2010 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ: Audio Review

2010 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ: Audio Review

If 2009 marked the dramatic downfall of the once mighty General Motors, 2010 represented the year the company inched back from the brink by coming up with solid products. So it's fitting that one of the first vehicles to represent the new face of GM is the second-generation 2010 Chevy Equinox -- and that it shares a moniker with the start of springtime, and rebirth after a long stretch of dormancy.

With popular "plus-size" crossovers from Honda, Toyota and other import automakers to battle against -- and a shadow casted by its lackluster predecessor -- the Equinox had a lot going against it when it debuted. Fortunately for GM, the new Equinox has a lot going for it, including good fuel economy, a quiet and well-appointed interior and a civilized and comfortable ride. The 2010 Equinox LTZ AWD that I tested also has a long list of standard tech features: heated front seats, remote start, a backup camera, Bluetooth hands-free, power liftgate and a USB port for iPod integration.

It also comes with an eight-speaker, 250-watt Pioneer sound system, which while not audiophile quality, makes the Equinox that much more attractive when cross-shopping the competition.

The Setup
The standard-equipment Pioneer Premium system in the 2010 Chevy Equinox LTZ includes a 3.5-inch midrange in the center of the dash, a 6.5-inch "low/mid range" speaker in each door, a 1-inch tweeter in each A pillar, a 6.5-inch full-range speaker in each rear door and an 8-inch dual-voice-coil subwoofer in a 0.5-cubic-foot enclosure in the passenger-side wall of the rear cargo area. A DSP amplifier powers the speakers with 250 watts. The system also has Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) that uses front and rear microphones to detect undesirable low-frequencies in the cabin and a processor to analyze the sounds and send a signal to the subwoofer to create equal acoustic energy in opposite phase.

The Sound
As with every system I test, the Equinox's Pioneer setup was put through its paces with about a dozen different musical tracks I use to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also listened to non-musical tracks to further check soundstaging and imaging, as well as test linearity and absence of noise. For more details on the testing process and the tracks used, jump over to the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.

The 2010 Chevy Equinox's Pioneer Premium system looks good on paper -- both spec-wise and because it's listed as a standard feature on the sticker -- but encased in sheet metal it's underwhelming. In most sound-quality categories it scored at or just above average, with the ratings dragged down by boomy midbass and general lack of clarity, as well as harsh high-end frequency response that further clouded tonal balance, timbre and tonal accuracy. Dynamics were also disappointing. But the system had above average soundstaging, thanks to the A-pillar-mounted tweeters, and the center-channel helped elevate the stage and anchor imaging.

Musical test tracks that were simple sounded best. Bluesiana Triangle's "Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me" is a 10-minute-plus improvised blues-jazz jam with lots of space within the sparse instrumentation. The Pioneer system reproduced the more subtle elements of the song pretty well: a flute solo that starts at about 2:20 was fairly well centered, and the track's percussion was appropriately arrayed around it. But on more complex tracks, such as Red House Painters' "San Geronimo," which features intricate layers of electric guitars and pulsating bass and percussion, the system recreated a massed mess.

Bass from the 8-inch subwoofer in the back of the Equinox was deep and solid, if not sonically accurate. With the two tracks used to test low-frequency extension -- Joan Armatrading's "In Your Eyes," which begins with a deep, throbbing bass line, and Outkast's "Ain't No Thang," which bangs with boomy bottom end -- the sub did an admirable job of kicking out the jams. But it won't satisfy those who are used to going way low or want more musical bass.

The two non-musical test tracks for staging and imaging -- one with voices mixed in the left, right and center of the soundstage and the other with seven drum beats that march across the dash at precise intervals -- verified that center images were slightly shifted left and right. In the linearity tests the system scored fair and good at low and mid volume levels, respectively, and it passed the zero bits/absence of noise test.

The Sources
The 2010 Equinox LTZ's Pioneer system comes with a single-disc AM/FM/CD player with XM satellite radio. I can't think of any OEM system with a cooler disc slot than the one in the Equinox, tucked as it is at the bottom of the center stack and illuminated by blue lighting on each end. As in our long-term GMC Terrain, the audio controls on the opposite end of the center stack are a bit "button rich," but (like Ed) I found the layout logical and intuitive. The radio also has a couple of features not found on even more expensive vehicles: time-shifting up to 20 minutes of live AM, FM or XM programming, and a Maximum Startup Volume setting that keeps a driver's ears from getting blasted while starting the engine in the morning after, say, cranking it up the night before.

iPod and portable-media integration is through a USB port and aux-in jack in the center console. An iPod can be hooked up using the computer-sync cable that comes with the device, and control is mostly via the MENU knob/button on the right side of the head unit. Top-level menu categories include the usual playlists, artists, albums and song titles, and the not-so-usual podcasts, genres, audiobooks and composers. The iPod interface is fairly user friendly, although it requires more eyes-on time than a vehicle with accurate voice activation. The same format and functions are also available when a USB drive loaded with music files is plugged in.

What We Say
The Equinox is prime example of a vehicle that's helped midwife GM's rebirth as a viable automaker. And that the 2010 Chevy Equinox LTZ is bestowed with lots of standard bells and whistles shows that GM gets it that buyers who spring for the top-of-the-line model don't want to be gouged by overpriced option packages. And while the performance of the vehicle's Pioneer Premium system doesn't set a standard in stock-stereo sound, it is one more thing that sets the Equinox apart from the competition.

The Scores
Sound: C+
Source Selection: B+
iPod Integration: B
Cost: A+

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.

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