The Chevrolet Equinox was redesigned for 2010, and the second-generation model has been a resounding success. GM says that more than half of Equinox buyers have switched from non-GM brands, and that to keep up with demand, the company is retooling part of the plant to increase production capacity.
The 2011 Chevrolet Equinox comes with more standard equipment than the 2010, but it is otherwise identical. Some people believe the second year of production is the sweet spot because they've ironed out all the bugs but it's still new.
The Equinox has pricing and features of a compact SUV, but it's a little larger, and closer in size to a midsize SUV. And the Equinox comes with luxury and technology amenities not expected in its price class. In short, it's a good value.
Equinox offers a choice of four-cylinder or V6 engines. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder uses direct injection for more power and better fuel economy. A front-wheel-drive Equinox gets an EPA-estimated 22/32 mpg City/Highway. Lots of sound insulation makes it quieter than most four-cylinders and we think it's a capable engine. The available 3.0-liter V6 is rated at 264 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque, but we didn't think it felt much more powerful than the four-cylinder. So we recommend the standard 2.4-liter engine. The V6 does offer Flex-Fuel capability for 2011, however, if ethanol is your preferred fuel.
The current Equinox handles better than its predecessor, and ride quality is quite good. It is more carlike than the pre-2010 models, with less lean in turns. It's not sporty, but it's on par with its main competitors, including the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. We found that the Equinox absorbs even sharp bumps without disrupting passenger comfort with either the standard 17-inch or available 18-inch wheels.
Inside, the Equinox has an attractively designed interior. There are some nice amenities, including ice blue ambient lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, a hard-drive audio system, a dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system, and a power rear liftgate. The interior materials look and feel like hard plastic, though.
Equinox offers plenty of space for passengers and cargo. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and they have 10 inches of travel, so drivers of all sizes will fit. The useful MultiFlex rear seat offers eight inches of travel, so tall passengers can ride in back or the driver can push the rear seat forward to carry more cargo.
Its roomy cabin and reasonable pricing make the Chevrolet Equinox attractive, and buyers can get some nice amenities they wouldn't expect in this price range. While the last model's handling was too sloppy for many, that problem has been remedied, making the Equinox a compelling choice in the entry crossover SUV market.
The Chevrolet Equinox is priced and equipped to compete with compact SUVs but it's larger than compact, smaller than midsize. Equinox uses the same Theta architecture that underpins the GMC Terrain. Theta has been updated since the first-generation Equinox, and that's a good thing because the old model didn't handle very well.
Up front, Equinox features Chevrolet's signature two-tier grille with gold bowtie insignia. The headlights wrap around the front fenders. Air ducts sit below the headlights and house fog lights in chromed bezels that bisect the openings. The lower front fascia is charcoal-colored plastic and it has an air dam in the center. The LTZ model and the 2LT with the Chrome Appearance Package add metallic trim pieces to the lower portion of the air dam opening. The hood has three character lines. The hood is shorter than that of pre-2010 models because Chevrolet moved the base of the windshield forward three inches, creating a more slippery shape. The Equinox has a 0.36 coefficient of drag.
Around the sides, the Equinox has pronounced fender flares and a wheels-at-the-corners stance, especially up front. The roof features wraparound side glass at the rear and tinted rear and rear side windows. All but the Equinox LS model has luggage side rails; they're charcoal on Equinox LT models and they add chrome inserts on the Equinox LTZ and the Equinox 2LT with the Chrome Appearance Package. That package also adds chrome door handles and side mirrors. Seventeen-inch aluminum wheels are standard and 18- and 19-inch wheels are available.
At the rear, the Equinox has dual round taillights, a takeoff of the Malibu design, and a roof spoiler. The tailgate opens upward, and a class-exclusive power, programmable tailgate is offered. Owners can program the tailgate to open to different heights so shorter drivers can reach it. Overall, the look is attractive. The LTZ's additional chrome trim adds a touch of class, especially with the chromed 19-inch wheels.
Chevrolet says the Equinox interior was inspired by the interior of the successful Malibu midsize sedan. While that may be true when it comes to aesthetics, it's not true in terms of execution. The Equinox lacks the Malibu's soft-touch surfaces and thoughtful flourishes of chrome trim. Instead, like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V that Chevrolet benchmarked when developing this vehicle, the Equinox has hard plastic on the entirety of the dashboard, as well as on the center console and door panels. Elements of the Malibu's attractive double-cockpit design are there, but we'd like to see more soft-touch surfaces, tighter gaps and some wood, aluminum or chrome trim.
There are some nice touches. The ice blue ambient lighting is a delightful feature. It's standard on all models, but you get more as you go up the range. Equinox LS models have it on the center stack surround and in the center console cupholders. Equinox LT models add it on the instrument panel and center console, and the Equinox LTZ gets it in the door handle recesses, in the footwells and in the door map pockets. Equinox offers dual-zone automatic climate control, a hard-drive audio system and a dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system.
The instrument panel is attractive. The speedometer and tachometer feature white numbers and black backgrounds. They are set in large pods and in between are water temperature and fuel gauges, as well as a digital trip computer readout. The base interior has a storage cubby at the top of the center stack. When the navigation system is ordered, it sits in this spot. The controls on the center stack are grouped in a tight bunch, with the radio buttons up top and the climate controls at the bottom. With the navigation system, there are 43 buttons, dials and knobs. It's a bit less confusing without the navigation system, but it's going to take some getting used to. All of the controls are easy to reach, and the area is trimmed in a good-looking clear-coated silver-painted plastic.
Space is not a problem in the Equinox. Cloth or leather, the front seats are comfortable and supportive. GM obviously spent some money here. They are especially attractive in leather, with their two-tone coloring and contrast stitching. The front seats have 10 inches of travel and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so everyone from the very short to the very tall will be comfortable.
The rear seat continues with the useful MultiFlex system, which includes a reclining feature and eight inches of travel fore and aft. With the rear seat all the way back, a tall rider can fit behind a tall driver. When the rear seat is pushed fully forward, rear cargo capacity is 31.4 cubic feet. The rear seat is also split 60/40 and it folds to open up a total of 63.7 cubic feet of cargo space. The load floor is fairly flat.
Anyone who avoided the first-generation Equinox due to its cumbersome handling characteristics no longer has to worry about that problem. The Equinox is now more carlike. The copious body lean is gone and passengers can ride in comfort without their heads being tossed side to side with every flick of the steering wheel. The steering is light and somewhat numb, and the brakes are easy to modulate, but the new Equinox is every bit as good as a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 in terms of handling.
It rides well, too. With the standard 17-inch wheels, the Equinox absorbs even sharp bumps without disrupting passenger comfort. The available 18-inch wheels also provided a comfortable ride on rough Southeast Michigan streets. Our only complaint was a bit of body drumming over washboard surfaces.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine benefits from direct fuel injection, which improves both power and fuel economy. It provides usable power from a stop and on the highway, and it even offers decent passing punch. Chevrolet quotes a 0-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds for a front-wheel drive model, which is respectable for a four-cylinder-powered vehicle of this size. The 2.4-liter engine is rated at 182 horsepower at 6700 rpm and 172 pound-feet of torque at 4900 rpm.
Fuel economy for the 2.4-liter four-cylinder is an EPA-rated 22/32 mpg City/Highway on an Equinox with front-wheel drive. That's class-leading fuel economy. Not even the smaller RAV4 or CR-V can match the Equinox's 32 mpg Highway figure. And thanks to plenty of sound-deadening material and acoustic glass in the windshield and front windows, the 2.4-liter is smoother and quieter than most four-cylinder engines.
The 3.0-liter V6 is rated at 264 hp at 6950 rpm and 222 pound-feet of torque at 5100 rpm. Fuel economy is an government-rated 17/25 City/Highway mpg with front drive. With the V6, the Equinox has a towing capacity of 3500 pounds.
We found the 3.0-liter V6 didn't feel that much stronger than the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Chevy says a front-drive Equinox with the V6 can accelerate to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds. That's less than a second quicker than the four-cylinder, which is significant but not life altering. We think the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is the right choice and the best value.
The Chevrolet Equinox is sized like a midsize and priced like a compact. Equinox offers useful interior space for people and cargo, as well as class-leading fuel economy. It looks good, has a smooth, comfortable ride, and now handles much better than its predecessor. Small families looking to downsize from a large, inefficient SUV will find the Equinox a good value. Completely redesigned for 2010, today's Equinox is a vast improvement over the first-generation models.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Detroit.