First Drive: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox

Top-tier technology
The Equinox offers the full range of techno-goodies. Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port for controlling your iPod are optional on lower models but are standard on 2LT and LTZ trims. Those crossovers also receive an eight-speaker Pioneer audio system and audio controls on the steering wheel.

Chevrolet's new navigation system highlights a new user interface with an ultra-crisp monitor. The display is clear, intuitive, and legible, especially when displaying audio information. Navigation-equipped cars also come with a 40-gigabye hard drive for storing music. The optional back-up camera displays in the rearview mirror on cars without navigation.

A rear-entertainment system is also available. In place of the traditional neck-wrenching monitor mounted on the roof between the front seats, two eight-inch monitors are placed on the rear of the front seatbacks. Remote start can also be equipped and now has control of the HVAC system and available heated seats to automatically warm or cool your car based on the outside temperature.

All trim levels will come standard with the four-cylinder engine, with the V-6 being optional on LT and LTZ trims. The only transmission is a six-speed automatic unit calibrated for whichever engine it's mated to. All-wheel drive is optional with both engines.

Chevrolet predicts that almost 70 percent of Equinox buyers will opt for the inline four, so we spent most of our time in a front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder 1LT Equinox. The direct-injection four makes 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. With a 3800-pound curb weight, this Chevy isn't a rocket. Both the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 feel a bit quicker, even though they have less horsepower. Much of that is due to those vehicles' throttle calibrations, which give more gas with less application of the pedal. Additionally, the Chevrolet six-speed automatic transmission occasionally seems reluctant to downshift. Drive the Equinox with a heavy foot, though, and you'll have no problem keeping up with the competition.

Powertrain refinement is excellent. The transmission shifts smoothly and the Active Noise Cancellation keeps engine noise intrusion to a minimum.

But the real story of the four-cylinder is in fuel economy. The four-cylinder Equinox leads the class with an EPA-estimated 32 mpg on the highway. That's even better than the Ford Escape Hybrid's 31 mpg on the highway. In the city, Chevrolet shares the crown with Toyota at 22 mpg.

Four-cylinder models also include an "eco" button mounted on the console that alters the throttle mapping and gear selection for improved fuel economy. The driving changes aren't dramatic, but neither are the results. You'll be lucky to earn an extra 1 mpg in the city.

The V-6, which costs an extra $1500, produces 264 hp and 222 lb-ft from the 3.0-liter, direct-injection mill. A brief drive in a V-6 Equinox LTZ was more spirited, but not energizing. Somehow the extra 82 hp feels more like half that. Fuel economy in that car drops to 18/25 mpg or 17/24 mpg when equipped with all-wheel drive.

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