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The sounds of silence

When a company debuts a new model, it sometimes brings along competitors’ models for journalists to drive back-to-back.

When a company debuts a new model, it sometimes brings along competitors’ models for journalists to drive back-to-back. No one brings one that outshines the new model, so when GM introduced the all-new 2010 Chevrolet Equinox and rolled out a Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V for comparison, everyone took notice.

The verdict: This new Equinox gives GM the ability to stand solidly head-to-head in the crowded compact SUV market against its domestic and imported opponents.

Also trimmed and badged as the GMC Terrain, the Equinox is built in Ingersoll, Ont. The previous Equinox came only with a choice of two V6 engines, but for 2010, there are two new powerplants: a 2.4-litre four-cylinder or 3.0-litre V6, both with direct injection and mated to six-speed automatic transmissions. Both can be ordered in front-wheel-drive or with an all-wheel system that primarily runs the front wheels, but sends power to the rear if necessary. At a combined rating of 7.8 L/100 km, GM says the four-cylinder is class-leading for fuel economy.

The four-cylinder starts at $25,995 and runs to $33,460. The V6 is an extra $1,725 and only comes with 18-inch wheels priced at $325, so it’s an extra $2,050 on each model. Those who need the V6’s stronger towing capacity (1,500 lbs for the four; 3,500 lbs for the six) will probably step up, but for almost all other driving conditions, the 182-horsepower four-cylinder works well enough that the bigger engine’s 264 horses are overkill. GM has also wisely made the four-cylinder available in all trim lines, so you don’t need to order the V6 if you want the top-line LTZ’s toys.

Most impressive is how quiet it is. It’s been sound-deadened and sealed to within an inch of its life, but since smaller engines are inherently louder, the four-cylinder model adds an extra trick: Two cabin-mounted sensors that monitor interior sound and then, when necessary, send a wave from the subwoofer to offset any noise. It’s similar to the way noise-cancelling headphones work, and it allows the engineers to run the engine at a lower rpm for improved fuel economy. I got into a Buick Enclave test vehicle a few days later that didn’t seem any more silent than the Equinox.

Handling is responsive and nicely weighted, and it feels more like driving a car than an SUV, with no torque steer, minimal body sway, and a smooth ride over gravel roads and rough pavement.

The interior is also much improved over the old Equinox: There’s a lot of hard plastic, but it’s well-fitted and handsomely designed, and I don’t remember any Chevrolet with seats this comfortable.

2010 Chevy Equinox
Type: Sports utility vehicle
Price: from $25,995
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre V6
HP: 184 (four-cylinder); 264 (V6)

Highlights

• Handles like sedan
• Improved interior
• Extremely quiet

 
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