Chevrolet is mounting a full-scale attack on the crossover/SUV segment for 2010 with its redesigned Equinox. While sharing unit-body platform technology with the GMC Terrain, this mid-size multi-use offering adds its own unique sense of style to a very impressive mechanical mix. Now available in LT, LT1/LT2 and LTZ trim levels, front- or all-wheel drive and offering four and six-cylinder engines, the appeal of this new Equinox package far exceeds that of its predecessor as we recently discovered after having spent a week a top-line LTZ model.

From the Outside

Visually, the Equinox shares much of its front-end styling with the Malibu sedan while the rest of its smartly contoured bodylines speak more of a tall wagon than a traditional SUV. Although retaining the same 112.5 inch wheelbase as its predecessor, the 2010 Equinox is an inch shorter but has slightly wider track dimensions set off by more pronounced fender flares which give it a more aggressive stance.

A Look Inside

Inside, the transition to a more car-like character is equally evident. The redesigned dash and center stack/console have a welcoming look complemented by user-friendly instrumentation and control layouts. Also in the new mix are premium design features like acoustic "quiet glass," triple door seals and GM's first use of active noise cancellation technology, all of which add a new sense of serenity. There are usable stow spaces and cubbies abound, and though hard plastic still dominates, it now has a far richer appearance.

Comfort and Conveniences

Chevy retained five-passenger seating in the new Equinox, but redesigned front buckets now offer even more comfort and its 60/40 split/folding MultiFlex rear bench easily accommodates full-size adults, offering nearly eight inches of fore/aft travel to effectively deal with changing people/cargo needs. Although statistically smaller inside compared to prime foes like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Equinox offers a respectable 31.4 cubic feet of basic cargo capacity that can be upped to 63.7 cubic feet by dropping the rear seat backs. All trim levels boast generous feature sets, including a full range of power assists, cruise control, OnStar, three months of XM Satellite Radio and six airbags. The primo LTZ we drove also swaps cloth for leather upholstery, upgrades air conditioning for dual-zone auto climate control and adds things like Bluetooth, a standard power liftgate and rear-park assist. Other available upgrades include premium audio and navigation systems with or without a rear-seat DVD entertainment package.

Under the Hood

Underhood, the 2010 Equinox boasts two new engines, both fitted with efficiency-enhancing direct fuel-injection and backed by six-speed automatic transmissions. The base 2.4-liter Ecotec four makes 182 horsepower -- only three less than the 3.4-liter V6 it replaces -- while offering a class-leading 22 city/32 highway mpg on front-drive models and 20/29 figures on the all-wheel drive. The 264-horse/3.0-liter V6 is a $1,500-upgrade and merits 17/25 mpg EPA stats in front-drive spec and 17/24 mpg numbers in AWD form. Well-mannered and free-revving, the four proved more than adequate under normal driving conditions and has a supplemental ECO button that engages an even more thrift-oriented transmission shift programming. But the extra weight of the all-wheel drive system does take a bit of the edge off of its enthusiasm and makes the optional six at least worth considering, particularly by anyone who plans to take regular advantage of the Equinox's maximum payload potential or wants to tow up to a 3,500 pound trailer.

Closing Out

Underpinning the Equinox is a fully independent suspension system complemented by electrically-boosted power steering, StabiliTrak stability/traction control and anti-lock disc brakes. Although chassis bias leans more towards comfort than sportiness, overall control is good and definitely qualifies the 2010 Equinox as both a capable and engaging daily driver. With base prices running from $23,185 for the front-drive LS to $30,540 for an all-wheel-drive LTZ, it also represents a solid value story.

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