The completely redesigned 2010 Chevrolet Equinox now ranks in the top tier of small, affordable SUVs, experts say. However, it qualifies only as a solid runner-up; the sportier 2010 Honda CR-V (Base MSRP: $21,545 to $27,745) is critics' top choice. The Equinox is mechanically identical to the boxier 2010 GMC Terrain (Base MSRP: $24,250 to $31,300).
You can choose between two Equinox engines -- one for fuel economy, and one for stronger towing. The base 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine makes the Equinox a fuel-sipping miser among nonhybrid small SUVs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, at an estimated 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway/26 mpg combined with the six-speed automatic transmission (the only choice) and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive drops that to 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway/23 mpg combined. However, one major testing organization averages 2 mpg less in its real-world test of the AWD Equinox -- on par or just behind other four-wheel-drive models in the test, including the CR-V, 2010 Toyota RAV4 (Base MSRP: $21,675 to $27,985) and 2010 Subaru Forester (Base MSRP: $20,295 to $28,495).
Power from the Equinox's base engine is judged acceptable by reviewers but certainly not brisk, and it only allows for a 1,500-pound tow capacity. The optional engine, a 264-horsepower, 3-liter V6, accelerates better and lets the crossover tow up to 3,500 pounds. However, it's thirstier, at 20 mpg combined (17 mpg city/25 mpg highway, or 1 mpg less on the highway with AWD). Testers at Motor Trend, Car and Driver, TheTruthAboutCars.com and Autoblog.com all prefer the lighter, quieter, more efficient and less expensive four-cylinder -- especially with a transmission that clings stubbornly to high gear in test after test. An "Eco" button on four-cylinder models makes the transmission "even more aggressive about getting into sixth and locked up," says Dan Roth at Autoblog.com, but it still works well for city driving. Christopher Jensen at The New York Times says Eco mode makes the powertrain feel "mildly sedated."
Handling is secure in tests, but not as agile as the Honda CR-V, and more than one tester says the Equinox's lifeless steering saps any fun from the drive. "To call the electric power steering vague would be to imply it actually conveys something to the driver's hands from the front tires -- it doesn't," Edmunds.com says. Nor can the newly hatched Equinox match the CR-V's long history of reliability and high resale value. Inside the cabin, it's a trade-off; the Equinox offers slightly more rear legroom than the CR-V (which testers say is already plenty roomy), but it loses a bit of cargo space in the process (63.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, versus 72.9 cubic feet for the CR-V).
Like the CR-V, the Equinox features room for five, with sliding, reclining rear seats and a stylish interior, although a few testers say the center stack goes a bit button-crazy. Trim levels start with the Equinox LS (Base MSRP: $22,615 to $24,365), with air conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, tilt-and-telescoping steering, OnStar and a CD stereo with auxiliary jack and satellite radio. The Equinox 1LT (Base MSRP: $23,535 to $25,285) adds better cloth upholstery, tinted rear windows, roof rails and more options.
The Equinox 2LT (Base MSRP: $25,620 to $27,370) adds a backup camera, upgraded stereo with USB jack, Bluetooth, remote start, automatic climate control and more. Heated leather seats come standard on the Equinox LTZ (Base MSRP: $28,220 to $29,970), along with driver's seat memory, a power tailgate, rear parking sensors and automatic headlights.
Crash ratings are excellent. The 2010 Chevy Equinox earns the highest possible ratings in front-, side- and rear-crash tests at both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), with 4 stars (out of 5) in the government's rollover avoidance tests. At IIHS, the Equinox also performs well enough in roof-strength testing to earn a 2010 Top Safety Pick designation, which applies to models built after March 2010. The Equinox includes the usual complement of standard safety features for this class: antilock brakes, traction and stability control, and front, front-side and curtain airbags.
We found no reliability ratings for Chevrolet's newly redesigned compact crossover. The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is covered by a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, with a five-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
The best review sources rank the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox against competing SUVs; we found excellent tests at Edmunds.com, Car and Driver, Motor Trend and ConsumerReports.org. Reviews at The New York Times, TheTruthAboutCars.com and Autoblog.com are equally extensive, although they compare the Equinox more briefly with just a few other SUVs. ConsumerGuide.com, Kelley Blue Book and PBS's "Motor Week" all single the Equinox out as a recommended SUV, although their descriptions are shorter than others'. Ratings at GreenerCars.org and FuelEconomy.gov are based on official fuel economy and pollution data. NHTSA's SaferCar.gov and the IIHS conduct separate crash tests.
