Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

October 7, 2012

Cargazing: Chevy drops big engine into Equinox

When Chevrolet introduced the current generation Equinox a few years ago, it raised eyebrows primarily for one reason: It was rated for 32 mpg on the highway.

That was good enough to make it stand out as a fuel-sipping crossover at a time when most of its competitors were hitting the high 20s at best. But, in that unavoidable automotive tradeoff, it also meant Chevy sacrificed some performance to get that impressive gas mileage number.

Great fuel economy always comes from small, dinky engines. Period.

For people who've wondered what the Equinox chassis is capable of when fitted with a meaty, powerful engine, the answer is here. The Equinox now available with a 301 horsepower, direct-injected V6 that lets drivers wring some serious performance out of it — making it drive more like a Cadillac than a Chevy.

The difference is remarkable. I've always liked the Equinox but only in a logical way. It gets good gas mileage. It's built with decent quality in the "New GM" style. It's priced right, starting under $24,000, or about the same as a good mid-size car these days.

With more than 300 horses, though, the whole vehicle changes into something that's lovable for emotional reasons in addition to the logical ones. It transforms the Equinox into a driver's car — something I'd never considered before.

The new engine also exposes just how well engineered the Equinox's chassis is. It changes direction crisply, even under hard acceleration on wet roads, something all but impossible to sense with the smaller, more efficient powerplant that struggles to push the car to its limits.

The 3.6-liter engine also is wonderfully responsive, thanks to the same direct-injection technology that Cadillac uses to raise pulses in its CTS sports sedans. It delivers a high-end thrill that's unusual in Chevrolet products.

Unfortunately, this engine is a $1,500 upgrade that's only available in LT trim and higher, so you'll have to pay at least $28,000 to get it.

It also drops the gas mileage drastically, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone shopping for a 300-horsepower car. With front-wheel drive, it's rated for 17 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway.

The other big change for the Equinox this year is the addition of Chevy's MyLink system, which lets you integrate your cell phone with the vehicle. You can stream Internet radio stations, play audio from your phone and use hands-free voice controls — all the kinds of whiz-bang technologies that cars are racing to adopt this year.

As a whole, the new engine does a good job keeping the Equinox fresh and relevant amid a white-hot market for crossover vehicles. It's one of the most popular vehicles in one of the most popular segments of the automotive market, and the new monster V6 only begs one question:

Why wasn't it offered sooner?

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