The word "equinox" derives from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because that's what happens every spring — after a cold, dark winter, the day and night are finally of equal length. Of course, it also happens every fall after the sunny summer months, signaling the impending return of winter gloom. After a tumultuous few years, the folks at General Motors are hoping that their new crossover SUV, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, is of the vernal variety. After all, few companies need a good dose of summer sunshine as badly as GM.
We subjected a four-cylinder Equinox FWD 2LT to our usual battery of tests and came away believing that this is indeed a creature of the spring. No rival crossover SUV can match this Chevy's mix of limousinelike rear passenger space and 26-mpg combined fuel economy. A third-row seat is unavailable, but among two-row crossovers at this price point, the Equinox is certainly one of the most family-friendly. Unexpected standard features like automatic climate control and a rearview-mirror-mounted backup camera are additional points in the Equinox's favor.
Our main reservation concerns the 2LT's elevated price, which pits the Equinox squarely against Toyota's excellent four-cylinder Venza and Highlander models, as well as Subaru's redesigned Outback. Heck, you can get a well-equipped Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport for less than this four-cylinder Equinox, and like the Highlander, the RAV has an available third-row seat. Even the base Equinox is a bit pricey, listing for about $1,200 more than an entry-level Honda CR-V or Subaru Forester.
Nonetheless, we'd rather see competitive products from GM than yesteryear's lackluster efforts with bargain-bin price tags. Indeed, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is good enough that some may find the extra cost justified. Rest easy, sun-deprived Detroiters: This is the kind of Equinox we've been waiting for.
Our front-wheel-drive 2010 Chevrolet Equinox 2LT test vehicle was powered by a direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission. At the test track, the Equinox galloped from zero to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds, which is competitive with other four-cylinder crossovers. Braking performance was indifferent, however, at 132 feet from 60-0 mph. On our slalom course, the Equinox snaked through the cones at a laggardly 60.2 mph.
In the real world, the 2.4-liter four sounds smooth and accelerates adequately, though the power doesn't really arrive until about 5,000 rpm, where a noticeable second wind kicks in. The six-speed automatic's EPA-friendly programming results in premature upshifts and reluctant downshifts, even when "Eco" mode is not activated, and a heavy foot doesn't mitigate these tendencies as much as we'd like.
We're guessing most buyers will make peace with the transmission's performance given the fuel economy estimates it helps the Equinox attain — 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, a remarkable showing for a 3,783-pound utility vehicle.
Sharp handling isn't a priority for most shoppers in this segment, and Chevy's engineers have clearly taken this fact to heart. The Equinox is quite simply out of its element when the road turns twisty, unlike the rival CR-V. Even under ordinary conditions, the Equinox's high beltline and cowl rob it of the commanding perch that SUV drivers value so, making it feel more like an elevated wagon. The absence of that "king of the road" driving position could stick in some shoppers' craws.
The Equinox rides quietly at highway speeds, but the suspension can get jiggly over broken pavement. The automatic climate control system, standard on 2LT, helps keep passengers content. Seat comfort in our leather-upholstered test vehicle was superlative: the power driver seat's bottom cushion tilts independently of the seatback to accommodate a wider range of physiques, and all seats are nicely shaped and supportive.
The fore/aft-adjustable backseat is perhaps the Equinox's single finest feature — the seat cushion is pleasantly high without compromising headroom, and legroom is so copious that two 6-foot staffers could stretch out in back with inches to spare. The latter is largely a function of the Equinox's 112.5-inch wheelbase, which is a whopping 9.8 inches longer than the RAV4's. Overall, we found our Equinox more hospitable than most rivals, and it also bests its fancy-pants Cadillac SRX cousin, which can't match the Chevy's princely rear quarters.
The Equinox is currently the only vehicle in its class to offer a standard back-up camera, albeit one with a tiny display that's mounted in the rearview mirror. This was greatly appreciated in tight spots, as the Equinox is roughly 6 to 8 inches longer than its peers, making it more of a challenge to maneuver.
On the center stack, the audio and climate buttons are hard to decipher at a glance, but the two big knobs for volume and tuning are a model of ergonomics, as are the matching dual knobs for fan speed and temperature. The Pioneer-branded stereo works well with the standard iPod input, but sound quality is not particularly impressive, especially given the presence of a rather sizable subwoofer in the cargo area.
Like the SRX, the Equinox offers a power tailgate with a user-definable opening height preset, and our test car was so equipped. It's a nifty feature, especially for those who have to contend with low-hanging garage obstacles.
In our real-world functionality tests, the Equinox's 31.4-cubic-foot cargo bay easily swallowed our standard suitcase and golf bag; however, with the rear seatbacks folded, maximum cargo capacity is just 64 cubic feet, a disappointing figure considering the Equinox's size advantage over similarly priced crossovers. Not surprisingly, the enormous backseat accommodated a rear-facing child safety seat without issue.
Design/Fit and Finish
Our Chevrolet Equinox was equipped with the Chrome Appearance package, and we wish it hadn't been. We yearn for the day when GM finally understands that chrome isn't cool anymore. The Equinox's general shape is pleasing, though, if not particularly distinctive.
Inside, the dual-cowl dashboard layout is attractive and classy — from a distance, that is. Up close, materials quality disappoints, as the plastics feel cheap and are sharp-edged in places. There's also too much sun-reflecting chrome in the cabin. Fit and finish on our test car was below average, marred by a squeaky driver seatbelt buckle and a sporadic rattle from the center stack.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox's distinguishing characteristics are its class-leading backseat comfort and fuel economy ratings. For shoppers in search of these virtues, the Equinox is the front-runner at this price point.
However, the Toyota RAV4 V6 offers superior performance and an available third-row seat, the Toyota Highlander and Venza have nicer interiors (and the Highlander an optional third row), and the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester and Outback are arguably better values. As usual, we recommend test-driving as many as possible before making your decision.