In its desperation, General Motors has created a real winner in the Chevrolet Equinox, Edmunds.com says. Editors like its fuel efficiency, its quiet cabin and its looks better than the competition, but the Equinox suffers from slightly less cargo space and absolutely lifeless steering.
Review: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
2. Car and Driver
The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox wins an Editors Choice award here, thanks to its improved looks, interior and engine efficiency. Still, the Equinox is judged more competent than fun, and Car and Driver notes the "nonexistent" steering feel. Editors prefer the more fuel-efficient, four-cylinder version. Links lead to three separate Car and Driver tests of the Equinox.
Review: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, Editors of Car and Driver
3. Motor Trend
The Chevrolet Equinox is easy to like, Motor Trend experts say; it rides smoothly, accelerates strongly, handles well and looks good. But each Motor Trend tester finds a flaw or two, and it doesn't wind up winning Sport/Utility of the Year.
Review: 2010 Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year: The Contenders: Chevrolet Equinox, Kim Reynolds, October 2009
ConsumerReports.org tests both the four-cylinder and V6 versions of the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox in its usual rigorous fashion. However, this model is too new to have amassed any reliability or owner-satisfaction data -- both of which are big parts of ConsumerReports.org's ratings.
Review: Chevrolet Equinox, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
5. The New York Times
Christopher Jensen climbs a dirt road through the White Mountains in a front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox. It gets great gas mileage, and Jensen appreciates the "handsome, roomy interior." But with its stiff ride and "lifeless" steering, it's not good enough to be the best, he says.
Review: Out of the Valley But Far from the Peak, Christopher Jensen, Oct. 1, 2009
6. The Truth About Cars
The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox "isn't great in any area aside from rear seat legroom," but it's good in all important ways for the typical crossover driver, Michael Karesh concludes after testing both the Equinox and its GMC Terrain sibling. He finds the base four-cylinder engine more appropriate than the thirstier, noisier and still not incredibly powerful V6.
Review: Review: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, Michael Karesh, Dec. 14, 2009
In this extensive review, Dan Roth finds a few of the same gripes with the Chevrolet Equinox as other critics, including lifeless steering and an "obsession with high gear." Overall, though, he says the Equinox is a worthy competitor to the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Review: Review: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox Sets the Tone for New GM, Dan Roth, Oct. 14, 2009
Some crossovers are faster or more nimble, but the quiet, roomy Chevrolet Equinox earns a Recommended nod from editors here. Both the four-cylinder and V6 versions are tested. ConsumerGuide.com considers the Equinox a midsize SUV.
Review: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox: Road Test, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com
9. Kelley Blue Book
Editors here call the Chevrolet Equinox "a wise choice," naming it to their Recommended Shopping List. The four-cylinder version's 32 mpg highway rating is a big plus, as are the quiet, spacious cabin and stylish new look.
Review: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox 4-door LS Sport Utility, Editors of Kelley Blue Book
10. Motor Week
The Chevrolet Equinox wins the 2010 Drivers' Choice award for Best Small Utility vehicle at PBS's "Motor Week." Editors particularly like the four-cylinder version's high estimated fuel economy. A linked video review gives details.
Review: Drivers' Choice Awards, Editors of Motor Week
The Chevrolet Equinox is one of the greenest nonhybrid SUVs you can buy, according to fuel-economy and pollution-emissions ratings. GreenerCars.org classifies the Equinox as a midsize SUV.
Review: The Best Vehicles by Class, Editors of GreenerCars.org
The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox (four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive version) and its GMC Terrain twin get the best estimated highway and overall fuel economy of any nonhybrid SUV, this government chart shows. However, they're not listed as the most fuel-efficient on the "Best and Worst MPG" page because that goes by city mpg (the Jeep Compass and Patriot hold a 1 mpg edge in city mpg). Fuel economy for the V6 and AWD Equinox models are also rated here.
Review: 2010 Sport Utility Vehicles, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov
The Chevrolet Equinox ties with several other small SUVs for the top government safety scores in the class: perfect 5-star ratings in front- and side-crash tests, with 4 stars for rollover avoidance.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of SaferCar.gov
14. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety classifies the Chevrolet Equinox as a midsize SUV. Like most others on this chart, it earns the highest rating of Good in front-, side- and rear-crash tests here, and it also rates Good for rollover protection, earning models built after March 2010 a 2010 Top Safety Pick designation.
Review: Midsize SUVs, Editors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety