle of the same name offered by Chevrolet for the last several years. Well, except that it is possible to balance a raw egg on end in the general vicinity of any Chevy Equinox, at anytime of the year. This is because of a special gravitational dispensation awarded General Motors with use of the name "Equinox" and also because one can balance a raw egg on any day of any year, anywhere.
Also, as you might have noticed, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox has been substantially renewed with new engines and styling, and it looks considerably more like an egg than the outgoing slab-sided thing. Chevy therefore is reaffirming the central importance of fertility symbols to the vernal equinox. Coincidence?
Classy, No Yolking
Small crossover utility vehicles are like opinions; everyone's got one. Hell, there's even one called "Tiguan," if you can believe that.
To distinguish itself in this bloated field of modern quasi-wagons, Chevrolet has nabbed the front end of its Malibu sedan, grafted it onto the rear three-quarters of a Mercedes-Benz M-Class and, because it's GM, bolted on some chrome wheels. And there you have the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox.
The result, improbably, is a really very handsome thing that looks upscale — not only more upscale than the styled-by-origami 2009 Equinox but also more so than its raft of competitors.
Size Is No Object
The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox's new body is stretched over a version of the same platform as before with its big-for-the-class 112.5-inch wheelbase and strut-type front and four-link rear independent suspension. This makes the Equinox longer than the Ford Edge, to say nothing of the Ford Escape. The Chevy's modest girth compared to the Edge means that overall roominess and cargo capacity are down a bit, but in terms of legroom, the two are shockingly close. The Escape (which Chevrolet regards as the Equinox's prime competitor) is a comparative pipsqueak with a 103.1-inch wheelbase and more than a foot less in overall length.
Whichever subclass of crossover you choose to put the Equinox in, it's fair to say that its backseat accommodations are generously sized. There's plenty of room for 6-footers. And like previous versions of the Equinox, the rear seat can be moved fore and aft by almost 8 inches to suit whatever variety of cargo you're carrying, human or inert.
To go with the newly upscale body, Chevy has redesigned the interior of the 2010 Equinox as well. For the makeover, Chevy drops some of the Equinox's truck-ish styling licks. The new design is decidedly more carlike, with a dual-pod dash layout that flows down into the door panels, plus a high center console. Thankfully, Chevy also relocated the power window switches from the center out to the door panels (this is a pet peeve of ours).
Our only real complaint about the interior is that once it's been optioned with the navigation system, the center console is littered with all manner of buttons, including, oddly, the button to reset the trip odometer.
32 mpg! 32 mpg! 32 mpg!
Chevrolet will no doubt be peeved that we've failed to mention thus far that the 2010 Equinox has an EPA highway fuel-economy rating of 32 mpg. Thirty-two! That's no small achievement for a vehicle that weighs nearly 2 tons.
Chevrolet is very proud of this figure — as well it should be — since it betters even the smaller, slower competition in the process. This figure is, of course, for the front-wheel-drive model with an inline-4 engine that's new to the Equinox mix for 2010. This model's city fuel economy is a quite respectable 22 mpg. At 26 mpg EPA combined, the Equinox returns 2 to 3 mpg more than its four-cylinder competitors. Much of the credit goes to the efficient new direct-injection 2.4-liter inline-4, which also delivers 182 horsepower, more than any other four-cylinder in the class.
The 2.4 is mated to a six-speed automatic transaxle. But there's more to this combination than just gears and direct injection. To achieve its big EPA number, Chevrolet added an ECO button immediately in front of the shifter. Push it and and the transmission becomes reluctant to downshift, eager to upshift, and locks up its torque converter at a lower rpm than in standard mode. This clearly doesn't make the Equinox any more fun to drive, but it won't likely drive you insane either. Chevy reckons it's good for 1 mpg. Were it us, we'd leave the thing in standard mode and just drive.
On the Move
The 2.4-liter moves the Equinox well enough — Chevrolet claims a quite reasonable 0-60 mph run of 8.7 seconds. It is not the most inspiring experience, though. Under load, the engine sounds like it's working pretty hard.
The Equinox is also available with a 3.0-liter V6, which is derived from the corporate "high feature" 3.6-liter V6 and also benefits from direct injection. It makes 264 hp, neatly matching the output of the port-injected 3.6-liter V6 from the outgoing Equinox Sport model. The 3.0-liter doesn't pack the torque punch of the old motor (222 pound-feet of torque at 5,100 rpm compared to 250 lb-ft of torque at 2,300 rpm) and you can feel that this is a small V6 in passing maneuvers.
The upside is that at least in front-wheel-drive versions, the new Equinox V6 gets a couple more mpg in the city and one more on the highway (18 mpg city/24 mpg highway) than the old Sport (16 mpg city/23 mpg highway). The new V6 is also bolted to a six-speed automatic.
Been a Long Time
We admit that it's been awhile since we'd driven an Equinox before experiencing the 2010 model. But somehow the ride-and-handling experience feels pretty familiar.
The full-boat Equinox V6 LTZ we've driven feels a little stiff in the knees. This example is shod with 18-inch tires; and while the ride doesn't feel harsh, it nevertheless feels a bit unyielding on the lumpy Michigan roads. We will say that the four-cylinder model that we've driven wears 17-inch tires, and the ride feels a little more forgiving. And (will wonders ever cease?) the relatively quick electric-assist steering that comes standard on the four-cylinder models actually feels better and more natural than the conventional hydraulic-assist unit in the V6 model.
Every 2010 Equinox benefits from additional acoustic insulation, and there's acoustic-insulated laminated glass as well. Chevy says the Equinox is now quieter than a RAV4 and CR-V. OK, we can certainly buy the line about the Honda, which is in fact a loud thing. But either way, there aren't many unpleasant noises bouncing around the interior (although our driving partner during this test did make some).
Chevrolet has had to add a noise-canceling system to the four-cylinder models to get the quiet ride it seeks. It seems that locking up the torque converter at such low speeds generates some booming noises through the cabin. The active noise canceling system phases those out. So think of it as an absence of vice more than a virtue.
The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is dinghy-tow capable.
More important, the 2010 Equinox is priced pretty much right on top of its small competitors. The cheapest one could be had at $23,185 for an LS-trim package with front-wheel drive and the inline-4. The other end of the pricing spectrum is the all-wheel-drive LTZ model we drove for part of the day which came with a navigation system and twin-screen DVD system for the rear seat ($3,440), the V6 ($1,500), sunroof ($795) and 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels ($250) listed at $36,525.
This represents a price cut compared to the outgoing Equinox. And frankly it was a necessary one, considering what the toughest competitors cost. Compared to the old Equinox, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox represents a better, more upscale-looking vehicle with better NVH control, more optional technology and better fuel economy.
But we would have gone with a way cooler name like, maybe, Solstice or something.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.