Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
"Remember: This 2010 Chevrolet Equinox LT2's competitors are the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue," he tells us.
We kept repeating the words of the Chevrolet spokesman like a mantra while we were driving this compact crossover. We had a couple of good reasons.
First, the compact 2010 Equinox looks and feels as if it actually belongs in the same segment as larger, better-equipped SUVs. Second, this 2010 Chevrolet Equinox LT2's frugal 2.4-liter inline-4 engine was adequate for driving slowly on city streets or cruising at a steady speed on the highway, but it kept trying to get our attention in an annoying way despite its nifty noise-canceling loop built in to the vehicle's audio system.
We also kept saying the mantra to ourselves because the 2010 Chevy Equinox is better than the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue in so many ways.
Packaging for a midsize SUV is typically less fraught with compromises in budget or real estate compared to the thrifty compacts. So when we first took inventory of the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox LT2, we were pleased to find that it presented a different, better class of SUV. It offers many standard and optional features that aren't available for most of its direct competition.
Most important, we weren't unhappy with the reedy song of the Equinox LT2's 2.4-liter direct-injection Ecotec inline-4 as it approaches its peak output of 182 horsepower at 6,700 rpm, nor with its ability to run at wide-open throttle to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds (9.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). Even so, we had to remind ourselves that it takes patience and anticipation in traffic, because there's a fraction-of-a-second delay after you put your foot down before this 3,783-pound Equinox makes its move.
That said, when you drive a 166-hp CR-V or 170-hp Rogue, there's no doubt there's a high-revving four-banger working hard to merge onto the freeway, pass on a two-lane or simply haul itself up a steep grade. The Equinox LT2 is no better (or worse) in this regard, but there's a reason this otherwise competent SUV is available with an optional ($1,500), 264-hp 3.0-liter V6.
Lost in Transmission
The Equinox four-cylinder's "do more with less" dynamic is compromised by a six-speed transmission that's been optimized for fuel economy rather than for strong response. Chevrolet does not stand alone in the spotlight of criticism here. Practically every new vehicle we've driven with an automatic in the past year or so, including the all-new Cadillac SRX V6 (the Equinox's stablemate), has felt as reluctant to cooperate.
Most of the time, we circumvent the default transmission programming by pressing a sport button. Only the Equinox doesn't have a sport button and instead has an "Eco" button, which engages even more extreme fuel-economy programming that is meant to improve fuel economy by 1 mpg, but also makes the transmission even more stubborn about responding to your demands.
Presumably, the upside to downsizing an engine and slowing the transmission's responses is improved fuel economy. According to the EPA's estimates, this front-drive 2010 Equinox LT2 with its four-cylinder engine should earn top-of-its-class mileage — 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. That's pretty impressive, even for a compact SUV.
Yet our testing didn't come close to achieving these numbers, even though we're usually within 1 mpg of the EPA combined number. In this case, 21 mpg was the best we achieved. For comparison's sake, a 2009 Honda CR-V (FWD) earns a 23 mpg combined rating, and a front-wheel drive 2009 Nissan Rogue S earns 24 mpg.
But what makes the Equinox so good and so unique in the compact SUV category has nothing to do with its engine, nor its transmission programming and the resulting EPA rating. No, it's the Equinox's styling, design and features that make it a standout.
The list of features on our LT2 with a base MSRP of $26,190 is too long to list here, but an abridged directory of top-shelf standard items includes six airbags, stability/traction control, cast-aluminum wheels, auto headlamps, foglights, remote entry/remote start, rearview camera, eight-way power driver seat, sliding rear seats with 60/40-split and three-position recline angles, auto climate control, leather-wrapped tilt-telescoping steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, one year of OnStar's Safe and Sound with crash notification, Bluetooth for phone and a USB/aux jack.
Our tester added a Chrome Appearance package that also included rear parking sonar ($695), leather seats with heated front buckets ($1,050), a power liftgate ($495) and metallic paint ($195) for a total of price of $28,625. A power moonroof, a hard-drive-based navigation system and DVD rear-entertainment system are available.
But the thing that can't be itemized, categorized and monetized is how well designed and presented it all is. Even with our Equinox's somber jet-black interior (the two-tone treatment is more attractive), we couldn't ignore the obvious attention to design, build quality and superior content. Soft where it should be, modeled with the appropriate amount of texture and handsomely stitched where it ought to be, the Equinox's interior is vastly superior to that of any current compact SUV, save burgeoning premium compacts like the Audi Q5.
The Equinox's seating matches its premium style. The driver seat is eight-way power adjustable with lumbar adjustment, which is uncommon for its class. The rear seats offer between 1.5 inches more rear legroom than a CR-V and 4.6 inches more than a Rogue. The Chevy's 60/40-split fold seats also slide fore/aft and recline in three fixed positions. Luggage room with all seats occupied is about average at 31.4 cubic feet, and maximum cargo room behind the front seats is also about average at 63.7 cubic feet.
Pick of the Litter
In terms of exterior styling, we feel the Chevy plays the best riff on GM's compact SUV platform. Unlike the forced styling of the 2010 Cadillac SRX, the "I'm a truck, really I am" 2010 GMC Terrain, and the recently departed Saturn Vue, all of which are essentially the same unibody chassis with different wrappers, the Equinox looks appropriately scaled, detailed and thankfully restrained.
Though out on the highway, some observed a brittle quality to the Equinox's ride. Most likely caused by a combination of the 35 psi inflation for the P225/65R17 tires (a fuel-saving practice) and compression damping that's a little too harsh, the Equinox slaps its tires on seats between concrete slabs on the freeway. Rebound damping, however, is quite good, providing a gentle return to an otherwise smooth and controlled ride.
Electric-assisted power steering (EPS) — another fuel-saving measure — seems to be an elusive art to the engineers at GM. It can be done properly, as Mazda and Mini have proven, yet the Chevy Equinox has steering that feels like a driving simulator, and not a very good one at that. Sure the Equinox has light steering effort a low speed so it's easy to park, and some people might prefer its isolation from the bumps and thumps of the road surface, but it doesn't make for great driving.
Of course great driving is apparently not the mission here, as the Equinox circles the skid pad with 0.78g of grip and then weaves through the slalom at just 60. 2 mph. At least it comes to a halt from 60 mph in 132 feet.
Another Reason To Consider GM
Despite its few dynamic idiosyncrasies, we feel the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox LT2 represents a yet another clear example of what GM can accomplish.
It appears that the General's got some new orders. We trace the beginning of this resurgence from the 2008 Cadillac CTS right up to the 2010 Buick LaCrosse that managed to outshine a Lexus ES 350 in a recent comparison test. The mandate has changed from "Good enough is good enough" to a more courageous, "Don't just make it competitive; make it better."
From its contemporary styling and class-leading features to its competitive pricing and miserly fuel economy, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is the right SUV for the times, and not a minute too soon for GM.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Edmunds.com Automotive Editor John DiPietro says:
All hail the new Chevy Equinox, which not only gives Chevrolet a strong rival to class favorites like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 but also manages to show up its ritzy Cadillac cousin in a few ways. Allow me to elaborate. The new SRX has horrible outward visibility and sacrifices second-row seat room for its swoopy roof line. The Chevy Equinox, which is a junior platform-mate to the SRX, is much easier to see out of when changing lanes or parking, and bests the luxury-brand Caddy in rear seat accommodations.
But more important is the way the Equinox stacks up against its competition in the segment of compact SUVs that cost between $25-$30K. These shoppers are concerned with practical matters such as passenger and cargo room, ease of maneuverability and fuel-efficiency. And in those respects, the Equinox should impress them.
For example, its sliding second-row seat allowed a 6-foot-1 staffer to comfortably sit behind himself without his squash hitting the ceiling or his legs mimicking the birthing position. Though I'm not a giant, I found this right-size crossover easy to pilot in city traffic, while its standard rearview camera took the anxiety out of parallel parking. The inline-4's performance didn't blow me away, but it's smooth and more than acceptable as four-cylinders go when you remember how much weight it's pulling. And although my lead-footed colleagues averaged only about 21 mpg, I'd expect people in the real world to do maybe 2 or 3 mpg better.
The Equinox doesn't inspire a bunch of sexy adjectives, but it's earned a place on my list for "Would you recommend this to your family?" Really, there's no higher endorsement any vehicle could ask for, especially one from GM.
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