First Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ 3.6

Chevrolet is sticking to the old adage "if it's not broken, don't fix it" for the 2013 Equinox, its third-best-selling model, which topped 20,000 sales in May alone. The update for 2013 may not be visual, but it brings with it three welcome new additions: General Motors' ubiquitous 3.6-liter V-6, Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system, and a new set of dual-flow dampers for the front suspension. This may not sound like much, but it has given Chevy's small crossover a whole new character.

Chevrolet has retired its 3.0-liter V-6 as the optional engine for the Equinox, replacing it with the direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6 seen elsewhere in the GM stable. (The 3.6 is used in at least two models in each of the General's four brands.) In the Equinox, the six-cylinder is rated at 301 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 37 hp and 50 lb-ft over the old 3.0-liter. What's more, the 3.6 offers 32 hp and 26 lb-ft more than the Toyota RAV4, the only other compact crossover with an available V-6. Despite the Equinox's generous power increase, the new engine is still expected to achieve the same fuel economy as the outgoing V-6: 17/24 mpg city/highway in front-wheel-drive guise, 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive. The base engine remains a 182-hp, 172-lb-ft 2.4-liter I-4.

From behind the wheel, it's no surprise that the Equinox feels much more powerful. The 3.6-liter is strong and sounds great, just as it does in the numerous other applications across GM's model line. Chevrolet has continued to use a hydraulic steering setup for V-6-powered models -- four-cylinder models use electric power assist -- and the traditional setup pays off in more precise steering. There still isn't great feedback, but the steering instills more confidence compared with the old V-6 model. Getting out of a 2012 Equinox V-6 and into a new 2013 Equinox V-6, as we did during Chevy's 2013 preview event, you notice that the brake pedal seems to have more travel in the 2013 model. We would like to have seen a brake upgrade along with the more powerful V-6.

While the engine is in the headlines, the new dual-flow dampers, standard on V-6 models with 18- or 19-inch wheels, utterly transform the Equinox's handling. Body motions are now well controlled, making the Equinox feel less top-heavy. The dampers also do a good job of absorbing mid-corner bumps, keeping the SUV on track with minimal jitters through the steering column. In highway driving, the Equinox feels firmly planted. Combined with the hydraulic steering, the dual-flow dampers make the Equinox feel sure-footed and easy to drive in any situation.

Chevrolet has also made other upgrades to the Equinox lineup for 2013. The Equinox already offered navigation and the MyLink infotainment system as separate options for 2012 and has bundled them together for 2013. MyLink allows owners to stream music from internet radio services like Pandora and Stitcher or to play music from their smart phones, and it includes a seven-inch high-res touch-screen display. OnStar is standard, which allows buyers to receive turn-by-turn directions without having the MyLink system. Other updates for the 2013 Equinox include a new rear-seat entertainment system, expanded availability of the forward collision alert and lane departure warning systems, some reshuffled packages, and three new exterior colors (champagne silver metallic, atlantis metallic, and tungsten metallic).

Chevrolet hasn't released full pricing for the 2013 Equinox yet, but an LT-trim model with the 3.6-liter V-6 will start at $28,095 including destination. The 3.0-liter V-6 had been a $1500 option on the LT and LTZ trim levels for 2012, the cheapest of which costs $27,770 with the V-6. GM will also offer the 3.6-liter V-6 and dual-flow dampers in the 2013 GMC Terrain Denali that goes on sale in September and starts at $35,350, although the base Denali still uses the four-cylinder. The revised Equinox will go on sale later this summer.

2013 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ 3.6

On Sale: Summer 2012
MSRP (with destination): $28,095
Price as Tested: $38,000 (est.)

ENGINE:
3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower (hp): 301 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 276 @ 4800 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic

DRIVE: All-wheel

WHEELS AND TIRES:
19-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels
P235/55R19 all-season

FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
16/23/19 mpg

CURB WEIGHT:3922 lb

CAPACITIES:
Doors/Passengers: 4/5
Cargo (rear seats up/down): 31.4/63.7 cu ft
Legroom (front/rear): 41.2/39.9 in
Headroom (front/rear): 40.9/39.2 in

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