Alternately titled: Signs of Life. I’ll be the first to admit I was more than a little skeptical of General Motors success post-chapter 11. After all, the company held onto many of the same execs who led the once mighty Detroit automaker straight into craptastic product hell. Fuel that fire with consumer base loathsome of any government hand outs and you’ve got a recipe for continued mediocrity. If you’re looking for evidence to the contrary, set your eyes on the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox. GM’s sturdy little crossover has gone under the knife in a big way, and much to my surprise, it came out damn fine. Hop the jump for a look at my impressions.
To really understand why I’m in such awe of a decidedly unfiendish vehicle, we need to take a look at the first generation Equinox. The definition of meh, the 2004-2009 crossover rocked some seriously uninspired styling outside. An Aztec-esque hood/fender line, goofy front grille and instantly-forgettable side profile didn’t do the ute any favors. Things weren’t much better inside, as a sea of black-grey materials and boring gauges prompted the NHTSA to issue a recall for a bore-to-death hazard. I’m kidding, of course, but just barely.
It’s somewhat fitting the Equinox would get GM’s first real redesign since the fall – kind of like stitching up major arteries before taking care of nicks and bruises. The changes start small with a redesigned key fob. Heavier and more solid-feeling than the plasticy-unit standard with the first generation vehicle, the fob uses a VW-style switch-blade key, and a textured Bow Tie is emblazoned on the back. This may not seem like a huge deal, but the quality and attention to detail isn’t something we’ve seen a whole lot of from General Motors in recent months. The theme continues throughout the rest of the vehicle.
Outside, the Equinox shirks its ho-hum looks for a little flair. The dopey front face has been replaced with the large, double-frame grille found on the Malibu, and high-intensity lamps make the crossover look more pricey than it actually is. Both sides rock serious fender arches and plenty of chrome in all the right places. Side-view mirrors, window frames and roof rails all get the shiny treatment, and sizeable 17-inch wheels are pretty snappy for a crossover. The rear of the Equinox rocks a much cleaner design over the outgoing model. The large plastic bumpers are nowhere to be found, replaced by chromed-accents and hefty exhaust tips.
All of that’s cool as can be, but pales in comparison to the crossover’s interior. Chevrolet’s stepped its game up in a huge way when it comes to materials and color options, and the Equinox is available with sweet two-tone leather seats with slick red-stitching. A newly-designed four-spoke steering wheel replaces the clunky parts-bin unit we’re used to seeing on nearly every GM product, and the center stack is handsome and well-sorted. The preponderance of buttons may be disorienting at first, but it’s better than slogging through multiple MMI tiers. Subtle LED lighting behind the center stack, in the foot wells and door handles also add a smidge of class. The Equinox is also available with a super-sharp LCD infotainment touch-screen display miles ahead of nearly every other unit we’ve seen out there.
A handsome set of bi-pod gauges replace the cheap flat-panel design of years past, and use the same sporty font and back-lit illumination as the Corvette. Even the turning-indicator and windshield-wiper stalks feel solid and miles better than the same equipment found on the last Equinox. Whatever GM’s putting in its design team’s coffee, we’re fans.
Under the hood, there are two engine options, including a direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a more potent 3.0-liter direct-injection V6. The four-pot rocks 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque, while the extra two cylinders in the V6 will nab you 264 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque. Mated to either mill is a new six-speed automatic transmission. You can opt for full-time all-wheel drive, though there’s a fuel economy penalty of around 2-3 mpg.
Our tester was equipped with the 3.0-liter V6 in front-wheel drive configuration. Make no mistake, the Equinox still happily fills the slot below full-sized SUVs and above mid-size wagons, so you’re not going to be tracking this sucker anytime soon. That said, the suspension is just firm enough to nix any worries of eminent roll over, and the brakes do a fantastic job of bringing the show to a halt. The engine is surprisingly throaty when you punch the go pedal, and speed builds quickly with a series of rapid, smooth shifts. The new six-speed cog box uses some pretty quick logic to put the Equinox in the right gear at the right time, and the hesitation and confusion of the old transmission has been banished to tales of GM’s past. For the most part, driving the Equinox is as easy as you’d expect from a crossbreed, but you will find more than your share of torque steer once the engine hits the tall end of the torque band.
All in all, GM’s hard look at the Equinox has served the crossover well. The level of detail and quality is difficult to describe, made even more so by the ute’s $33,235 price tag as tested. That’s a small chunk of change for luxuries like a rear-view camera, two DVD screens and heated seats, not to mention the delicious interior. For The General’s sake, I hope this blip on the company’s EKG grows into a full-blown heart beat.