- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

Two things about the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox will immediately stand out if you’re shopping in the growing market for compact crossovers: One, it looks a whole lot better than the old Equinox. Two, Chevy’s pulled a substantial chunk out of the price.

Those writing the check will be impressed by the 2010 Equinox’s noticeably lower pricing, but the new shape is not to be ignored. We couldn’t find anybody who didn’t appreciate the chunky, substantial appearance and the definitive “road presence” of this new design. The 2010 Equinox starts at $23,185, while the 2009 starts at $25,010, including destination charges.

These days, the appearance war typically is won or lost at the front end, and Chevy stylists did a fine job adapting the well-received Chevrolet family grille design that’s worked so well for the Malibu sedan and the Traverse full-size crossover.

If the rest of the new Equinox’s styling is less distinctive - the profile could be that of any number of crossovers and SUVs currently on the road - the total impression is one of more substance than before. Truth is, we wouldn’t have minded if the design department had ripped off the big Traverse’s entire shape (which looks better every time we see it) and just shrunk it a little for the Equinox.

While the look is totally new, the 2010 Equinox rides on the same structure as the previous-generation model. The ride from the 4-wheel independent suspension doesn’t seem as brittle or skitter around like its forefather, but the 2010 Equinox still doesn’t have the healthily controlled ride or handling of a RAV4 or Volkswagen’s Tiguan. Some of this is because of the size of the Equinox and the fact that it weighs at least a couple hundred pounds more than most of the competition.

There are three trim levels for the 2010 Equinox: LS, LT and LTZ. You’ll find a new and quite capable direct-injected variant of GM’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine as the standard powerplant for all three trims. Optional ($1,500) for the LT and LTZ is another new direct-injection engine, a 3.0-liter V-6 that develops a pretty chesty 264 horsepower and is as smooth as the guy setting you up with the financing.

You can hook either engine, and the standard 6-speed automatic transmission backing them, to an optional on-demand all-wheel-drive system for an extra $1,750.

We figure unless you’ve got something to tow or a lot of long grades to climb, you’ll do fine with the class-leading 182 horses available from the 4-cylinder engine. It’s definitely a willing powerplant, and the sophisticated new direct-injection fueling plumps up both torque and fuel economy.

We wish GM engineers would program the otherwise agreeable 6-speed automatic transmission for more assertive downshifting, particularly because both engines need a lot of revs to produce peak power and torque.

You’ll find the Equinox’s all-new interior a total visual upgrade compared with the old model, and a lot of extra noise-reduction attention by engineers has paid obvious dividends. This is the quietest small crossover we can recall.

The 2010 Equinox also continues the useful “multiflex” feature for the rear-bench seat that allows it to slide a total of almost 8 inches to optimize the passenger-to-cargo area equation.

The new dashboard and instrument-cluster architecture is much cleaner and more contemporary, and the “ice blue” lighting certainly is a touch that underscores the fact that everything you see inside the 2010 Equinox is of a more upscale vein.

The center-dash “stack” that houses the radio and climate controls is busy, though, and some of the materials, buttons and switches don’t quite give the quality feel they should, a detail GM still needs to resolve in many of its newer models.

Chevrolet’s 2010 Equinox is an impressive effort in the ridiculously competitive compact-crossover segment, and the 4-cylinder, all-wheel-drive LT1 we drove - with a base price of less than $26,000 - represents a value as convincing as the Equinox’s new sheet metal.

Send e-mail to info@motormatters.biz.

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