That puts the task of attracting buyers on the redesigned shoulders of the Chevy Equinox crossover. Though it's bigger than its three primary rivals -- the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape -- Chevy calls Equinox a compact. Perhaps because it's the smaller, higher-mileage companion to the midsize Traverse.
Equinox is offered in LS, LT and LTZ versions, with front- or all-wheel-drive and 4-cylinder or V-6 engines mated to a 6-speed automatic. We tested the FWD LTZ with V-6, and dallied with the 4-cylinder FWD LT.
With stricter mileage regulations on the way and some consumers fearful gas prices might skyrocket again before then, Equinox puts its focus on mileage. The 4 is the first since Equinox was introduced for the 2005 model year, and more m.p.g. have been squeezed out of the V-6.
The top-of-the-line LTZ, with its 3-liter, 264-horsepower V-6, is rated at 17 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway, modestly better than the 17/24 rating of either the 3.4-liter or 3.6-liter V-6.
However, the added m.p.g. come at the expense of m.p.h. Push the pedal when the light turns green and it feels like you're loaded with luggage and towing a boat. The more lethargic 2.4-liter, 182-h.p. 4 is also a bit growly pulling away.
But the 4 is rated at 22 m.p.g. city/32 highway, allowing Chevy to boast a 30 m.p.g.-plus crossover and the highest mileage offering in the segment. Chevy expects FWD 4s to account for the bulk of sales, a good bet if gas hits $4 a gallon again.
Even if gas stays around $3 or falls back, Chevy may want to consider adding a turbo boost for quicker passing or merging movement.
But can't fault ride, handling or cabin quiet. No bumps or bruises over even those rough stretches being tended to by summer repair crews. . Nimble and agile, with stability and traction control keeping you on the straight and narrow. AWD is a $1,750 option, but costs 2 m.p.g. city/3 highway in the 4, and 1 highway in the V-6.
The cabin is so quiet thanks to an ample dose of sound deadeners and laminated front and side glass. It helps Equinox act more luxury than economy.
Equinox is loaded with surprise-and-delight features you'd expect in a larger vehicle, such as a power tailgate that not only opens/closes using key fob, buttons in the dash or on the lid itself, but also can be programmed to open to different heights to keep sufficient space between it and the garage door or ceiling.
The tailgate also stops and retracts if it strikes a person or package in its path, though we had to exert more force against the lid than we felt should be necessary to get it to stop and retreat.
The second seat slides fore or aft by 8 inches, depending on whether you need more legroom or more cargo and luggage capacity. Rear seatbacks recline if you want to rest or fold to slip skis or golf clubs inside. Other novel touches include a scattering of stowage bins front to rear and an auxiliary jack and USB port under the center armrest in a compartment big enough to hide your laptop.
Prices have been reduced for 2010 by $1,045 to $1,825, depending on model. The FWD LTZ V-6 tested starts at $29,545, the base FWD LS at $22,490, the LT at $23,410.
Standard goodies include remote start, Bluetooth phone connectivity, backup camera (standard in the rearview mirror or with the optional navi screen), heated leather seats (LTZ), power driver's seat (passenger, too, LTZ), climate control, power windows/locks/mirrors and sound system.
Add $1,500 for V-6; $1,750 for AWD. A combination navi and rear-seat DVD entertainment system with screens that flip up from the backs of the front seats runs $3,440 ($2,145 navi alone; $1,295 entertainment alone), and power sunroof is $795.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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