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2010 Chevrolet Equinox – Click above for high-res image gallery

It's fitting that General Motors has a vehicle named after an astronomical phenomenon that marks the seasons. The first Equinox came from the "old" GM during the autumn of its long slide. Since then, the General has emerged from a government-funded chrysalis, and the Equinox has followed suit with a redesign. Hopefully, the freshening signifies a springtime in GM's fortunes; a future desperately in need of a green infusion of the cash variety. Its products need to not only compete – but exceed – what's available from the competition. That figures to be a tall order, because the opposition is in rare form.

Just across town, Ford isn't sitting around – the Escape gets tweaks and updates seemingly every year. The Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 also crowd the top of the family CUV class, with the Mazda CX-7 and Hyundai Santa Fe playing supporting roles. Into this company of A-students wades the Equinox, fresh from reform school. Have the model's rough edges and troublesome behavior been smoothed out enough by remedial study? Follow the jump to find out.

Photos copyright ©2009 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
The Equinox is certainly better dressed than its predecessor. While the outgoing model wasn't offensively styled, it erred on the side of the anonymous. For 2010, the Equinox benefits from sharper creases in its sheetmetal and the familial Chevrolet nose ties the crossover to its Traverse and Malibu cousins. The looks are attractive and garnered compliments, something we don't remember happening with other mainstream Chevys.

There's just enough brightwork on the Equinox to make it seem almost bejeweled, though the quality of some of those shiny bits comes across as plasticky. More sculpting in form, especially in the terraced contours of the hood, brings shape to what was once slabby. There's a strong line down the flanks and the wheelarches are newly emboldened. The front airdam comes down quite low, a necessary concession to fuel economy, and it may be prone to damage from big speed bumps or the first inkling of off-road terrain.

Large 19-inch chrome-laden wheels are available with the V6 model, so what the spiffy body giveth, the costume jewelery in the fenders may taketh away. There are chrome-free wheels available for the less blingy among us: our front-wheel-drive 1LT tester came with the smallest set of handsome 17-inch aluminum wheels, and there are 18-inchers, still sans chrome, also available.

Inside the Equinox, an even bigger upgrade has taken place than what was wrought on the outside. The interior is handsomely styled and makes a strong first impression. Fit and finish quality is high, particularly considering it's been a traditional trouble spot for GM. Unfortunately, while the materials impress on first inspection, that perception fades away after time. Too many textures and colors of plastic fill the inside of the Equinox, and much of it doesn't feel as luxurious as it looks. The glossy silver finish on the center stack is particularly off putting, but despite the entire interior's lack of plush, soft-touch padding, most of the competition feels and looks cheaper, and the overall design makes up for materials' shortcomings.

The whole vehicle carries the sheen of detail-sweating.
The cockpit styling of the dashboard cocoons driver and front seat passenger, and rear seat riders get plenty of travel on comfortable seats that slide and recline. The mission of the Equinox is to become a kind of minivan replacement, and on that front it gives up some space and practicality to those family haulers, but for a neo-non-wagon, it's roomy. Storage compartments and cupholders seemingly spring eternal – there's lots of places to stash things, from a center bin that's on the larger side of medium to net pockets on the seatbacks. The standard seat upholstery on our tester is a wetsuit-like mesh, while optional leather brings a touch of class and feels much more upscale. The seats are comfortable and oddly well bolstered; better than what you might find in a run-of-the-mill Camaro.

Operation of the controls brings some challenges. There's just enough buttons on the center stack for it to feel like too many. Radio and HVAC controls were backward from where our hand expected to find them, so we kept jacking up the fan speed instead of turning up the volume. Loading a disc into the audio system feels a little strange; the slot is just above a large, handy cubby at the bottom of the center stack. It's kind of an island unto itself and makes us wonder how an aftermarket audio install would go (remember those?).

Our staff tried models with and without the Bose uplevel Pioneer audio system that bundles navigation into the mix and found the uprated electronics somewhat frustrating to use. It's not labyrinthine like the systems in German luxury cars, but the navigation system wasn't good enough in practice to justify the price, and using the screen for adjusting secondary functions is that much more confusing. Other secondary controls are well-located and free from slop, though windows that have auto-down without auto-up are as maddenning as mirrors that point at the pavement when you shift into reverse (there is an option to turn them off). More acclimation time would mitigate these few ergonomic gripes, but for a vehicle this important, it shouldn't be a "good enough" situation.

Visibility out of the Equinox is good, aided by the relatively high crossover stance. GM has equipped the Equinox with healthy-sized rear view mirrors just in case that sloping C-pillar creates a null in rearward vision. Dropping the shifter into Drive – hard to miss with such giant markings – sends the 182 horsepower from the standard 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder through a six-speed automatic and either front- or all-wheel-drive. The direct-injected four cylinder is smooth and refined, one of the best in the segment.

