PINCKNEY, Mich. -- Just west of Detroit on rolling terrain dented by glacial lakes, we're scooting along two-laner Michigan 36 from Stockbridge to Pinckney in the driver's bucket of a new rendition of a crossover utility vehicle by Chevrolet.
Stretching more than 15 feet long and six feet wide, this slippery wagon rides on a stretched platform with two doors on each flank of the elongated cabin and a hatchback lid at the tail.
It wears chiseled sheetmetal with a muscular bulge ringing each wheel but elegant decorative appointments.
Focal point is the bold front-end carved in smooth lines of a sculpted block with a sharp rake to the windshield and down-sloping hood, and a single-bar grille with mesh inserts and oversized corner headlamp clusters.
Chrome-coated block letters mounted on the lip of the tailgate identify Chevy's new CUV as the E-Q-U-I-N-O-X, a word referring to that moment in spring and fall when day and night are equal and the world is in perfect balance.
This theme of equilibrium applies to Equinox the Chevy CUV because it strikes a balance as a car-based vehicle which resembles a sleek sport utility wagon but functions like a family-friendly minivan and drives like an easy-riding sedan.
It blends the best traits of a traditional SUV -- such as the tall stance and spacious cabin with flexible seating and generous cargo capacity -- with favored traits of a tightly constructed sedan, as it's easy to enter the low-rise cabin, easy to maneuver the vehicle around town in traffic and easy to park it on a crowded lot.
The original Equinox debuted in Chevrolet's 2005 line stocking a V6 engine with front-wheel-drive (FWD) or all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, completely redesigned with a choice of two new fuel-thrifty engines, also adds FWD or AWD options.
Trims for the 2010 CUV line up as the Equinox LS, LT and LTZ.
Equinox is constructed with an integral body-frame structure which compares to a FWD car rather than the conventional SUV's rear-wheel-drive (RWD) body-on-frame truck platform.
Size-wise, the new Equinox rides on a platform which has the same 112.5-inch wheelbase as the original edition, yet the front wheel track measures about an inch wider to improve ride and handling traits.
The sleek structure, comprising targeted applications of high-strength steel, adds an inch in overall width compared to the 2005 version but lops off about an inch in length and height.
A fully independent suspension features struts up front with tuned coil springs and direct-acting stabilizer bar.
In back Equinox totes a four-link design with coil springs and trailing arm, a stabilizer bar and hydraulic link bushings.
Steering is a rack and pinion design with variable assistance. An electric power steering (EPS) system replaces an hydraulic apparatus with the base four-cylinder engine.
The brakes have been upgraded to include a large disc at every wheel with linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus StabiliTrak, GM's electronic vehicle skid control system.
All editions roll on standard 17-inch painted aluminum wheels capped by P225/65R17 all-season blackwall tires.
However, there are optional 18-inch aluminum rollers for Equinox LT and LTZ or even 19-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels for the LTZ.
GM brings two new high-tech engines to the 2010 Equinox featuring dual overhead cams (DOHC), electronic throttle control (ETC), direct injection (DI) technology and variable valve timing (VVT).
The transaxle is a fuel-saving Hydra-Matic six-speed electronically controlled automatic. The Hydra-Matic 6T45 mates with the four-cylinder engine and the Hydra-Matic 6T70 applies to the V6.
Standard plant for all three trims is the Ecotec 2.4-liter cast aluminum in-line-four engine which develops 182 hp at 6700 rpm and 172 lb-ft of torque at 4900 rpm.
The federal EPA sets fuel economy numbers for this Equinox powertrain at 22 mpg City and 30 mpg Highway with FWD, or 20 mpg City and 29 mpg Highway with AWD.
Optional engine for Equinox LT or LTZ is a cast aluminum 3.0-liter V6 which generates 264 hp at 6950 rpm and 222 lb-ft of torque at 5100 rpm.
With the V6 aboard, EPA fuel economy scores amount to 17 mpg City and 25 mpg Highway with FWD, or 17 mpg City and 24 mpg Highway with AWD gear.
The optional AWD device for Equinox is always engaged and uses a computer to determine how much power to apply at each wheel for maintaining tire traction on slippery roads.
Normally it runs in FWD mode for driving on dry pavement. When front wheels begin to slip in wet or icy weather, however, the power shifts automatically to the rear wheels temporarily to keep the CUV moving forward safely on a non-skid trajectory.
We steer both FWD and AWD versions of the 2010 Equinox on twisty two-lane roads skirting Michigan lakes and find sure-footed traction along with a comfortable ride quality.
And the passenger compartment seems spacious and filled with lots of favored amenities.
Plan for the five-seat cabin pitches a pair of comfortable bucket seats on the cockpit row separated by a floor-mounted console.
A bench seat on the second row splits and folds and also slides fore and aft by eight inches to vary legroom. Chevy labels this bench as a Multi-Flex seat. In the rear-most position the legroom is by far the best in class.
Cargo space in Equinox is also good. With the rear bench up, the flat-floored cargo bay has 31.4 cubic feet of stow room. With the back bench folded down, the bay expands to 63.7 cubic feet.
Gear standard on Equinox LS ranges from air conditioning and power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors to daytime running lights, a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, the driver's seat with four-way manual movements, cruise control and remote keyless entry device, a driver information system, the audio kit with six speakers and AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, plus XM satellite radio and GM's OnStar telecommunications equipment.
Chevrolet establishes MSRP figures as low as $22,450 for Equinox LS FWD and $24,200 for Equinox LS AWD.