Remember when SUVs ruled the road? Actually, it wasn’t all that long ago that classic, truck-based sport-utes accounted for nearly 3 million sales annually, better than one in six of the vehicles we Americans bought each year. And, notably, the vast majority of those were domestic Big Three products.
To cut into Detroit’s lead, foreign makers, the Japanese, in particular, started churning out millions of so-called “crossover-utility vehicles,” like the Toyota RAV-4 and Honda CR-V. These days, those CUVs have surged past the classic sport-utes, leaving Detroit playing a desperate game of catch-up.
Chevy’s Equinox was one of the first Big Three entries into the crossover segment and it was, to be honest, a lackluster attempt, little more than an also-ran on the sales charts. But an all-new version is back for 2010 and while we approached the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox with a fair share of skepticism, a day of driving the new crossover has us singing a very different tune.
There are a variety of reasons why the ’10 Equinox is worth putting on your shopping list. It’s attractive, well-appointed, roomy and surprisingly refined. And then there’s the issue of fuel-economy. Oh, yes, that. It’s surprising how quickly we Americans seem to forget about that little matter. Sales of traditional truck-based utes actually showed a bit of a resurgence after last year’s record run-up, but in recent weeks, with pump prices soaring back from barely $2 a gallon to something closer to $3, it’s once a factor to consider. And it gives good reason to consider the Equinox.
The 2010 version of the Chevy CUV is offered in a variety of configurations, from the entry LS to the luxurious LTZ. You can also opt for either a “base” 2.4-liter inline-four or the more powerful 3.0-liter V-6, both new for the upcoming model-year and, both, in turn mated a 6-speed automatic with a choice of front or all-wheel-drive.
At an event offering us the first opportunity to drive the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, many of our colleagues raced over to grab a model equipped with the bigger engine, and the V-6 certainly has some things going for it. It makes a hefty 264 horsepower, turns 0 to 60 times in 7.8 seconds, and when equipped with the optional trailer hitch, will let you tow 3,500 pounds. Fuel economy is a reasonable 18 mpg City, 25 Highway.
But for mileage-minders, the 182-horsepower I-4 is the headline grabber. It delivers a segment-leading 32 miles per gallon in the EPA’s Highway cycle and 22 in the City. Yet it sacrifices relatively little, still yielding 0 to 60 times of 8.7 seconds.
That alone might win over some skeptics, but there are other reasons to consider the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox. The CUV is a handsome design, much more so than the last Equinox, never mind some of General Motors’ other, more awkward crossovers. The basic shape is the familiar, tall ute 2-box design. But, as they say, it’s all in the details, and while Chevy didn’t push the styling envelope as far as Nissan, Equinox is more than just another SUV wannabe.
Compared to the last generation, the ’10 Chevy holds to the same 112.5-inch wheelbase, but its overall length has been shortened an inch, while width gains an inch. All that translates into a surprisingly roomy and functional cabin, with lots of storage and an amazing amount of legroom, front and back. I was able to plunk down my own 6’2 frame in the driver’s seat without scrunching up to the wheel, even with a GM executive of NBA height seated behind me.
That underscores one of the few details we’re glad to see carried over from the outgoing Equinox – the full 8 inches of travel in the rear seats. That’ll keep three large adults happy in back or – as one engineer with a large brood pointed out, it’ll satisfy Mom and Dad, up front, since they won’t have the kids kicking the back of their seats. Incidentally, the passable standard audio system can be significantly upgraded, with a rear-seat DVD display on the list, as well as a large front video display that comes with the navigation package and can be used to watch videos, too, when the CUV is parked.
Earlier entries into the crossover segment were relatively unrefined, often the result of putting the primary emphasis on price. Chevy has done a yeoman’s job of upgrading the cockpit, with a reasonably upscale look and feel and the attention to detail that means switches and knobs are not only located in the right place, but have the right tactile feel and sound when you use them.
Particular kudos for the unexpectedly comfortable seats. Oddly, this is what happens when manufacturers try to cut costs. Rather than having a different seat frame for just about every product, GM has settled on three, which means higher volume and lower cost, even for better seats, like the ones in Equinox. The two-tone fabric on one of our test vehicles proved controversial among colleagues, though we were among those giving it a thumbs-up.
There were a few minor details we found lacking, like the lack of power-up, or Express One-Touch, windows. But complaints about the cabin were few.
On the other hand, there were some real surprise and delight details. Like many makers, Chevy has moved the door lock switch to the center stack. It’s also added a unique touch: a remote child lock button, so you don’t have to open both of the back doors and manually toggle them back and forth. Then there’s the programmable liftgate, which can be set to open only to a specific height, perfect if you have a low garage or parking structure. A power liftgate is optional, as well.
Then there’s the matter of NVH, engineer-speak for Noise, Vibration and Harshness. The 2010 Chevy Equinox uses laminated glass on the windshield and front side windows, which lowers wind and noise levels quite remarkably. Extensive use of sound-deadening foams and other materials pay off with road noise. Meanwhile, the I-4 package introduces an active noise-cancellation system, similar to the technology used in the headphones folks wear when flying. This sharply diminishes clatter and other engine noises. In all, the Equinox is nearly as quiet as some luxury vehicles.
The mileage-focused I-4 package incorporates several fuel-sipping technologies, including an ECO-Mode button, which changes shift patterns, among other things, and reportedly improves mileage by up to 1 mpg.
We were surprised, during a conversation with GM representatives, to learn there’s no plan to introduce a hybrid powertrain on the Equinox, especially as one is already available on the Saturn Vue, which shares the basic platform components with the new Chevy. Not in this generation, anyway. But the new model will be largely updated by 2016, when new rules will require an industry-wide 35.5 mpg average, and that could change.
Between now and then, hinted project head Bob Reuter, we’re expecting some more limited technologies borrowed from true hybrid models, such as Stop/Start, which automatically shuts down your engine at idle, then starts it up when you reach for the accelerator.
While the V-6 Equinox stays with conventional hydraulic power steering, the I-4 versons adopt a new rack-mounted electric power steering system. Until now, EPS has been a compromise we’ve suffered in the name of better fuel economy. There’s no reason to apologize with the 2010 Equinox, however. In fact, the steering feel and response of the EPS system is arguably better than the hydraulic booster.
The suspension on the new CUV is a bit on the stiff side, but not enough to make you go crazy running over the back-to-back potholes that are collectively known as Michigan roads. Careful effort has been made to keep front and rear suspensions in tune, which is obvious when you’re charging into a tight sweeper.
Sports car dynamics, no, but among competitors like the RAV and CR-V, we’re giving our vote to Chevy’s new offering.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to put a surprisingly low sticker price on the package. In fact, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox LS model comes in at a surprising $$23,185, or $1,825 less than the outgoing CUV – despite the addition of all the new features. The top-line LTZ, meanwhile, comes in at $26,190, also a cut from ’09 of more than $1,000. A fully-loaded version, with every box checked, will put you back $35,000. A quick comparison shows that the various 2010 Equinox packages come in 100s, and in some cases, at least $1,000 less than the Toyota and RAV offerings.
There are plenty of folks who’ll keep giving that money to the top-two imports. At a time when two of Detroit’s Big Three are struggling for survival, it’s not easy to convince shoppers to put, never mind keep, a domestic on their list. Yet considering the looks, features, performance and fuel economy, it would be a mistake to ignore the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox. It’s too bad GM didn’t come up with a winner like this a few years ago. It might have been able to dominate the crossover segment, just like it did in the traditional SUV market.
Tags: 2010 chevrolet equinox review, 2010 chevy equinox review, CUVs, Toyota RAV4, auto news, automotive news, car news, chevy equinox, crossover vehicles, crossovers, honda cr-v, paul a. eisenstein, paul eisenstein, saturn vue, thedetroitbureau.com