Road Test: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox
Several vehicles have been introduced from General Motors since it emerged from its highly publicized bankruptcy earlier this summer, but the all-new Chevrolet Equinox was the first vehicle to debut under the New GM. The new Equinox, along with the other Theta-based crossovers, show that GM is able to compete with the Asian automakers in terms of building small, fuel-efficient and desirable crossovers. A promising sign for New GM is the fact that the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox has been in development before bankruptcy and before the automotive market really plummeted meaning the new breed of cars, trucks and crossovers from the largest domestic automaker is likely to progress in similar fashion.
Compared to the outgoing model, the 2010 Equinox has improved in just about every category to better compete against its main rivals in the crossover segment that include the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Hyundai Santa Fe. Built alongside the all-new GMC Terrain in Ontario, Canada, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is available in four trim levels (LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ) with prices starting at $22,440. In true press car fashion, the Equinox 2LT FWD that Chevrolet dropped off came with a handful of popular options raising this model's base price from $25,445 up to an as-tested price of $29,075. Chevrolet has always made a name for itself with large, rugged SUVs dating back to the original Suburban, but having not introduced its first crossover until 2005, Chevy is definitely making up for lost time with the 2010 Equinox.
2010 Chevrolet Equinox Exterior
If the styling of the new Theta-based crossovers (2010 Chevy Equinox, GMC Terrain and Cadillac SRX) are any indication of the future of GM, then the days of badge engineering are thankfully over. While the previous Equinox and the Pontiac Torrent shared most of their body panels with each other, the new batch of crossovers are instantly recognizable to the respective brand and offer distinctive styling to match each brand's personality. The 2010 Equinox distinguishes itself from its Theta relatives, as well as other crossovers on the market, with a clean, modern design that is highlighted by design cues such as Chevy's signature split grille, widely flared wheel arches and a sophisticated greenhouse that mimics the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.
Scalloped headlamps are starting to get overused almost as much as fender vents, but almost all of the Equinox's design elements help give it a look of a baby Chevrolet Traverse. The lower edges of this crossover are covered in a matte black plastic that matches the roof rack rails, but the chrome trim surrounding the grille, fog lamp bezels, side window openings and liftgate add subtle flair to the overall appearance. This test vehicle was finished off with a Silver Ice Metallic hue and the standard 17-inch, five split-spoke alloy wheels.
2010 Chevrolet Equinox Interior
Although the new Chevy Equinox has a less interior volume than the first-generation model, the cabin is still adequate for five adult occupants. The biggest change is the improvement in layout, design and quality. As a true testament to GM's abandonment of cheap, mindless cabins the interior of the Equinox is unique to both the SRX and the Terrain, and aside from the hard, plastic gauge cluster and navigation screen hoods, the rest of the interior features quality materials and a high class fit and finish. Equally impressive as the cabin materials is the overall layout of the two-tone instrument panel. From the driver's perspective, the steering wheel and gauge cluster are vaguely reminiscent of the current Camaro, while the center stack features a nice, compact design with stylish blue ambient backlighting.
The detail-oriented cabin of the new Equinox even uses a unique, mesh-like seating surface as standard equipment with leather being an upgradeable option. The contrasting two-tone seats are accented by a bright red stitching which is also found on the steering wheel and door panel inserts. Looks aside, the seats are comfortable yet supportive and the rear bench seat slides fore and aft to maximize cargo room or legroom, and it has 60/40 split seat backs (that unfortunately don't fold completely flat) to accommodate longer cargo items. For optimal utility, the Equinox comes standard with a total of four power outlets. Other standard features in this Equinox included an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat with lumbar, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls and a manually adjustable tilt and telescoping steering column.
Adding to the layout and design, this Equinox also came equipped with an assortment of options that improve cabin technology and convenience. The biggest chunk of change added to this test Equinox was the optional ($2,145) Audio System with Navigation and Infotainment. With a seven-inch display mounted at eye level with the driver, the navigation system offers a good resolution for the map and rearview camera, and it offers a 40-gigabyte hard drive to rip music to via multiple sources including an auxiliary jack, USB port and a CD slot. The display features touch-screen controls to all stereo inputs for the Equinox's standard eight-speaker Pioneer audio system. Like all GM vehicles, OnStar is standard, but the Chevy Equinox 2LT also offers standard Bluetooth connectivity. The final options tacked on to this test model include the $245 Cargo Management Package with rear cargo cover and roof rack crossbars, and the convenient power liftgate adds $495 to the bottom-line price.
2010 Chevrolet Equinox Performance & Handling
In base form and in this test vehicle, the new Equinox gets a 2.4-liter Ecotec inline-4 with direct injection that makes it one of the most fuel-efficient crossovers on the market (hybrids included). The engine's 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque are good enough to provide a refined feel in daily driving, but those looking for more power under the hood should opt for the optional 3.0-liter direct-injected V-6 that produces significantly more power with an expected drop in fuel economy. With EPA fuel economy estimates of 22 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, the Equinox gets better highway fuel economy than any other non-GM crossover including the Ford Escape Hybrid. All Equinox models come with a six-speed automatic transmission, which mated to the inline-4 delivers smooth shifts. For slightly better fuel economy, the Equinox also offers the Eco mode that numbs the throttle response, lowers idle speed and adjusts transmission shift points to squeeze every last mpg out of the Ecotec engine.
Across the board, all 2010 Equinox models come standard with front-wheel drive and offer all-wheel drive for an additional $1,750 with this test model driving only the front wheels. On the road, the advancement of the Theta platform delivers a much more refined ride. Although the new Equinox, like most crossovers, is no off-road specialist, the new aerodynamic design that helped improve fuel economy has hampered its off-road abilities by reducing the approach angle from 23.1 degrees (for the 2005-2009 model) down to a root-scraping 14.8 degrees. When it comes to towing, the fuel-efficient base engine also reduces the towing capacity by a ton down to 1,500 pounds, while the optional V-6 still delivers a 3,500-pound towing ability.
2010 Chevrolet Equinox Safety
Not only is the new Equinox one of the more stylish, comfortable and fuel-efficient vehicles in its class, it is also one of the safest. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the new Chevy crossover quadruple five star ratings for frontal- and side-impact protection, although it has yet to test either the front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive versions for rollover avoidance. Likewise, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) battery of tests yielded Good ratings in frontal-, side- and rear-impact protection yielding a coveted spot on the IIHS' Top Safety Pick list. The IIHS has yet to test the new Equinox for its new roof strength test. Standard safety features on the new Equinox includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, six airbags, Stabilitrak stability control with traction control, tire pressure monitoring system and, of course, GM's OnStar system with automatic crash response and stolen vehicle assistance.
For years, the Asian automakers have dominated many of the crossover segments, but the all-new 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is proof that GM can not only contend in such a competitive market, but it also has what it takes to become a benchmark. Similar to the highly acclaimed seventh-generation Malibu sedan, the 2010 Equinox gives Chevrolet a vehicle that is identifiable as a Chevrolet and offers an excellent balance of quality, efficiency and utility.
Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross