By on December 14, 2009

An equinox for the solstice?

When buying a car, it can matter a great deal which boxes you do check. And, sometimes, which ones you don’t. Comparisons between the GMC Terrain tested last month and a Chevrolet Equinox driven recently unearthed one do, and one don’t.

equinox1The Equinox and Terrain are essentially the same vehicle aside from sheetmetal. But the sheetmetal differs so greatly that “rebadge” is not appropriate. Though the Terrain’s chunky exterior has fans, you’d never know it from the comments at TTAC. The Equinox’s much more conventional exterior, in contrast, shouldn’t offend anyone. Though not striking, the second-generation Equinox is blandly attractive, if anything more so than any of its primary competitors. No one does a double take when a Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, or Volkswagen Tiguan crosses their path. The droopy headlights of which Chrysler and VW have been so fond lately make an unfortunate appearance on the Equinox as well, but this minor design faux pas pales next to the noses that various Japanese companies has been cursing their cars with lately.

The tested GMC Terrain’s black cloth had a bit much of a work truck vibe. The Chevrolet Equinox had the optional black and brown leather (also available in the GMC), and it makes for a much warmer, more luxurious, and altogether more attractive interior. Both models share a stylish, well-organized center stack complete with ambient lighting, red in the Terrain, blue in the Equinox. The Chevy’s blue is easier on the eyes. Most of the interior plastics are hard, and some appear lower rent than others, but this is typical of the price point. Overall, this is the segment’s best interior.

Like the Terrain, the Equinox combines the width of a compact crossover with the wheelbase and length of a midsize. Inside, this translates to modest shoulder room and exceptional legroom. Seats front and rear are moderately firm and comfortably contoured, and the rear cushion is high enough off the floor to provide adults with thigh support. Ironically, the distantly related Cadillac SRX pairs a larger number of rear seat amenities—rear vents with automatic controls, seat heaters—with a much more cramped, lower, and less comfortable rear seat. equinox

The Equinox’s cabin isn’t broad but, as in many current GM vehicles, the instrument panel runs high and deep between massive A-pillars. “Bigger is better” thinking persists within General Motors, and especially once underway the Equinox feels larger than it is, and it already is a half-size larger than most competitors. This probably attracts more people than it turns off, even if fewer people are seeking to “live large” these days.

The usual price of this large feel: anyone hoping for agile handling won’t find it. The Equinox’s handling is accurate and secure, with nicely weighted steering, good body control, and modest body lean. But agile or sporty it is not. GM leaves any semblance of that for the imports. The Equinox’s moderately firm suspension absorbs most bumps well without any float, but from time to time transmits enough of the impact that you know…you’re in an crossover and not a car. Noise levels are low, making it all too easy to go faster than you intend.

The first-gen Equinox was available with a 185-horsepower 3.4-liter OHV V6 and a 264-horsepower 3.6-liter DOHC V6. The new uplevel engine, a direct-injected 3.0-liter V6, on paper as powerful as the old 3.6, was the largest source of disappointment in the tested GMC Terrain. Too little midrange power to feel energetic, and too vocal with each often-needed downshift, and no more economical than a direct-injected 3.6 would have been.

Since the 3.0-liter V6 was so underwhelming, the new base engine, a 182-horsepower direct-injected 2.4-liter DOHC oughtn’t have a shot at motivating the front-wheel-drive Equinox’s 3,800 pounds. And yet, defying all logic, perhaps even physics itself, the four feels considerably better than the V6 in typical driving. Partly it’s a matter of also sounding better than the V6. Or at least sounding less. The six-speed automatic must downshift at least as much with the four, but when it does so the four draws much less attention to itself. After decades of uncouth fours, GM has finally managed to develop one that puts the optional V6 to shame. Didn’t see this one coming.

equinox24Physics cannot really be defeated, so the 2.4-power Equinox isn’t quick. It just feels acceptable and appropriate when driving the way non-enthusiasts drive. Add all-wheel-drive, a full load, some hills, or a combination of the above, and maybe not. For these conditions and those who want both refinement and quick acceleration, let’s hope GM tosses the 3.0 in favor of a 3.6 sooner rather than later.

Ads for the Equinox have tended to focus on the four’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 22/32. In the real world, the Equinox can top 30 in straight highway driving, but mid-twenties tends to be typical with mixed driving.

After sampling the V6 with the cloth trim and the four with the leather, the latter combination is clearly the way to go—at least until GM sees fit to offer a suitable uplevel engine. It seems odd to pair uplevel features like leather with a four-cylinder engine in a nearly two-ton vehicle, which might be why such a combination has rarely been offered in the past in the U.S. But in this case the combination somehow—surprisingly—works. The new Equinox isn’t great in any area aside from rear seat legroom. But, out in the real world driving like compact crossover owners typically drive, the whole impresses more than the sum of its parts. If the reliability stats are solid—TrueDelta should have some in February—the Chevrolet Equinox will be a good vehicle to recommend to people who would otherwise buy a CR-V, RAV4, or Forester with the base engine. They’ll then find that the Equinox is a rarity for GM: a model dealers can’t seem to keep on the lot.

[Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, a provider of automotive quality and reliability data]

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52 Comments on “Review: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox...”

  • avatar

    “In the real world, the Equinox can top 30 in straight highway driving,”
    That’s still remarkable for a  large, heavy crossover weighing 3,800+ lbs! I was curious how GM was able to obtain such a high MPG (esp. the official 32!) for such a vehicle. GM is correct to tout the MPG in the ads, especially since it is apparently real, and not like this “gamed” 41 MPG of the fusion hybrid that testers had a very hard time duplicating (only in a fre tests did they come close, most others yielded Camry-hybrid much lower type MPGS)
    I know many hate the styling of  the Terrain, it is a bit extreme, I am not in the market for something as juvenile and overstated, BUT the way to look at it, iwith Hummer gone, this is an Enrivonmentally Responsible Poor man’s Hummer H3 (should I ad Poor Soccer Mom’s too?)

    • 0 avatar

      The trick is pairing a four-cylinder engine with a tall sixth gear. Note that some owners have been disappointed by their observed MPG, expecting to get close to 30 overall. But one owner I spoke with says he does crack 30 in 100% highway.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendon from Canada

      Remember that the weight will have less to due with mileage once your at cruising speeds; shape (read wind-resistance) starts becoming more important. I’ve hit the high twenties in a very boxy 6000lb LR3 with a big V8 while towing a modest 2000lb trailer – I never exceeded 55mph (back roads), and hit no lights for 30 miles.   As soon as I had to accelerate (ie at a stop sign/light), the mileage dropped in half…

    • 0 avatar

      If my fuzzy memory is correct at all, the Suburbans of yore would get mpg up that way at cruising speed as well, so yeah, once the behemoth gets at speed, keeping it there isn’t so bad, as long as the wind is blowing the right way and the hills aren’t too bad…

    • 0 avatar

      Aye, there’s the rub.  Steady speed cruising is pretty much impossible out here in NW New Mexico.  It’s not the stoplights, it’s the hills, hills, hills. 

  • avatar

    TrueDelta will probably have some preliminary reliability stats for the 2010 Equinox and Terrain in February. The more owners participate, the better the information we can provide.

    To read about the survey, and sign up to help:

  • avatar

    Blue dash lights annoy the [redacted] out of me. Blue, white.. any of the cooler colors are generally much harder on the human eye (especially at night) than red. I’d much rather have everything on the dash lit in red than in blue or white. Green is just.. boring.

    • 0 avatar

      Retinal exposure to blue light increases alertness:

    • 0 avatar

      Red light is traditionally used in aircraft because it does not destroy night vision the way the other colors do.  This is crucial when flying.  But in traffic, there is no benefit because there is so much light outside of the vehicle that your night vision is most always shot anyway.  So, the only real reason to use red is that it looks cool, because it is not as readable as green.  Don’t know about blue.  I have blue in my Honda Fit and like it.

    • 0 avatar

      My old aftermarket (now dead) radio / cd head unit had a lot of blue/white light for its main lighting. It was a horrible distraction at night.

      Exposing my retinas to bright blue LEDs at night just makes my eyes hurt. It always made me horribly sleepy on late night drives, especially after I was already somewhat tired. Dosn’t mean its that way for everybody, though.

      As for the “so much light outside the car…” argument, that depends on where you’re driving. Middle of nowhere western kansas at night = very little light outside the car. I suppose if the majority of your driving is in a city, with lit signs for stores, etc and tons of traffic at all hours then yeah. bright interior lights probly aren’t that big of a deal.

    • 0 avatar

      Automakers generally avoid red lighting anywhere on the car with the exception of the tail lights.    Putting them anywhere else is asking for a lawsuit, even if they only reflect off of the driver and interior bits.
      If it wasn’t for the laws surrounding red lights in cars every instrument panel would probably be bathed in it.

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure where you get that, BMW dash lighting was red for many years and the last generation Mazda6 was all red lighting.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark out West

      The best dash light is reduced levels of white lighting, according to NASA.  Take a gander at jet cockpits and you’ll see the red lighting went out with the 50s.  Also, as you get older, it becomes more difficult for the eye to focus on red type, so us old farts are seeing blurry numbers on the gauges at night in BMWs.

  • avatar

    The 2.4L/6A combo has shown itself to be very nice every time I’ve sampled it. I wonder why GM doesn’t make that setup standard on the Malibu?
    I made a comment a while back that the 2.4L Lacrosse is going to be a better choice than the 3.0L versions- this review makes me think I may be right.  That 3.0L/6A setup is just mind-blowingly awful.
    I haven’t read any reviews of a CTS equipped with the 3.0L yet.  I wonder if GM managed to screw up its best car by giving it its worst engine.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, I drove a ‘Bu with that very engine / transmission combo and it was very impressively refined (if not terribly powerful-feeling) – we’re talking Camry level here. Plus, you get paddle shifters in the Malibu.

      The base CTS engine is now the DI 3.6, if I’m not mistaken…the 3.0 is not offered.

    • 0 avatar

      I wish the 3.6L DI was the base CTS engine. But sadly… 2010 Cadillac CTS Specs

  • avatar

    You wrote that GM is letting the imports have the CUV for sport and handling.
    Which ones at this price range?
    The Rav4, perhaps.
    Maybe the Mazda? Which is bigger, I think.
    I think the Subarus are noisy as hell and have no guts.
    Please advise as I am always looking at these for my kids.

    • 0 avatar

      The Toyota comes first to mind, along with the CX-7, which is an inch wider but several inches shorter. Even these don’t feel sporty to me, but they do feel smaller and so more agile than the Equinox. The Toyota has the lightest “feel.”

      Stepping up a class, the Acura RDX is probably the sportiest of the front-drive-based CUVs. It competes more with the new SRX, and the SRX feels much larger even though it has about the same amount of room inside.

    • 0 avatar

      As someone who owns a CX7 (turbo version), and has driven the above vehicles with the exception of the Subaru, I have to say that I respectufully disagree with your assessment of their sportiness and handling.

      The RAV4 is the softest of the bunch with a typical Toyota floaty feeling. The CRV is not much better. The RDX does indeed feel more sporty but should not really be mentioned here due to price. The CX7 feels even firmer than the RDX in terms of ride with the least amount of body roll. The Equinox feels somewhere in between the RAV4/CRV and  RDX/CX7 in sportiness.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    “Add all-wheel-drive, a full load, some hills, or a combination of the above, and maybe not. ”

    An otherwise thorough and insightful review, but maybe when reviewing an SUV or CUV, tossing a load in and letting us know how the vehicle performs under some conditions most owners would be driving under, would be “going the last mile.”

    Just sayin’…..

