Chevrolet Equinox FCEV Review

Adrian Imonti
by Adrian Imonti
chevrolet equinox fcev review

There is no truth so inconvenient that it can’t be fixed with clever marketing. With an eco-parade of automakers making promises both daring and dubious in their race to join the green gravy train, some skepticism is in order. But now I’ve been to the fuel cell mountaintop and have prayed to the hydrogen altar in an Equinox FCEV. Say Hallelujah! I’m ready to fall to my knees as a true believer in the New Gas. Well, almost.

Following in Bob Dylan’s footsteps, this Chevy has gone electric. A 98-horsepower electric motor sits at its midsection, mated to a 93-kilowatt fuel cell stack that converts hydrogen into electricity. Energy created from regenerative braking is stored in a NiMH battery that assists the fuel cell. Tanks located aft store 4.2 kilos of hydrogen. You can drop that garden hose and extension cord– the Equinox cannot extract hydrogen from water, nor can it run on battery power alone. Unlike the aging folk-rocker, the Equinox emits only heat and water vapor.

Like its Suzuki XL7 platform mate, this conservatively styled crossover won’t set the world ablaze, but the profile is clean and functional. Differences that distinguish the FCEV from its dino-powered sibling are modest. A modified front grille aids cooling of the fuel cells and regenerative system. The quad “exhaust” setup, including four distillers in the tail that emit water vapor, is aggressively styled to earn pistonhead approval, and wins my vote. And let’s not forget– not that we could– the advertorial paint job, adorned with water molecules and “FUEL CELL” logos visible from the next county.

The interior is equally familiar, taken straight from the standard Equinox playbook. The traditional rev counter is replaced by a power gauge that displays kilowatt output from the motor and brakes. This New Age tach makes for great car-geek entertainment, especially when it dips into the green zone as the regenerative system kicks in. A NAV graphic depicts a real-time rendering of the high-tech wizardry at work, including a reminder of how much Old Gas you haven’t burned. However, the monitor’s excessively low position on the center console leaves that amusement strictly to the passengers.

[This evaluation was limited to a short, controlled course, with no high-speed runs possible. Results of this first drive suggest that this FCEV will operate much like an ordinary CUV, albeit one that tips the scales at 4,300+ pounds.]

Startup is a non-event. A bit of pump and fan whirr substitute for engine idle; a dash light provides a useful reminder that the system is operating. Mash the “gas” pedal and power spools-up smoothly. There’s a slight lag in take-up, likely due to the need to pull the fuel cell setup’s several hundred pound weight penalty.

The General claims a top speed of 100 mph and zero to 60 times of about 12 seconds. The surge in the seat satisfies more than those figures suggest, thanks to the 236 ft.-lbs. of torque available throughout the rev range. Interior noise at speed is minimal. Although brake pedal feel suffers slightly from the regenerative braking, stopping power appears unaffected.

GM’s “Project Driveway” will distribute 110 FCEV’s for public testing, gratis. Most approved individuals will receive a three-month test, while fleets get a trial of up to three years. With hydrogen refueling stations as common as the Holy Grail, volunteers must reside in the LA, New York or Washington metro areas, and can’t stray too far from home.

A vehicle that can cart the kids to soccer practice and hit triple-digit speeds while leaving only a harmless vapor trail in its wake is tempting to greenies and gearheads alike. Nonetheless, there are challenges that stymie real-world functionality.

The FCEV’s most obvious liability is range. When refueled at 10,000 psi, the Chevy can travel about 150 miles. Yet many hydrogen pumps dispense gas at half that pressure, so range will frequently be reduced by roughly that amount. The fuel cell system’s substantial bulk– particularly when shoehorned into vehicles not specifically designed around it– shortens an already too-tight leash.

But wait, there’s more. Chemical reactions in the fuel cells create corrosion that contribute to their early demise. After 50k miles, they’re kaput. The New Gas is inefficient to transport and difficult to store, so net energy savings are debatable. Most US hydrogen production is either sourced from natural gas or generated with electricity produced from coal, oil or gas. So most, if not all, roads lead back to hydrocarbons.

Still, a guy can dream, and I’m dreaming. A bit of seat time in the Equinox makes me cross my fingers and toes, hoping this leads to something beyond vaporware. Despite obvious hurdles, to dismiss hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars now would be an exercise in premature pontification. Now, feel free to pass the Kool-Aid; mine’s in the cupholder near the handbrake.

[General Motors provided the test vehicle, insurance, taxes and hydrogen.]

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  • Phil Ressler Phil Ressler on Dec 20, 2007
    [a] the fact that detailed weather and climatic data recordings began in earnest around this time in our country’s history and the most-polluting aspects of the industrial revolution were initially/recently unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. Yes, of course I know this is the answer for why 1850 has become a reference for the "right" global mean temperature. But that's just the point. It happens that distribution of thermometers, advances in transportation and communications, and expansion of a scientific culture around the world makes that year the point of first ability to get a fuzzy global picture, and the IR was just underway. Those temporal realities are artificial relative to the established forces that have been driving climate change before and since. response: simply not true. go here. scroll down to chapter nine and click on the 9.2 link which will download a three-page pdf file. open that file, go to page two and carefully observe the simple-to-read, easy-to-understand graphs that comprise figure 1. Unfortunately, your link doesn't answer my question. The data you cite claims to answer the question of whether natural factors models alone or natural + human factors explain current temperatures. Even this is debatable as link wars can be incited tit-for-tat on every item in dispute. But the question I asked is why current climate computer models fail to account for prior warm periods. The claim that the last 50 years have been warmer than any time in the last 1300 is also in dispute, and even the report you cite couches this as "likely." response: because the climatic changes that happened in the past were very gradual, occurring over periods of thousands and thousands of years - not highly accelerated, has they have been over the last 50 or 100 years. this distinction is extremely important to recognize because gradual change allows lifeforms [flora and fauna alike] the time required to adjust and adapt, instead of die. abnormally-accelerated change does not. The Little Ice Age was a pronounced cooling that occurred quickly and only consumed a few hundred years to go full cycle. Climate change is not exclusively a multi-thousands of years phenomenon. response: that is not the case. the ipcc clearly states: “…[the] rapid warming is consistent with the scientific understanding of how the climate should respond to a rapid increase in greenhouse gases like that which has occurred over the past century, and the warming is inconsistent with the scientific understanding of how the climate should respond to natural external factors such as variability in solar output and volcanic activity.” The IPCC is not the only authority nor the only body doing research. I have no special regard nor disregard for them and they are not comprised of a majority in the scientific community. They are just the UN-IPCC. They have not published a revision to this statement since newer evidence of increasing solar irradiance has been released, nor since additional evidence of "global warming" elsewhere in the solar system has been gathered. response: because there is plenty of room for improvement and because the anticipated costs required to achieve the desired changes are expected to be reasonably affordable and therefore not overly disruptive to our economic stability. moreover, those people truly concerned with climate change are in fact also reviewing and evaluating many, if not most, other aspects of contemporary life to determine where additional benefits can also be realized. But cars are not where the leverage is. Complete conversion of the US car fleet to Prius-like automobiles results in only 2.4% of the CO2 reduction that the IPCC is asking for by 2050. By contrast, conversion of all coal power generating plants to non-emitting technologies -- or full carbon sequestering at each coal plant -- would save 15% of the IPCC's goal. Clearly, if you're serious about this, the fixed-location infrastructure is the place to start, and progress could materialized much sooner. Futzing with personal mobility is a lot more disruptive to people than intensively addressing carbon release from the fixed infrastructure. If you are really serious about this, you could drive much more change by focusing money and energy on power generation and leaving the car to its already well-established vector of improvement. Phil
  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Dec 26, 2007

    I heard yesterday that the growth of wind generation in Texas is now being slowed by regulatory issues over transmission and connecting different parts of the country's energy infrastructure. Let's all think thrice before looking for government to solve the problems.

  • Urlik My online research seems to indicate it’s an issue with the retaining clips failing and allowing the valve spring retainers to come out. This results in the valve dropping into the cylinder.
  • EBFlex Typical Ford. For those keeping track, Ford is up to 44 recalls for the year. Number one recalled manufacturer (yet again) by a wide margin.
  • Lorie Did they completely forget the damn 2.0 ecoboosts that have the class action lawsuit? Guess those of us that had to pay out of pocket for an engine replacement for a fail at 76k miles are out of luck? I will never buy a Ford again.
  • Mncarguy I remember when the Golf came out and all the car magazines raved about it. I bought an early one in the mid level trim, brown with a beige vinyl interior and a stick. I must have blocked out a lot about that car, because the only thing I remember is one day with my wife and infant in the car, the brakes went out! I could use the parking brake and made it home. There must have been other issues (beside an awful dealer who felt like they were doing you a favor even letting you come in for service) because I swore I'd never buy a VW again. I did get a new Beetle and later a Passat. That's another story!
  • Oberkanone The Chrysler - Plymouth - Dodge Neon's racing successes - SCCA and elsewhere ( racing.