2010 Chevrolet Equinox car reviews
2010 Chevrolet Equinox FWD 1LT
|Comfortable tall wagon|
|Why we’d buy it: Price, mileage, quick sprints, comfy|
|Why we wouldn’t: Squealy tires, slow automatic|
|Mileage: 22/32 as equipped|
The Chevrolet Equinox which provides sedan-like comfort and gas mileage in a package that looks like an SUV on the outside and looks like a regular car on the inside. It's essentially a tall wagon styled to look bigger — and there's no shame in that, especially when an all wheel drive version is available.
The base engine is a 182 horsepower 2.4 liter four cylinder with direct injection; it's hooked up to a six speed automatic so it can stay in its power band during hard acceleration. It puts out about as much power as the average V6 did a few years back. An optional V6 (for all but the base LS) pumps out 264 horsepower, which should make the Equinox sprightly.
The engine four cylinder engine has a fairly hefty package to move around, and acceleration has to wait for a downshift. If you're not in the right gear, and unless you've been using the manual override (which lets you move up and down among the gears manually), you won't be, sudden acceleration requires a lengthy pause for the transmission to smoothly downshift and the engine to rev up to 4,000 rpm or so. Because the engine doesn't make all that much power in its normal cruising range, it ends up with the spongy feel common to many modern cars, which are unwilling to abandon "refinement" for quick performance shifting.
The end result is that not only do you not have an “engaged” feel, which to be fair many people don't want anyway, but you can’t count on quick pickup. Even with the manual override, you have to wait for the torque manager to cut in, and for the transmission to ever-so-slowly-and-gently downshift. If you're one of those people who picks a lane and stays in it, there's no problem. Otherwise, well, pick a lane and stay in it.
Sprint performance is another story. If you want to just race to 60 mph or get onto a highway from a stop, acceleration is surprisingly good; you’re already in the right gear when you start out. The engine is strong once it gets into its power band; the transmission is the slow part.
The little four cylinder engine in the big crossover has another interesting effect: on the highway, the engine has to downshift, sometimes twice, to deal with hills, where other cars would continue to cruise in high gear. This is not a terrible thing by any means, but it whallops highway mileage when you encounter hills, especially if the air conditioning is on. On our 200 mile highway trip, with the a/c on all the time and going moderately uphill, we got 25 mpg (which is not bad for a car of this type); on the way back, with the a/c on half the time, we got 33 mpg.
Generally, if you don't ask for sudden acceleration, the engine is more than powerful enough, and the transmission is very smooth. Gas mileage is rated at 22 city, 32 highway, good for this segment; and you can thank the combination of a four cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic with a tall high gear for that.
The suspension is also tuned for comfort rather than sport, at least in the 1LT version, and the tires squeal in hard turns and on hard acceleration from a stop. The steering has an odd feel, but it is speed-tuned so it does more work when parking than when on the highway. On the other hand, the ride around town is relatively cushy and smooth, and the interior is pleasant and airy; commonly touched surfaces are appropriately covered, and the supportive seats go all the way back if desired (though the passenger seat has a bolster that can't be adjusted in the 1LT trim).
With a full load, the ride becomes firmer and bumps are more easily felt, and you can feel the engine working harder on hills. But on the highway, the Equinox becomes a nice cruiser; it handles bumpy roads without losing traction, the steering becomes more natural, and the car starts feeling better on highway curves with a better feel than most cars and minivans of its height.
Visibility is good in front, with a huge windshield, and to the sides, except towards the rear; there, a huge blind spot interferes with vision, theoretically relieved by a small window that's partly blocked by the rear headrest. The large rear window helps in that direction, and standard defrosters on the outer mirrors and rear window in our 1LT model kept things clear.
The interior is a nicely styled package; our test car had a two-toned theme, with the seats being a sort of black and white check, while the interior panels were a light gray and black. The upper parts were all black to avoid glare, the lower parts were mainly light gray to increase the feeling of space. Large, visible red stitches ran through parts of the trim to hold the leather in place and provide an extra bit of style. The center stack was treated well, with all controls fairly high up, and organized in aesthetically pleasing (and moderately logical) groups.
The stereo, placed up top, had a large backlit LCD display, light blue on black; it showed the time and, with our defaults, on one screen held the preset, band, station, favorites page, station name, song name, and artist. This display is also used to set the car's preferences, and to show the hands-free calling status. (Car preferences include whether the a/c starts on, off, or wherever it was before; lock and light behavior; and more. Our only real criticism here, and it's minor, is that many of the categories have a single item in them; it's like those folders in the Windows Start menu that contain a single program.)
Beneath the stereo was a little band with the power lock button, parental lockout, and hazards; and beneath that, the climate control. The stereo itself used white on black; the other buttons were black on silver. There were essentially four rows of buttons underneath the stereo, in three groups; the top was the lock set, and the bottom was the controls for the trip computer, clearly called out with the label "vehicle info." In between were the climate control settings, logical and hard to argue with: vent positions up top, defroster and fresh air on bottom, air conditioner compressor integrated into the temperature knob (as a button), and fan knob. Sensible, simple, easy to learn, and usable by touch with a little practice; and the fan moved a lot of air but was fairly quiet even on full blast.
The DVD/CD slot was cleverly mounted in a recessed area underneath the center stack, above a large, cushioned cubby; it was much more subtle there than in its usual place, a stylistic triumph. It also left more room for the actual controls, and was just as easy to reach when needed.
The trip computer sat in between the large speedometer and tachometer, and provided numerous facts, one at a time; all screens, though, included the current gear, compass heading, and odometer.
Above the large, clear trip computer screen were small temperature and gas gauges; at left was the first tachometer we've seen in a long time that had no marked redline (it went up to 8,000 rpm), and to the right was a nicely marked out speedometer which rather unnecessarily goes up to 140 (perhaps that's so when you go to km/h you don't run out of numbers.)
Controls seem to be in different places on different GM vehicles without rhyme or reason; in this car, the headlight controls are on the left stalk, the wiper/washer controls on the right stalk. You can get a single wipe by pushing the right stalk down once, a nice touch. The cruise control, on the left side of the wheel, shows that GM is still trying to figure these things out; it used a wheel for set and resume (instead of two buttons), and a cancel button that only reacted when pressed on the lower side, and a subtle on/off switch for turning the system on in the first place. A white indicator showed when the system was active; there was no lock indicator. At night, the gauges are backlit in white.
GM defaults to automatic headlights, but you can shut them off by twisting the headlight control down, letting you shut them off. It returns to automatic headlights on the next trip. The de rigeur GM headlight warning bulb, which seems to have as many uses as GM has vehicles, goes on when you manually activate the parking lamps or headlights; it stays off if you use automatic headlights.
Finally, the PRNDL — the gearshift. In this car, given the manual gear selection, it was more of a PRNDM; the M for manual control was one position past Park. The driver has to push in a button to get there, which makes as much sense as gating to avoid accidentally driving around in manual; then up and down are controlled by a rocker switch in the side of the shifter, a sensible arrangement. Next to the shifter, each gear (P, R, etc) is lit in blue; the selected gear is white. The gear, including the gear number if in manual mode, is also indicated in the trip computer at all times.
There are just two other driver controls, one to shut off the stability control, and one to turn on Eco mode, which supposedly moves to a more fuel efficient shifting pattern; we found our gas mileage was 2 mpg higher with Eco off, but everyone's mileage may vary. We were generally able to get at least 20 mpg regardless, and 22 is realistic for city mileage. 32 for the city might be pushing it.
As for other controls, people can lock their doors, but there's no way to unlock them without using the power locks. However, when you start opening the door, the door seems to automatically unlock itself, for all doors. We're trying to figure out if we like this or not; so far we're at "not." We have not tried it yet while moving.
The interior has numerous places for things, and most of them seem to be padded, including a little area underneath the door handholds, a large cubby underneath the center stack, a covered, shallow bin on top of the center stack, and the bottom of the covered center console. The rear seats get cargo nets on the front seatbacks, map pockets, and a fold-down console with dual cupholders. The rear seats themselves are stiffer than the fronts, less well-padded, but not necessarily uncomfortable.
The cargo space is fairly large, especially if you move the rear seats forward. That's an unusual feature: rear seats that move forward and backward, allowing for more or less cargo space and rear legroom. And it's not just a couple of inches, they move around eight inches from far back to far forward; in the far back mode, you get incredible legroom, and in the far-forward mode, you get a huge cargo area with liveable legroom. They also fold flat when needed.
Chevrolet Equinox gadgets
Two standard GM features were included in our test vehicle: XM stereo and OnStar. XM is a subscription radio service with a hundred stations, with music you will not hear on centrally programmed, oligopoly-owned commercial radio. There are few ads, little DJ chatter, and an incredible variety of music. The system is programmed into the radio as just another band, like FM; the name of the channel (e.g. Bluegrass, Deep Tracks, the 1970s) is shown on the display so you know where you are, and you can use presets to return to your favorite XM stations (presets show a little of the station name, and can be mixed with AM and FM presets). If you're on the road a lot, this system is well worth the subscription.
There is one big difference between XM and the AM/FM bands: with XM, turning the tuner knob moves you up and down through a list of named stations. On AM/FM, the display turns into a graphical representation of an old fashioned analog radio, so you can see where you are on the dial. In any case, the stereo sound in our test car was excellent, with the standard 1LT setup. (Our test car had a single option, the vehicle interface package, for $495. It included leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, remote starter, phone connectivity, and the USB port.)
The standard stereo has high-quality sound, with good stereo separation and easy controls. The automatic volume is nice and adjustable, and the controls are sensible and easy to get used to; you can make numerous adjustments without looking to see what you're doing, and some models also have audio controls on the steering wheel.
If you prefer your own music, you can use the (optional) cleverly integrated USB port in the center console (a power outlet is there, too, along with a power outlet in the center stack bin); we couldn't find an auxiliary jack for quarter-inch cables and there might not be one.
The included OnStar can quickly make itself useful for those who travel and sometimes need a little help getting un-lost. By automatically calling an ambulance after an accident, OnStar may even save your life.
While OnStar is standard, cellphone connectivity is built into an option package; it requires some patience (and a little reading) to program telephone numbers in, but it worked well even with our inexpensive "pay per minute" phone.
Pricing and conclusions
The base price of the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is a reasonable $22,615. For that price, you get a well-equipped car with a six-speed automatic, stability control, air conditioning, tilt/telescope steering wheel, cruise and traction control, six airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, 17 inch aluminum wheels, power mirrors, power driver seat height and lumbar support, driver information center, and CD stereo with OnStar and satellite radio. In short, the base Equinox is equipped like a top Cadillac car was, a decade ago.
The 1LT we had adds deep tinted rear windows, roof-rack side rails, USB port, heated color mirrors, compass, floor mats, and “premium” cloth seats. Options we didn't have include all wheel drive and the rearview parking system; and if our car was the pricier 2LT, we could have paid extra for an ultrasonic backup alarm, hard-drive stereo, leather, and rear seat video, among others. We did have one option, the vehicle interface package, which includes hands free phone connection, leather-wrapped steering wheel wtih audio controls, remote starter, and the USB port, all for $495. That brought the price of our 1LT from its base $24,105 up to $24,600. That’s still very reasonable for the class.
Like other GM vehicles, this one comes with battery run-down protection, 24 hour roadside assistance, and GM's unusual oil life monitoring system, which can let owners extend oil life well beyond the dealer-recommend 3 months/3,000 mile intervals, without damage or excess wear to the engine. Some owners get ten months out of the same oil, without problems, and the oil monitor helps to extend the intervals with confidence.
The Equinox was crash-test rated by the government with five stars for both front and side crashes, and won the IIHS’ Top Safety Pick award based on their own testing (which includes offset crashing). That should be good for an insurance discount.
The Equinox gets better highway mileage than the Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, or Ford Escape (including the Escape Hybrid); the rear seats have more legroom than any of the three. That said, the Equinox is less sporty than CR-V or RAV4, and is aimed at a different crowd - which doesn't mean GM has no right to crow over its gas mileage victory, given a larger vehicle. The Dodge Journey is closer in intent, but gas mileage is lower just 19/25 with the four-cylinder and 16/24 with the 235-horse V6. The Equinox is clearly the powertrain-efficiency winner there (and that won't change until the 2011 or, more likely, the 2012 models).
Highways really are where the Equinox shines; the cornering and steering feel more natural, and the gas mileage shoots far up (as long as you're not on hilly highways).
If you want a comfortable, plush ride with lots of space and decent gas mileage — you could do better in a similarly sized car if you didn't need the adjustable cargo area — at a reasonable price, the Equinox certainly fills the bill. It's around the same size as the original Chrysler minivans, and while you don't get certain minivan conveniences (sliding doors are a lot handier than you'd think, as is the ability to walk through the vehicle), you do get better highway gas mileage, a lower price, and a smaller footprint. The interior is better designed than most GM products, particularly in terms of control logic and ergonomics, and the black and white interior just looks good.
Even if you don't normally think about GM in your search, you should give the Equinox a try. Unless you want instant acceleration — though perhaps the V6 provides that.