Rating: 8.0
Bottom Line:
Though it is as big inside and out as some midsize SUVs, the Equinox is priced like a compact. It offers useful interior space for people and cargo, as well as class-leading fuel economy. Throw in some neat available options, and the reworked Equinox is a player in the family crossover market.
  • Flexible rear seat
  • Class-leading 4-cylinder fuel economy
  • Midsize vehicle, compact price
  • Weak V6 performance
  • Plastic dashboard
  • Options are pricey

View Pictures:  2010 Chevrolet Equinox

The small sport-ute category is dominated by Toyota and Honda. So it's big news when a new compact SUV comes out that can compete with them, and that's exactly what the new Chevrolet Equinox has done.

While the first-generation Equinox bested those competitors in terms of size and space, it was an ill-handling beast with an interior completely compromised by too many cost-cutting measures.

Redesigned for 2010, the second-generation Chevy Equinox keeps its size advantage while adding class-leading fuel economy, much-improved handling and an upgraded (but still a little chintzy) interior.

Model Lineup
The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is offered in LS, LT1, LT1 and LTZ trim levels, each with front- or all-wheel drive. Notable standard features of the LS include cloth upholstery, XM Satellite Radio, power accessories, 17-inch alloy wheels and one year of the OnStar Safe and Sound plan. The 1LT adds upgraded cloth upholstery, heated mirrors and a roof rack. The 2LT gets automatic climate control, a 250-watt Pioneer audio system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a rearview camera display, Bluetooth connectivity, remote engine starting, an 8-way power driver's seat and fog lights. The top-of-the-line LTZ model adds leather upholstery, a rear cargo cover, memory for the driver's seat and mirrors, heated front seats, rear park assist, automatic headlights, a power rear liftgate and chrome exterior trim.

Available options include a rear DVD entertainment system with two screens, a navigation system that is paired with a 40-gigabyte hard drive to hold music and picture files, a sunroof, a towing package and 18- and 19-inch wheels and tires.

Standard safety equipment includes dual threshold front airbags, curtain side airbags, front side airbags, a tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, hill start assist, traction control and GM's Stabilitrak electronic stability control.

Under the Hood
The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is available with two engine choices: an upgraded four cylinder and a new V6. The base engine is GM's Ecotec 2.4-liter four cylinder, now with direct-injection technology that improves horsepower from 164 to 182 ponies and torque from 160 to 172 lb-ft. Fuel economy is also improved, as Chevrolet quotes EPA fuel economy estimates of 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 20/29 mpg with all-wheel drive. The lone transmission is a 6-speed automatic with an "Eco" feature that alters the shift program to increase fuel economy by about 1 mpg.

Also offered is a 3.0-liter V6 that replaces GM's 3.6-liter V6. A derivative of the 3.6, this engine also features direct injection and delivers 264 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque. GM quotes fuel economy estimates of 18/25 mpg with front-wheel drive and 17/24 mpg with all-wheel drive. The V6 also comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission, but it adds a manual shift gate.

Inner Space
Chevrolet benchmarked the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V when developing the Equinox, including the tawdry interiors. While Chevrolet says the Equinox's cockpit is inspired by the interior of the successful Chevy Malibu midsize sedan, it doesn't have its stable mate's soft-touch surfaces or flourishes of chrome trim. What it does have, though, is an attractive double-cockpit-style dashboard made entirely of hard plastic.

If Chevrolet really wanted to best the competition, it would have made the dashboard richer, with soft-touch surfaces, tighter gaps and some wood, aluminum or chrome trim. That's not too much to ask, considering that the Equinox's price can reach $36,000. The available "ice blue" ambient lighting is a nice feature, though, and the Equinox does offer some amenities not expected in the class, including dual-zone automatic climate control, a hard-drive audio system and a dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system.

Space is not a problem, front or rear. The front seats are comfortable in cloth or leather. The seats have 10 inches of travel, and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so everyone from the very short to the very tall is accommodated. The rear seat carries over the useful MultiFlex system, which includes a reclining feature and eight inches of travel fore and aft. Slide the rear seat all the way back and a tall rider can fit behind a tall driver. Slide it fully forward and you can expand rear cargo space to 31.4 cubic feet. The rear seat is split 60/40, and it folds to open up a total of 63.7 cubic feet of cargo space. The load floor isn't completely flat, but that just means that Chevrolet decided that adding seat padding was more important than a flat load floor. We agree.

On the Road
The first-generation Equinox didn't do this one any favors. It was simply one of the worst-handling crossovers on the market, prone to lots of body lean and passenger head toss. We're happy to say the next-generation model is much better. The Equinox is now more carlike. The copious body lean is gone, and passengers don't feel like they're aboard a ship in stormy seas. The new model is every bit as good as a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 in terms of handling. Chevy is now in the ballgame.

The ride isn't bad, either. With the standard 17-inch wheels, the Equinox absorbs just about any rut, dip or pothole the road can put under it without disrupting passenger comfort. Our only complaint is a bit of body drumming over washboard surfaces. We also tested the Equinox with the available 18-inch wheels and didn't feel a difference.

The base engine is upgraded this year with the addition of direct fuel injection, which improves both power and fuel economy. The upgrade works: the base 2.4-liter four cylinder provides usable power from a stop and on the highway. It even offers decent passing punch and is smoother than most four cylinders. Chevrolet quotes a zero-to-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds, and that may even be a bit low. The 2.4 also offers class-leading fuel economy. Not even the smaller RAV4 or CR-V can match the Equinox's 32 mpg highway figure.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Chevrolet opted to switch from a 3.6-liter V6 to a 3.0-liter V6 as the top engine in the Equinox lineup. While the horsepower rating is the same as that of the outgoing 3.6, the 3.0 has 28 less pound-feet of torque and, on the road, it feels considerably less powerful. In fact, the V6 doesn't feel that much more powerful than the four cylinder. Chevy says the 3.0 can launch a front-drive Equinox to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, but that's less than a second faster than the four banger. Given the $1,500 price difference and the fuel economy penalty, we'd recommend the four.

Right for You?
Given the government's new fuel economy standards, vehicles like the Equinox should increase in popularity. Active singles, empty nesters and small families looking to downsize from a large, inefficient sport ute will find the Equinox a good value. It has plenty of room for five, with plenty of cargo space in back. Larger families might find the lack of a third-row seat to be a deal breaker, and buyers who want a sporty look should shop elsewhere.

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.