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Chevrolet Equinox: A GM success

Making do with four cylinders isn’t a sacrifice

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Chevrolet Equinox: A GM success

The Chevrolet Equinox is a big compact in the segment, and it is somewhat unique in its level of amenities. The base 182-hp, four-cylinder engine has an EPA rating of 32 mpg on the highway using re...

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POSTED August 3, 2011 11:59 p.m.

If there are government naysayers or import snobs who still believe GM is not turning out relevant vehicles for public consumption, a test drive in a Chevy Equinox should be mandatory homework.

And then ask them to give it back and listen to the reactions.

I've just finished a week in a 2011 Equinox 2LT, which is an upper-midlevel model that starts at $26,780 and was less than $30,000 as tested. And I didn't want to give it back.

Equinox is a big compact in the segment, and it is somewhat unique in its level of amenities.

The tester had the standard 182-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Equinox is also available with a 264-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 and all-wheel drive. Starting prices range from $23,805 to $32,630 for the topline LTZ with V-6 and AWD. Competing vehicles include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4 and Hyundai Santa Fe.

At 32 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in town, even impatient, power-obsessed drivers may find this engine the better alternative to burn $4-a-gallon fuel — regular unleaded fuel.

It is the six-speed transmission that allows this direct-injection engine to keep up with traffic. Downshifts and double downshifts perk up performance with a flex of the accelerator. And this little engine that could holds steady along interstate grades on cruise control. With fewer gears, the engine would be continually shifting — seeking — to maintain speed. Passing power from 45 to 65 mph won't leave the driver in a lurch, but he or she will learn to anticipate the need for power to make the most of four cylinders.

The ride quality is big-sedan comfortable, most of the time. The cabin is quiet around town and decent at interstate speeds, for a high-riding crossover. Michelin Latitude tires roll smoothly on 17-inch alloy wheels.

The back seat area has nearly 40 inches of headroom and legroom. The back doors open wide and have plenty of step-in foot-room for climbing in and out. The seats, with fore-aft adjustment and recline, are raised for good visibility and the floor is flat, which also helps three-across seating. The center seat does not have a head restraint, but that position is still safe for youngsters whose heads don't pop above the seatback.

The cargo area is wide and square with a modest "liftover," about 29 inches. And space expands by 60/40 folding seatbacks.

The driver faces a smartly grouped gauge array and three-spoke wheel with cruise and audio controls. Cabin controls and audio are stacked concisely on an angle in the center instrument-panel stack. There's a nicely padded armrest-storage box between the front seats and handy storage areas throughout. The glove box is large, but it doesn't lock.

Visibility is good overall, but the outstretched windshield pillars may require a double-take at busy crosswalks. Also helpful is a rearview camera embedded in the rearview mirror.

Other 2LT features include remote locking, heated front seats, eight-way power driver seat, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, floor mats, eight-speaker Pioneer audio system with XM satellite radio with auxiliary and USB ports and Bluetooth phone connection.

The plastics are solid with appealing patterns and colors. The woven headliner is an upscale treatment still not applied to some imports. Switches and buttons function with well-engineered action. The quality of materials and how well they are screwed together support a $30,000 price.

This is the second-generation Equinox, which went through a major overhaul in 2009 when it debuted as a 2010. It was given more room and much more refinement to the chassis, ride quality and interior features. There were few changes for 2011, but the 2012 model will have the option of MyLink for voice-activated entertainment and communications.

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