Hybrid shoppers looking for an efficient small SUV will logically put the Ford Escape Hybrid at the top of their list. The Escape Hybrid, with its city fuel efficiency rating of 36 mpg, is way ahead of the pack for in-town driving. But on the highway, the Escape Hybrid is beat out by a gas-powered SUV—and it’s not a Toyota Rav4 or Honda CR-V. The 2010 Chevy Equinox leads the segment with a highway fuel economy rating of 32 miles to the gallon.

Compare the Equinox!

If you’re thinking about buying a Chevy Equinox, you might also consider a Ford Escape Hybrid or a Pontiac Vibe. Compare these vehicles.

Moreover, the 2010 Chevy Equinox offers a sharp new design, ultra-quiet ride, generous backseat, and compelling high-tech features. And in these tough economic times, it’s the Equinox’s base model price tag of $23,185—about six grand below the Escape Hybrid—that might get you into the showroom for a test drive. (More expensive Equinox trim levels rise into the high-$20,000 range.)

The key to the vehicle’s fuel economy is its efficient four-cylinder direct-injection engine, not previously available with the Equinox. Additional efficiencies come from improved aerodynamics—the drag coefficient of the 2010 model dropped from 0.42 to 0.36 compared to its predecessor. GM engineers also provide an “eco” button to alter throttle and gear behavior for an additional 1 mpg—but that feature is more about making the Equinox seem hybrid-esque, than about real and substantial fuel economy gains. Meanwhile, the 32-mpg rating on the highway speaks for itself.

The Equinox is packed with features that bring its curb weight to 3,800 pounds—causing some compromise on performance. Automobile Magazine said, “Driving the Equinox is a passive experience. Power delivery is smooth, but slow.” Autoblog wrote, “The four-cylinder Equinox is no speed demon, but it has enough acceleration that you’ll never worry about merging onto freeways or making a pass with a reasonable amount of room.” And Popular Mechanics said, “Fortunately, the six-speed automatic shifts with precision and extracts every bit of thrust available.”

More power is available from the V6 version, but it comes at a cost of $1,500 and a dip in fuel economy from 22 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway to 18 city / 25 highway.

Rumors of a hybrid version of the Equinox were squashed by GM spokespeople, but with the recent cancellations of a Saturn and Buick small and economical SUVs, perhaps the Equinox will adopt GM’s currently homeless plug-in hybrid drivetrain. (It makes sense but is pure speculation at this point.) The Equinox is currently used as a platform for GM’s fuel cell program.

Style and Size

Any slight shortcomings in the Equinox’s performance are more than made up with its design enhancements. The auto press is using terms like stylish, tasteful, clean, well proportioned and modern to describe the Equinox’s interior and exterior. The interior’s most striking feature is the dual instrumental panel, and the flow of dashboard into the door panels, borrowed from other recent GM vehicles.

At 187.7 inches in length, the Equinox out-spans the Escape by 13 inches and the Toyota RAV4 by six inches. The rear bench seat slides almost eight inches to either provide bountiful legroom or extra space for cargo. Seatbacks that recline at three different angles, and a flat floor, further enhance comfort. Sorry, but no optional third-row seating like the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, or much larger Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Chevy Equinox

The feeling of comfort is enhanced by the quiet ride. GM employs an “active noise cancellation system,” using the stereo speakers to emit waves that cancel out certain frequencies. Laminated front glass, triple seals on all four doors, and extensive sound-deadening material reduce the quietness to the level of its luxury competitors.

Techno-Goodies

Standard equipment on all models includes an auxiliary audio input, cruise control, XM satellite radio, OnStar, a compass, and power windows, mirrors, and door locks with keyless entry, and an eight-speaker Pioneer audio system with audio controls on the steering wheel.

Two eight-inch monitors are placed on the rear of the front seatbacks. Remote start can be equipped to control heat and AC (as well as available heated seats) to automatically warm or cool your car based on the outside temperature. An optional power rear lift gate opens to a programmable height to prevent the Equinox from smacking the roof of your garage.

Navigation-equipped cars also come with a 40-gigabye hard drive for storing music. The optional back-up camera displays in the rearview mirror on cars without navigation.

 


All told, the 2010 Chevy Equinox is a welcome addition to the small entry-level SUV class. It’s not a hybrid, but considering its highway mileage and low price point, it deserves a look from SUV shoppers trying to go further on a gallon of gas.