The first all-new product from the all-new General Motors is bound to be scrutinized. After all, bankrupt GM has, like Chrysler, been propped up by your tax dollars, so it seems fair to pay close attention to how our money is being spent.
Fair, but not entirely accurate: Yes, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, due at dealers within a month, is new, but given the fact that the typical development time of a product is three years, this SUV has been on the drawing boards since 2006. So what we see this year, or even next year, doesn't really reflect any sort of revised attitude and philosophy from GM or Chrysler.
That said, it's lucky for General Motors that the 2010 Chevy Equinox is pretty much what the company is promising for the future: Nicely designed, well-constructed, competitively priced.
But what you are likely to hear most about the new Equinox is fuel mileage. GM has managed to squeeze an EPA-rated 32 mpg out of the four-cylinder Equinox, which is supposed to account for two-thirds of Equinox sales, with the rest being a V-6. That 32 mpg beats the Honda CR-V by five miles per gallon, and the Toyota RAV-4 by four. City mileage is a respectable 24 mpg, four better than the CRV, two better than the RAV4.
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I've driven the front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder Equinox, base-priced at $22,440, but I spent more time in the all-wheel-drive Equinox LTZ, which has a gutsy 3.0-liter, 264-horsepower V-6. It gets an EPA-rated 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. This represents the top-of-the-line model, with an optional $3,440 navigation and rear-seat entertainment system, plus other options that raised the list price to a sobering $36,525.
You will be able to get a nice four-cylinder Equinox for less than $25,000 -- and even at that price, you'll get six air bags, a six-speed automatic transmission, stability control, anti-lock disc brakes and standard OnStar and XM satellite radio.
The four-cylinder's acceleration is adequate, but the six-speed transmission gets a workout shifting up and down to maximize power.
Inside, even the base Equinox is surprisingly well-appointed. Rear seats slide forward and aft eight inches -- with the seats forward, there's a generous 31.4 cubic feet of cargo room. Road handling is precise, and the ride is smooth.
The Canadian-built, five-passenger Equinox -- which will also be sold as the GMC Torrent, since Pontiac, which sells the current Torrent, is fading away -- is a no-excuses SUV that matches the competition. If this is the GM of the future, maybe the bailout wasn't such a bad investment.
2010 Chevrolet Equinox
Base price: $22,440
Price as tested: $36,525
EPA rating: 17 miles per gallon city driving, 24 mpg highway
Details: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive SUV with a 3.0-liter, 264-horsepower V-6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission.