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2010 Chevy Equinox LTZ AWD

The first thing you notice about the Equinox is the interior. GM people have been banging on for some time about how they really get it now with interiors, and with the Equinox, you really see what they're talking about. The dashboard looks like it was lifted straight out of an Acura. There's plenty of style and good separation of function on the busy center stack (this example is optioned to the hilt with navigation, satellite radio, et cetera). Rear-seat riders get not one but two DVD screens. And the two-tone leather in this top-of-the-line LTZ looks great, though one wonders what the three lesser trim levels look like. Furthermore, the rear seat, which reclines and slides fore and aft, has loads of legroom (which is about the only respect in which the cabin echoes the previous Equinox); while huge doors and narrow sills make entry an exit a breeze.

Dynamically, though, things aren't quite so swell. The best automobiles have a uniformity of feel in their controls, but the Equinox does not. The brake pedal is nice and firm but the flaccid throttle has almost no resistance whatsoever. And the electric power steering varies its assistance too much, going from okay when cruising on the highway to way overboosted as you wind on more lock in a parking lot. Speaking of parking, it's a good thing the LTZ comes standard with a rearview camera, since rear visibility is otherwise pretty bad, and the overstyled C-pillars all but obliterate the rear quarter windows.

A V-6 is available, but this Equinox has the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which was not offered in the previous generation, and which plays so prominently in Chevrolet's gas mileage claims. The heavily advertised 32-mpg highway figure is certainly impressive, but this all-wheel-drive version is rated at 29 mpg highway, 20 city. Still, that's not bad. The four cranks out a hearty 182 hp, but it doesn't exactly sound Honda smooth doing so. Mated to a six-speed automatic, it works hard to move this hefty crossover, but ultimately it is up to the job. Unless you live in the mountains or want to tow a trailer, the V-6 is probably not worth the gas mileage penalty, or the extra $1500.

Speaking of money, I was a bit taken aback by the $34,775 as-tested sticker price on this baby. A quick check of Toyota's consumer web site showed that, even factoring out the Chevy's additional equipment (some of which is not available on the Toyota) a four-cylinder, four-wheel-drive RAV4 is about $2500 cheaper. I've got to believe that the compact SUV segment is pretty price sensitive, and if Chevy wants people to be wowed by the Equinox's glamorous new duds, it's first got to get them in the door; pricing yourself $2500 dearer than the segment's mainstay doesn't seem to me to be the way to do that.

Joe Lorio, Senior Editor

I absolutely love the mocha steel metallic exterior paint of this Chevy Equinox LTZ. It makes this already handsome vehicle even more attractive. I'm guessing the exterior design will appeal equally to both sexes as it is decidedly neutral, not too feminine or masculine. It's also sized just right, not too big or too small, and its relatively low ride height makes ingress and egress easy for people of small stature such as myself. As Joe Lorio noted, the back seat is really roomy for a small SUV so even full-size adults should have plenty of legroom.

Now, this is the kind of interior that the both the press and public have been begging for in Chevy vehicles for years. The fit is excellent and the materials look and feel great. Although I'm not sure the two-tone interior scheme suits the Equinox, it's well done and helps highlight the contemporary, wraparound dash. The cool, blue lighting adds to the modern feel of the cabin. The infotainment display is really crisp and, because it's slightly inset in the dash, screen glare is almost nonexistent even with the sunroof open.

Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor

As Joe Lorio points out, the big news here is that the four-cylinder Equinox is worth buying. Power is adequate when you keep in mind the purpose of this particular combination is fuel economy and the engine feels refined, though it certainly doesn't sound very smooth. I loaded the Equinox with four people and still had adequate power on the expressway, though the steering is pretty horrible at speed. I understand the benefit of electric power steering for fuel economy purposes, but I have a hard time living with the overboosted systems most automakers seem to favor. There is just no feel in this steering at speed, so I found myself making frequent corrections to keep the crossover on course.

The Equinox is by far the largest vehicle in its segment with a 3929-lb curb weight and 187.8-inch length compared with the Toyota Rav4's 3494-lb curb weight and 181.9-inch length, but the Chevy still returns better fuel economy than the Toyota with a 20/29 mpg rating to the RAV4's 21/27 mpg rating. Chevy also gives you a slight edge in horsepower and torque figures, but that difference is insignificant. How does a bigger, heavier, more powerful Chevy achieve better fuel economy on the highway? Thank the six-speed automatic transmission, which has two more gears than the Toyota. Direct injection is certainly part of the equation, but I doubt many consumers in this segment understand what DI means or does. Those who understand cars a little more will understand the $2500 price difference over a RAV4 is going to cover the fancy injection and more sophisticated transmission. Technology is great, but it isn't cheap.

Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor

If GM made a station wagon out of its successful Chevrolet Malibu, I imagine the result would look a lot like this new Equinox. Chevy's small crossover receives a well-deserved makeover for 2010, and although the taut lines suggest otherwise, the latest Equinox is approximately the same size as its bloated-looking predecessor.

Still, the Equinox has shed a considerable amount of weight, thanks largely in part to the use of this direct-injection 2.4-liter I-4. The four-banger produces nearly as much power as the outgoing Chinese-built 3.4-liter V-6 (182 hp vs. 185) yet is inherently more fuel efficient. GM touted the lengths it's gone to make the four-banger feel refined; for the most part, it does feel smooth, although the engine tends to drone during long stretches of wide-open throttle.

If there's one compromise to be found, it's in the interior. Joe Lorio's right -- GM's designers absolutely nailed the design and feel -- but the cabin shrunk in the process. There's 8.1 cubic feet less of interior space in the new model, and that's perhaps most obvious in the cargo area, which shrinks by 3.8 and 4.9 cubic feet, depending on if the rear seats are upright or folded. Still, there's plenty of headroom and shoulder room for passengers in front and in back -- commendable, considering their available space shrunk by 5.3 cubic feet.

Overall, this new Equinox is attractive and thrifty enough to attract buyers ($2500 premium be damned), but the drive experience could use additional refinement. My colleagues have already noted the lifeless power steering rack, but I noted a considerable amount of brake pedal travel before the disc brakes began to bite hard. Still, who's expecting the four-cylinder Equinox to put the "sport" in "sport utility?"

Evan McCausland, Web Producer

This is the second time I've driven a new Equinox, having been at the vehicle launch back in June. Many of the things people are complaining about here - unresponsive brake pedal, hyper-light low-speed steering, and funny throttle calibration - struck me on my first drive. My second time around, these quirks didn't stand out quite as much and I got out of the crossover more impressed with the Equinox than after my initial drive. Sure, there are dynamic shortcomings, but no one is buying an Equinox to be a driver's car. This is a practical small family vehicle, and a pretty good one at that.

That being said, there are a handful of fixes that would make the Equinox a more compelling buy. A few times when matting the throttle, the transmission was very slow to shift and then quite abrupt when it did decide to move two gears lower. A simple recalibration would address that problem. Also, as Joe Lorio mentioned, Chevrolet needs to back way off the low-speed-steering boost. With such little feel, it can be difficult to tell where exactly the wheels are pointing. Moderate tweaks to the brake feel and throttle pedal travel would be appreciated, but these are minor concerns that an Equinox driver would never notice after a week of ownership. I also wish you could fold the rear seats flatter to better accommodate large loads.

Finally, there's weight. The Equinox weighs almost 400 pounds more than some of its competitors. GM engineers have proven they can imagine, design, and build seriously advanced technologies. I'd like to see them apply that same focus to weight-savings. There seems to be a conception in the entire industry that cutting weight can only be done with expensive materials. Careful accounting for every gram that goes into the vehicle would likely yield some significant savings. The Equinox already leads the class with power and highway fuel economy; stripping the excess weight would make this a quicker and more efficient compact.

Pricing out the base front-wheel-drive Equinox and RAV4 (with the optional seventeen-inch wheels) brings the price gap much closer than $2500. With the Toyota at $22,420 and Chevrolet at $23,185, the difference shrinks to less than $800. That Chevrolet also includes a few more minor - but not inconsequential - features like XM radio, Active Noise Cancellation, and OnStar. Of course everyone likes a more affordable car, but as Phil mentions, two extra gears and direct injection are neither simple nor cheap additions. And while most drivers may not understand what the technology does, Chevrolet will make sure they know the results by plastering the 32-mpg fuel economy rating wherever they can.

Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor

There's not much I can add to my colleagues' thorough assessment of the new Equinox other than to say that, when I climbed into the vehicle, I literally gasped at how nice the interior is. Like Joe Lorio, I immediately thought of Acura interiors. Even my Audi-owning buddy Jim was impressed by the interior finishes. I also very much like the way the Equinox looks on the exterior.

Ditto on the complaints about the lifeless steering and the slightly droning four-cylinder engine. Overall, the powertrain is fine, but as someone noted, it doesn't sounds like a Honda engine.

Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor

Base price (with destination): $30,540
Price as tested: $34,775

Standard Equipment:
Power programmable liftgate
Heated power sideview mirrors
Fog lamps
Automatic projector beam headlights
Leather seating
Heated front seats
8-way power memory driver seat
Automatic climate control
Rearview camera
XM satellite radio
8-speaker Pioneer sound system
Bluetooth connectivity
Side curtain airbags
Remote keyless entry
1-year OnStar subscription

Options on this vehicle:
Navigation and rear seat entertainment - $3440
Navigation with voice recognition
Rear seat DVD player
Sunroof - $795

Key options not on vehicle:
3.0L DI V-6
19 in. aluminum wheels (only available on V-6 models)

Fuel economy:
20 / 29 / 23 mpg

Size: 2.4L DI inline 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 182 hp @ 6700 rpm
Torque: 172 lb-ft @ 4900 rpm

6-speed automatic

Weight: 3838 lbs

225/65 Michelin Latitude Tour tires

Competitors: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape