No doubt the biggest news coming out of General Motors is the fact that, after a scant 40 days, it emerged from bankruptcy. This may be some kind of record for a large corporation and The General has pledged to turn over a new leaf. "The bottom line is that business as usual is over," said GM CEO Fritz Henderson, on making the announcement, in Detroit.
Leading the post-Chapter 11 charge – or at least, first out of the gate – is the new Chev Equinox, which made its Canadian debut in Toronto last week. This built in Ingersoll, Ontario crossover is one of the company�s best sellers and is in tough against the likes of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. GM currently sells about half as many Equinoxes as Toyota does RAV4s, and, according to GM Canada marketing manager, Sharon Sikorski, there�s plenty of room to grow. "Crossovers account for one-quarter of the total truck market in Canada," she explains. "The compact crossover is the Swiss Army Knife of Canadian households."
Still based on GM�s "theta" platform, the new Equinox has undergone a restyling job – although nothing too drastic – and will be offered with two engine choices: 3.0 litre V6 and the ubiquitous Ecotec 2.4 litre four cylinder. This will also mark the first time GM has fitted a direct fuel injection system to these two powerplants, and, according to GM�s vehicle engineer for the Equinox project, Tim Herrick, it will increase fuel efficiency, improve cold-start emissions, and bump up the horsepower and torque. Both engines will be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and General Motors is claiming the best fuel economy in the segment with the four-banger.
That may or may not be true, but one thing that has changed is the Equinox� NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harhness) suppression. The previous version of this vehicle could be a little on the loud side on the highway….moreso than the front-runners in this segment, and GM seems to have taken pains to correct the problem. "If it made noise, we either tied it down, got rid of it, or isolated it," said Tim Herrick. "This body is so well-sealed, if you put a bilge pump in it, it could be a submarine." Among the measures implemented by Herrick and his crew are thicker rubber insulators between the suspension and the body, triple doors seals, more and higher quality body insulation, lower rolling resistance tires, and a nifty little item known as Liquid Applied Sound Deadener, which was utilized through the vehicle. "It�s like silly string," explains Tim Herrick.
GM designers also took another look at the Equinox� interior and re-did both the front and rear seat compartments. "We had complaints about the back seats," admits Tim Herrick, "and have done a complete re-design. We took data from the �fifth percentile� of drivers and applied it to the interior design." And what, you may ask, is the fifth percentile? "Typically, it�s small female drivers that we use during testing." Okay then.
The result is a compact SUV-slash-crossover that is more than civilized on the highway and manageable and reasonably nimble around town. The Ecotec engine is no hell-raiser, but with over 180 horsepower on tap, it delivers more grunt than some V6 engines. And, in fact, the power difference between this engine and the V6 is not that great. Yes, when you tromp it on the highway or boot it away from a traffic light, the V6 will deliver more reserve power, but the difference is not dramatic and the Ecotec four cylinder is surprisingly robust in this application. Better on gas too, by a considerable margin. No one can accuse GM of not getting maximum mileage out of the engine, and, with the direct injection set-up, it will apparently be "cascaded" and used throughout the company�s line-up in the future. For example, a new four cylinder Buick Allure is just around the corner, and it could very well have this engine as well.
About pricing. The compact crossover market is arguably the most competitive in Canada and companies like Honda, Toyota, and Ford almost have a lock on consumers affections. What will make the difference is how much vehicle buyers get for the money. The CR-V, RAV4 and Escape all sell in the $$25,000 to $30,000 range, and GM has upped the Equinox content in an effort to lure buyers away. For its $25,995 base price, the Equinox LS will come with front-wheel-drive, the Ecotec engine, anti-locking brakes, GM�s StabiliTrak traction control system, air conditioning, cruise control, telescoping steering, remote keyless entry, power windows/doorlocks/mirrors, and a full complement or front and side airbags. Options include all-wheel-drive, power front driver seats, leather interior, block heater, tire pressure monitor, navi system, XM satellite radio, and a slick rearview camera that displays on the rear-view mirror. The vast majority of these gizmos display on a dash-mounted monitor of some kind and GM�s arrangement takes a little getting used to. Makes sense, though. Backing a vehicle up should involve using the mirrors as much as a small video camera, and this way, you get input from both in the same place. Whether buyers will warm to it or not remains to be seen, however.
GM�s biggest concern these days is not the Equinox. As far as these kinds of vehicles go, it�s right in the thick of the fight and equal to the CR-V, RAV4, Escape etc in every way. No; what the company needs to work on is convincing the public that things have really changed at General Motors. That the corporate culture truly has evolved, and the money that we have invested in the company�s rebirth isn�t being wasted.
Time will tell.
AT A GLANCE
Type: Compact crossover
Price Range: $25,995 – $35,070
Engine: 2.4 litre four cylinder & 3.0 litre V6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Horsepower/Torque: 182 hp @ 6700 rpm/ 172 foot-pounds @ 4900 rpm & 264 hp @ 6950 / 222 ft. lb. @ 5100 rpm
Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 9.2 city; 6.1 hwy, (four cylinder Ecotec) regular gas.
Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Nissan Rogue, Jeep Compass, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Mitsubishi Outlander, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Santa Fe.
Likes: Surprisingly useable four cylinder engine, comfy seats, sensible interior layout, good fuel economy.
Dislikes: Has GM really learned its lesson?