First Drive: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox

Nowhere to go but up
The first-generation Chevrolet Equinox compact crossover might as well have arrived with a 10-mpg supercharged V-12. In a segment that prefers four-cylinder engines to six-cylinder units almost two-to-one, Chevrolet was fighting an uphill battle when it launched a crossover that only offered a V-6 and was burdened with a price of entry $4,000 higher than competitors in 2005.

The 2010 Equinox, though, is a very different crossover. Due to hit showrooms in late June 2009, it's equipped with a four-cylinder direct-injection engine that delivers class-leading fuel economy. In fact, the Equinox has climbed from an also-ran to serious competitor on its spec sheet alone.

All in the family
From the side, the Equinox's fender flares, raked C-pillar, and wrap-around rear window recall the Mercedes-Benz M-class. It's a good look, if not particularly original. Although the Equinox shares few styling cues with its bigger sibling, the three-row Traverse, the Chevrolet corporate grille will inevitably lead to comparisons. The Equinox presents a more stylish statement, though, with shapely headlamps, an upward-sweeping crease through the door handles, and thick rocker panels connecting the fender flares between standard 17-inch aluminum wheels.

The new look also improves performance and utility. Aerodynamics are improved, with the drag coefficient dropping from 0.42 to 0.36. The rocker panels have been integrated into the doors, which should keep mud, snow and road grime off your pant legs when you enter or exit the Equinox. An optional power rear liftgate opens to a programmable height to keep you from smacking the roof of your garage with your Equinox.

Bringing style to the segment
The interior design plays off the dual-cockpit style of the Malibu, with a dash that wraps into the doors and cascades into the center console. The driver will even find a bit of Camaro inspiration in the squircle binnacles that surround the speedometer and tachometer. Tasteful two-tone interiors and soft landings for elbows, hands, and fingers provide interior quality that's on par with the Japanese and shames them with unrivaled style.

Families will appreciate the ability to slide the rear bench seat almost eight inches to optimize space for cargo or passengers. With the seats pushed back as far as possible, legroom is bountiful and there is still ample room in the rear for a weekend's worth of luggage for four people. Rear-seat comfort is also aided by a flat floor and seatbacks that recline at three different angles.

For drivers, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and all models include standard power height and lumbar adjustment. All seats are supportive and comfortable.

To eliminate the droning and buzzing that often plagues four-cylinder engines, Chevrolet has installed an Active Noise Cancellation system. It works much like your over-priced Bose Noise Cancelling headphones, using the stereo speakers to emit waves that cancel out certain frequencies. And like those Bose headphones, the Active Noise Cancellation works incredible well. At idle, the Equinox is so quiet that one journalist on our media test drive tried to start an already-running car. The system also works at higher speeds with laminated front glass and extensive sound-deadening material to achieve luxury-car levels of quiet.

Chevrolet will follow its standard trim level assignments of LS, 1LT, 2LT, and LTZ in order of increasing equipment level (and price). Standard equipment on all cars includes an auxiliary audio input, cruise control, XM satellite radio, OnStar, a compass, and power windows, mirrors, and door locks with keyless entry.

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