  • avatar

    Sounds like overall GM has a very competitive offering. The 4 cyl mileage is superb for a 3800 lb vehicle. Hope GM does well with it sounds like they should. The lack of sport type handling is IMO a non-issue for the vast majority of potential buyers. Excellent fuel economy on the other hand is a big issue. Based on this review were I in the market for a vehicle in this segment it would definitely be on my shopping list.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      I’m starting to see the start of a trend here.  Go back and read last week’s  “Do we really need big cars?” responses….lots of posters opined we can (in the short term) have half a glassful in some respects by keeping the cars large and putting in smaller, less powerful (more POTENTIALLY efficient) engines and tweaking the transmissions to try and find a sweet spot.

      This vehicle seems to be exhibit A….almost 2 tons and a 4 cyl….

      In the Something Has To Give department, one wonders whether the strain of pulling 2 tons plus cargo and passengers around will effect the drivetrain’s longevity….

      I look to see more of this, especially from the domestics, as a way to help the ol’ CAFE fleet average….put a price premium on the supposed large engine that will satisfy enthusiasts….put a discount on the small engines they need to make their fleet average numbers but keep the aesthetics essentially the same….

      40% of the drivers will not even notice, another 30% won’t care, 20% will bitch about it, but not be able to afford the upgrade, and 10% will insist on the big engine…..

    • 0 avatar

      1.6L engines don’t seem to have a problem reliably powering 2500 lb cars, so why would an engine that’s 50% bigger have trouble with a vehicle that’s 50% heavier?

  • avatar

    I think GM has hit the “non-enthusiast” nail on the head with this CUV.  I can actually picture this as a starter mommy mobile for the young family and then watch them trading up to an Acadia or a Traverse once they have that third or fourth kid.  What’s the MPG for the four cyl AWD version? 

    BTW I really admire GM for offering CUVs with four cyl and AWD for those who might live in uglier areas weather wise but don’t want to pay the double penalty for a V6 and AWD.  Now GM would really get my business if they would come up with say a Suzuki like system where you could have FWD, Auto 4WD, or 4WD low. 

    • 0 avatar

      “…picture this as a starter mommy mobile for the young family…”  
      On the other end of that picture — We’re considering this (and others in the class) as a step-down replacement for our minivan now that the older children are headed off to college.  With only one child left at home, we’re past the soccer mom stage and don’t really need a three-row vehicle any longer.  The prospect of similar cargo capacity with a big jump in mileage (from ~18 to ~28 MPG) is very attractive.  Don’t know of any others with that particular combination, would be willing to listen to suggestions!

  • avatar

    My current company car is the first generation, and I have driven the new one with AWD and 2.4L DI 6-sp Auto.
    There are a few things worth noting here that Michael didn’t mention.  First, part of the reason that the car is so much quieter is that they used laminated glass and more insulation than previous iterations… a good thing.
    BUT, the 2.4L gets a special active noise canceling speaker in the rear of the vehicle.  It dramatically reduces the drone of a big 4.
    Additionally, no mention of the “eco” button?  I loved having this in the city (I am in Chicago) because of the huge throttle response “jump” that all of GM’s cars have.  It smoothed out city driving SO much!

  • avatar

    Overall, this is the segment’s best interior.

    Something that probably hasn’t been said about anything from GM since interiors started being important. Bravo GM, now make them all this good.

  • avatar

    Maybe the de-tuned 2.0l turbo could have been the one size fits all choice for Equinox?

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    I’ll give GM credit where it’s due.  Some of their cars and trucks have seen a significant improvement in overall design.  This seemed to have started with the CTS and Malibu and has slowly trickled into other models such as the Equinox.  I used to be repulsed by GM design elements before, with the first-gen Equinox being a prime example.  It was an awkward shape, didn’t seem to belong to a specific size class, and it had those crappy crome tail light moldings;  just brutal.  That along with previous renditions of cladding cornucopia liberally applied across product lines only grew contempt for interiors that were even worse.
    Nowadays, products look tighter and cleaner on the outside and the interiors have vastly improved as well.  All this, and only about 8 years too late.  I wouldn’t buy a GM product on principle even if it was the most competitive offering in a segment I was interested in.  If they had “reinvented” themselves a long time ago that might have been a different story.

  • avatar

    Brendon from Canada . . . .
    I agree.  My 03 Suzuki Vitara 4 door, 2 liter four cyl,  five speed and 3000 lbs  gets about 30-33 on the highway.  Crappy aerodynamics.

  • avatar

    I’m really liking the new GM interiors that have been coming out since the Malibu debuted. They’re very handsome. I just wonder how they will hold up over time.

  • avatar

    Not to be obnoxiously negative, but that is a dreadfully dull design. The exterior and interior are utterly anonymous — there is literally nothing worthwhile about that design. Which is awful, because it seems like GM has made a CUV that’s an improvement on their regular mediocre crap.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the review, Michael…
    I actually like this vehicle (a girl I know just bought a loaded LTZ 3.0 6cyl, which [so far] she “loves”), but haven’t driven one yet, as no dealer has a 2WD 2LT with an 8-way power driver’s seat (which is the model I would buy – I’m 6’4″ with longish legs).
    The only caveats for me would be OnStar (which I’m not a fan of),  and the wide turning circle – of course, the longevity of the DI system, which is new on GM Ecotec engines (at least in the US).
    The lack of supply is probably doing me a favor – the many people buying this vehicle will do some of the testing for me (as several have done, their feedback has caused GM to re-program the tranny computer on 4-cyl models).

  • avatar

    The interior on this version is definitely a step (or 50) beyond the 2008 Equinox, which I have driven every day for the past year (company vehicle).  I can’t say I ‘hate’ the older one, but I sure wouldn’t get one, and wouldn’t really trust a GM vehicle after driving it so much.  But it is a good sign that the interiors are getting better, rather than just being the mishmash of crap that this same vehicle was just two years ago.

  • avatar

    *crosses fingers* Keep the 3.6 in the Camaro, keep the 3.6 in the Camaro, keep the 3.6 in the Camaro…

  • avatar

    The new Nox is a mixed bag for me. The interior is a definate step in the right direction but the exterior looks plainer and muddled with too much  Asian or korean in the design. They got the powertrain offerings half right. The improved 2.4 seems to be a pretty good base engine in lightly loaded FWD models but is a bit strained in heavier AWD versions with the A/C and luggage aboard. The 3.0 liter V6 is an oddity. It is a gutless wonder on the low end, makes more racket and drinks way more gas making it’s existance very questionable. Why did GM not use the 280 HP 3.6 with identical mileage figures which would have made this tops in class for power. I also am scratching my head at the logic of offering a light in the center console but nothing in the glovebox. Why? The crap cloth seat material remains that loves to collect lint and is very tough to clean and keep clean and so far every example I have seen has the dreary black seats with gray inserts. Word to GM- offer more interior colors. I also think 3800 LBS is 300 too much in an exntry level cute ute like this with FWD. Why are all of GM’s new offerings so darn porky and overweight? My suggestions for the 2011 Nox would be to offer more interior cloth color choices and nicer materials, relocating the center console light to the glovebox, ditch the 3.0 liter SIDI and instead offer the superior 3.6, find a way to drop at least 200 LBS of weight and spice up the plain exterior a bit with an optional bodyside molding or lower ground effects etc.

  • avatar

    In todays less is more thinking society this CUV is pretty good with the less column being smaller displacement engines, less exterior trim and differentiation from it’s Asian and Korean competitors. Luckily in the Nox’s case the more side comes in the form of a better interior and improved base engine mileage and more optional features. Improved quality seems present too so the good outweights the bad. Too bad the lack of interior color choices for cloth seat takers is so limited and said cloth is the same harsh fake hard to clean garbage from the last generation Nox as another example of less. I would like to see a 2011 Nox with a few hundred LBS of weight lopped off, 3.0 liter engine dropped in favor of 3.6, center console light relocated to glovebox, better cloth seat material with more color choices and a little more visual excitement and dress up with optional bodyside moldings or lower ground affects.

  • avatar

      Center console light?   What is that?  Are you talking about a dome light that illuminates the center console.  Or is there a light that illuminates the very large storage bin that resides under the center armrest.  I didn’t notice a light in there, but if it has one, great because it’ll need it.  Shame on Chevy for not not providing a light in the glove box, if that’s the case.
      I test drove a new Nox (during the day) and liked it.  It was a 2LT front-wheel-drive w/cloth seats.   I did a U-turn on a residential street and didn’t find the turning radius to be bad.  It wasn’t Mini or Smart Car tight, but not bad.  Power from the 2.4 was decent.  Overall the driving expirence was quiet and pleasant.    

    • 0 avatar

      If the turning radius is ‘not too bad’ that’s definitely an improvement from the previous version that I’ve been driving.  It cannot turn into a normal 90-degree parking space from a normal parking lot aisle.  It needs at least 2.5 lanes to make a u-turn.  So if they’ve brought that down, that’s a big step in the right direction again.

  • avatar

    “The trick is pairing a four-cylinder engine with a tall sixth gear.”

    The trick used to be pairing a V8 with a 4.88 rear. Oh well.

  • avatar

    Yes.  The four-banger w/ the tall gears.
    As an owner of an ’05 Vue (an abbreviated Equinox), 2.2 ECOTEC 4 cyl., manual 5 spd., I can verify 25-26 MPG’s in town but merely the same on highway jaunts–no more. Why? Because the engine is turning nearly three grand at 70 MPH!  This is the same drive train as found in the Cobalt save for the FDR and the 5th gear ratio (easily achieving 30’s).  And yea: the Vue weighs more and is higher in the air. But the same fuel mileage figures for in town driving verses highway…? Really?
    Cobalts – 3.84:1 FDR & 0.69 5th gear
    Vue – 4.41:1 FDR & 0.81 5th gear
    Trust me, if my Vue had a 6th gear, we’d be in 30 MPG territory.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyle Schellenberg

      No kidding, it’s unfortunate that it’s taken all these years to get those extra gears and yet some companies are still slapping 4-speed autos in cars.  My old Integra 5-speed stick was such fun to drive around town, lots of pull in the lower gears.  Downside? At 70MPH in 5th, it was spinning at 3600 RPM.

  • avatar

    Correct me if I’m wrong but did GM eliminate the electric door lock switch on the new Equinox? I’m guessing this is a cost-cutting move since the doors automatically lock once the vehicle’s in motion and the doors can be unlocked by simply pulling on the interior handle.

    But, if so, it also means that in order to unlock an unused door (like the rear hatch), the remote must be used.

    It’s a cheap-ass move and a deal-killer, for me.  I want to be able to unlock the doors via a simple switch somewhere near the driver, not have to fish around in my pocket for the remote.

  • avatar

    I hadn’t given this vehicle a second though until I had a Malibu loaner (1LT I think – it had chrome wheel covers that from a distance looked like bling-tastic alloys) and came away impressed. Why? Well, it was quiet, the 4 cyl wasn’t a droaner (probably due to the sound deadening and noise cancellation)and the fit and finish were pretty good. Getting back in my 2007 SAAB 9-5 felt like taking NVH back about a decade (which, given the platform, is probably correct.)

    It didn’t have as much reserve power as my SAAB, but it got out of it’s own way enough. The wide turning circle is inconvenient, as are the fatty A-pillars. Ambient lighting is a nice touch.

  • avatar

    I bought a 2010 Equinox from a dealership about 80 miles from home. I got 30 mpg on the trip home with the 4 cyl. and a virtually brand new engine. I got the top of the line LTZ, nav, wheels etc. We love it, and it sips gas compared to anything near its’ size, the rear seat is huge!

  • avatar

    The Terrain looks so much cooler than the Equinox. I don’t care what people say – at least the Terrain isn’t Japanonymous like everything else in the segment. A manly-looking CUV at last.

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