First Drive: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox

June 8, 2009

We've just spent three hours behind the wheel of the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, Chevy's new entry for the growing compact crossover market. TheCarConnection.com was among the first to bring you a look at this new  competitor to the Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, and Ford Escape (check out our First Look at the Equinox here from the Detroit Auto Show), and now we're out ahead with this First Drive.

While I had trepidation about the 2010 Equinox being built on a modified version of the old Equinox's Theta architecture, those worries weren't warranted. Chevy's new Equinox drives much better than the outgoing model. Frankly, Chevy could have claimed that this was an all-new architecture and I would have believed them. The difference is that significant.

The 2010 Chevy Equinox looks good on the road. Its grille gives it a family resemblance to just about everything else in the Chevrolet. The profile is clean and has a substantial heft to it without looking too heavy or blocky. Around back, the look remains clean. On some models, the cargo hatch is powered, and can be easily programmed to different opening heights (helping prevent the hatch from opening into a garage door or other structure).

Two new engines power the 2010 Equinox, and both of them feature fuel-saving direct injection technology (normally good for a 3-percent gain just by itself). The smaller is a four-cylinder that displaces 2.4 liters and produces 182 horsepower at a high 6700 rpm. This engine is the first four-cylinder ever available in the Equinox, and is yet another member of the Ecotec engine family found in many GM vehicles.  It features a new cylinder head (among other components) fitted with direct injection, a fuel delivery system where the fuel injector is actually in the combustion chamber instead of being in a less efficient location somewhere upstream of the intake valve.

Fuel mileage is 22 mpg city and an impressive 32 mpg highway for a front-wheel-drive version -- better than a Ford Escape Hybrid. Stepping up to AWD, mileage drops to 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway -- still good for a comfortably-sized crossover. This is a 25-percent improvement over the base pushrod 3.4-liter V-6 from 2009 that produced nearly the same power (185 horsepower). Chevrolet expects nearly two-thirds of customers will choose the more efficient 2.4-liter engine, and with fuel prices edging up past $3.00/gallon, we think they'd be making a good choice.

A more powerful V-6 engine is still available in the 2010 Equinox, and it's the same one that Cadillac is using in their new mid-size crossover, the 2010 Cadillac SRX. This new V-6 displaces 3.0 liters and produces a healthy 264 horsepower. Fuel economy is 18 mpg city, 25 mph highway for front wheel drive, with the AWD drive version attaining 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway.

Both engines will direct their power to six-speed automatic transmissions. The four-cylinder tends to upshift early for good fuel economy, but the engine has enough torque to make this work.

Chevy claims that 0-60 mph comes up in under nine seconds for the four-cylinder and under eight seconds for the V-6, but the bigger V-6 feels more than one second faster. Both engines are smooth, but clever tuning of the 2.4-liter and an interior noise-cancellation system help make the smaller engine feel exceptionally so. The noise cancellation system works similarly to noise cancellation headphones, and helps eliminate sounds that tend to make four-cylinders engines feel cheap and coarse (if you're a sound engineer, the sound range is 33-100 hertz). Door openings with triple seals and glass with integral sound damping further quiet things down inside, helping create a driving experience that feels more Cadillac-like than bargain-basement.

Significant chassis upgrades make the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox handle better than any previous model. Engineers added body stiffing structure and used more premium bushings in key locations. It rides smoothly while still trackign around corners directly. The steering on four-cylinder models is electrically boosted, and unlike most electrically assisted systems, this one has great feel ... better, in fact, than some hydraulically assisted systems.

The interior is comfortable with good visibility. Rear-seat room is considerably larger than the main competitors, and when I was "sitting behind myself" in a parking lot test of the interior room, I had a full nine inches of room ahead of my knees to the back of the front seat. The three-across rear seat moves fore and aft eight inches, and the seatback reclines.

Some other good news about the 2010 Equinox include that the airbag count is now at six, with these being standard; dual frontal airbags; head curtain side airbags and pelvic/thorax seat-mounted side airbags. Those looking for safety will also like having standard four-wheel disc brakes with StabiliTrak electronic stability control and traction control. OnStar is also standard. While the vehicles haven't been crash tested, Chevy expects full five star ratings from the federal government and a "good" rating (their highest) from the IIHS.

Stay tuned for a full Bottom Line review to get the entire story; meanwhile, visit our model information page for 2010 Chevrolet Equinox photos, specifications and other information.

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