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Chevrolet raises the style and efficiency bar

February 27, 2009|By MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

If there was a congeniality award for automobiles, the Equinox would rank as one of the leading contenders. Chevrolet's popular mid-size utility wagon has attracted buyers since its inception for the 2005 model year with its handsome looks, roomy surroundings and solid construction.

As good as the current Equinox is, its numerous domestic- and import-based competitors have been constantly improving and upgrading their own offerings. To stay a step or two ahead of the pack, Chevrolet's revamped 2010 version is due to hit the streets in mid-2009.

Visually, General Motors' "Bowtie" division has taken a bold-is-beautiful approach with the Equinox. The nose features a version of Chevrolet's now-familiar horizontally split grille, the broad-shouldered fenders suggest strength and agility and the integrated the rear-quarter windows and liftgate glass merge to create a neat wraparound effect. Taken as a whole, the Equinox appears closely related to its 2009 Traverse sibling.

Although more muscular-looking sheet metal and a widened stance make the Equinox appear larger, the fact is that the vehicle maintains a slightly modified version of the previous platform. That means the distance between the front and rear wheels hasn't changed, while other key dimensions - overall length, width and height - vary slightly and curb weight has slightly increased by about 70 pounds. Unfortunately, storage space with either the rear seat in place or folded flat has decreased by close to 10 percent.

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The Equinox also showcases the latest styling trick of integrating the rocker panels with the doors to reduce entry step-over height. This helps keep pant legs from brushing up against the vehicle's lower body area.

One of the criticisms directed at the current Equinox was its rather uninteresting interior.

Chevy's design team obviously studied the current Malibu sedan's gorgeous cabin in creating a similar look that includes dual gloveboxes, easy-to-read twin gauge pods and plenty of handy storage bins. The result is an exceedingly classy dashboard/control-panel layout that will no doubt impress and delight both driver and passengers with its warmth and usefulness.

Retained from the previous model is a versatile split folding rear seat that can be adjusted fore and aft over an eight-inch range to optimize leg room or cargo capacity.

Fuel economy was obviously an important priority and, to address that need, a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder becomes the new base engine. Although not as torquey as the outgoing 185-horsepower 3.4-liter V6, the four-cylinder's 21/30 mpg estimated city/highway fuel economy blows away the 3.4's 17/24 rating. With those kind of numbers, Chevrolet expects that fully two-thirds of Equinox customers will opt for this powerplant.

Optional is a 3.0-liter V6 with 255 horsepower at the ready, replacing the previously optional 264-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 that came with the Equinox Sport. The 3.0 earns an estimated 18/25 mpg rating, only slightly better than the 3.6.

A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with both the I4 and V6, while all-wheel-drive is available no matter the powerplant.

As for model choices, the lineup consists of LS, LT and LTZ. A wide assortment of standard equipment (air conditioning, cruise control, keyless remote entry and power windows/locks/mirrors, etc.) is included on base versions, while moving up into the LTZ provides climate control, heated leather seats, 18-inch wheels, extra trim, and a premium audio system.

The extensive option range includes a power rear liftgate, touch-screen navigation, dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system, rear-vision camera and 19-inch polished alloy wheels and a 250-watt audio package with an internal computer hard drive for music storage.

With its new skin, friendlier interior and thriftier power choices, the Equinox projects a more fashionable presence and one that appears eager to pack up the gang and tackle the tasks at hand.

It's tough to get more congenial than that.

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