The automatic, while polished, is reluctant to respond when asked to do anything but jump for sixth gear as quickly as possible. There's a manual position on the shifter, where a driver can call for gears with the toggle switch on the side of the shifter handle, but we waited an eternity for our desired ratio. The way it's programmed, this six-speed auto does essentially whatever it wants regardless of driver input. It's set up to maximize fuel economy, and that apparently extracts a cost in terms of sporting responsiveness.

Pushing the Eco mode button in front of the shifter attempts to maximize every drop of fuel even more. The idle speed is lowered, control inputs are filtered, and the transmission becomes even more aggressive about getting into sixth and locked up. The extra syrup in the gas pedal is acceptable in normal driving, as is the transmission's obsession with high gear. For city driving, Eco mode strikes us as a good idea. Putting a switch inside to control it is an even better idea. The most noticeable tradeoff to Eco mode is more vibration at idle due to the lower engine speed. It's not offensive, but it is apparent.

GM also offers a 3.0-liter version of its so-called "high feature" V6 in all but the LS trim level Equinox. Smoother and more powerful, the six is also hungrier. Equipped with the four-cylinder, 32 miles per gallon on the highway from a roomy crossover that weighs more than 3,500 pounds is quite frankly astounding, and performance is satisfying enough. Those MPG figures are attainable in the real world, too. While the six delivers 264 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque, the two engines have divergent characters. Where the four has low-down grunt, the six has a desire to rev. Coupled to the recalcitrant transmission, the four is the appropriate and more pleasing engine choice.

When it's time to bring the party to a halt, the brakes feel up to the task and work as well as they felt. A minor quibble, however, is that the pressure doesn't seem to match up with retardation, requiring more initial digging-in than expected when bringing the 'Nox to a stop.

Taking off for any destination in the Equinox, it becomes obvious that chassis development was important this time around. Body motions are tightly controlled and bumps are soaked up without drama through the steering wheel or shuddering from the structure. The Equinox feels solid going down the road, and it plies highways in an almost Germanic fashion, locking on to the horizon and propelling forward.

The electric power steering doesn't have much feel, lending a slight whiff of minivan dynamics at the helm. Ignoring the current cultural backlash against vans, one of their biggest selling points has been a carlike demeanor, so to say that the Equinox drives like a minivan isn't necessarily a negative. Hit a twisty road with the Equinox, and it does, in fact, play along – up to a point – which is surprising for a vehicle whose corporate progenitors included the Pontiac Aztek.

With its latest revisions to the Equinox, General Motors shows a newfound seriousness about making good vehicles. This is a crossover that can be mentioned in the same breath as the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 without any qualifiers. In terms of styling and interior, only premium CUVs start looking better. The whole vehicle carries the sheen of detail-sweating, and that's exactly what GM needs to be obsessive about in order to win over new buyers.

The Equinox drives right for its mission and is a good value starting under $23,000. A full-boat loaded Equinox feels luxurious and nudges $33,000 – that's still a good deal, as it's loaded up with rear seat DVD screens, all-wheel drive, a power liftgate, leather, nav and more at a price point where some others are just getting started. By lavishing attention on its ever-important mainstream cars, GM could well pull off its latest plan for a renaissance, and the Equinox emerges in its second-generation as a butterfly, not a moth.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Article by Dan Roth who wrote, "Our staff tried models with and without the Bose audio system."

      The Equinox only offers an audio system by PIONEER.

      Both the vehicle and sound system impress.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It's good to see the Equinox is garnering good reviews. It truly deserves it. I really hope it can convince CR-V and RAV4 intenders to do a little more research and include the Equinox when considering their next purchase.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I was in the market for a small SUV recently and had the 2010 Equinox, Rav-4, and CRV on my short list. I ended up getting the Equinox after test driving all three vehicles. The Equinox had the roomiest backseat and nicest interior. The Equinox has lived up to it's fuel economy claims. I drive about 40% city / 60% highway and I'm averaging 28 MPG. I'm very pleased with the purchase so far. Only complaints: disappointing stock sound system, long reach to the stereo controls, and the cargo area behind the back bench is pretty narrow compared to the competition.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "Equipped with the four-cylinder, 32 miles per gallon... Those MPG figures are attainable in the real world, too." Attainable in the real world? On what do you base this statement? You don't mention, at least as far as I noticed, your achieved economy. You noted that for the vehicle weight, that economy is "frankly astounding". As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Fact is, I haven't read of a single road test that achieves anywhere near the 32 mpg figure.

      This would be consistent with the EPA ratings for the Acadia/Traverse twins also. Real world economy doesn't come close to the ratings.

      I don't mean to belittle the new Equinox. In fact, I sat in the 2010 and would seriously considering buying the V6. As a tall person, the seating position and telescoping wheel are fantastic, and the center console is not obnoxiously huge like 95% of the other new vehicles out there. The mesh seating would be fantastic in this Texas heat and would be offered on all trim levels of all vehicles if I had my way. One of the greatest features is the sliding back seat. It has more second row leg room than nearly any other vehicle I have been in, and that is after adjusting the driver seat way back also. Why other manufacturers can't do the same is beyond me. The space is there, use it for leg room.

        • 5 Years Ago
        I averaged 28.5mpg with an LTZ AWD Equinox. I think Neff's car - the photo car - returned him 31mpg.

        My driving was not pure highway, and I could also have been more gentle, both factors would easily increase economy closer to the rated figure.

        28.5 without even trying is impressive.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I really hope they have fixed all the AC problems with the current version of the Equinox. I bought mine new in 2005 and the AC went out last year. Dealer quote was $2400 to replace the compressor!!!! And I live in Phoenix! I found out this is not an isolated problem.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Every time I see one on the road or in a parking lot, I have to do a double take. From several angles, it looks just like a Mercedes Benz ML-class in 7/8ths scale. It's very good looking.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Having bad history with a few GM products (Pontiac & Olds), the fact that this and the Malibu are on my list of potential new vehicles at all, is a positive sign. (There are a couple Fords but no Chryslers, unsurprisingly.) I really want to see what kind of mileage people get under normal driving. Sounds like a promising vehicle.
      • 5 Years Ago
      From the article: "Hit a twisty road with the Equinox, and it does, in fact, play along – up to a point – which is surprising for a vehicle whose corporate progenitors included the Pontiac Aztek."

      This detracted from an otherwise well written review. The comment should have been left out. The new Equinox should be judged on its own merits without dragging up vehicles that have been discontinued for a half decade.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Interesting that the L4 is the more desirable engine choice.
      How does it compare to the going,going gone Saturn VUE?
      I think you and others should compare the Eek's "sportiness" to the Outlander which from what I've read is the most "sporty" of the non luxury CUVs
      • 5 Years Ago
      I so want GM to win, but that boring front end appearing on all their designs, and uninspired, designed-by-committee vehicle styling just aren't going to cut it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      A step in the right direction. It certainly is more attractive than the CR-V and RAV4. Hopefully it poaches some of their buyers.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This vehicle stacks up really well with the competition. GM is in a place where they must be clearly better. (They put themselves there) Glad to see they are responding to the challenge
      • 5 Years Ago
      I wish we could get one of these with a Volt drivetrain, and 4WD.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Larry, GM is the second best selling automaker in the world... So if you say "No one wants GMs" then no one wants anything else either(and they aren't far behind Toyota before you pull that card).
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thomas, that is the number I was looking for! Thanks, the percentage of car buyers that don't think that GM SUCKS!
        1 in 160 (not one in a million, an obvious figure of speech)

        • 5 Years Ago
        Your math skills are atrocious, Larry. It's actually more like 1 in 160 people buying GM.
        (304,059,724 / 1,900,000 = 160.03)

        BTW... I'm not one of them; I drive a Honda.
        • 5 Years Ago
        agree Mitchell Scott, but I hate GM - and still want to see them do well with the Volt & the GS Vette, probably the only 2 things they ever spent any real time thinking about.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah, you're really bringing your A-game. I shopped the sport compact segment and
        I actually did purchase a GM vehicle, a 2009 Chevy Cobalt SS coupe. For that segment, it really is the only choice.

        So I was off on the numbers, I was going from memory and I was wrong, but at least I didn't overestimate the number of vehicles sold...

        So, of those 2.9 million vehicles sold...how many were Volts and Corvette Grand Sports?

        • 5 Years Ago
        Larry, you are brain dead. GM sold about 1.9 million vehicles in the US last year and I'm pretty certain they weren't all Volts and Corvette Grand Sports...but thanks for your insightful input.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I hate math and I don't care about the car, but I think as an American I should hope that GM succeeds in the industry.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think your facts may be true, but are also misleading chad.dawkins.
        That is like saying that Cheerios sells the most O shaped cereal product. But if you look at how many people buy Apple Jax and Fruit loops and all the other rings combined, they far out weigh Cheerios.

        So the point is, there is a set number of people car shopping out there, and there are a TON more people that buy other cars (of different makes) than GM cars, because they know better. Just because GM may sell more cars than other car makers, doesn't mean they are the most popular car maker of all - it just means they sell allot of cars for many different reasons. Market share, price, sheer volume - also there are just allot of people out there that don't really give a crap about cars and just want something to get them around, so they pick up a cheap, plastic, Chevy.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sorry, Larry, you still miss the point. So 1 in 160 Americans bought a GM last year (assuming the numbers in the thread are approximately correct.) An important question is "How many Americans bought any new car at all last year?" It's certainly not the entire population of the country, since many Americans are below or above driving age, many live in places like New York and Chicago where they don't need a car at all and many "eligible drivers" like me didn't buy a car in 2008 at all.
        • 5 Years Ago
        mapoftazifosho, what GM vehicle would you buy and why?

        ".....GM sold about 1.9 million vehicles in the US"

        US population: 304,059,724

        apparently you are one of those one-in-a-million guys!
        • 5 Years Ago
        U R correct, and they are too stupid at GM to make anything people really want anyway (except for the Volt and Corvette Grand Sport)
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