THE FORMER GENERAL MOTORS CORP. struck a winning strategy a couple years ago for its highest-volume products, exemplified most recently in the new-for-'10 Chevy Equinox. And if the new General Motors Co. is smart, it will stick with that same game plan.

As with the redesigned '08 Chevy Malibu midsize car, an unqualified home run for GM, perhaps the Equinox's most impressive feat is its library-like cabin.

The key, GM engineers say, is taking money that could have been spent elsewhere on the vehicle and sinking it into sound-damping materials.

The smartest dough was spent on acoustic noise-cancelling technology. Much like the headphones some air travelers use to knock down the whine of jet engines, the Equinox's technology emits a frequency to cancel out certain noises.

The technology doesn't cure everything. We picked up some low buzzing from the driver's side seatbelt housing, which GM says has been remedied, but it does help impart to passengers a near-luxury experience in a vehicle with a razor-sharp base price of $23,185.

Most important, the technology quiets a superbly performing 2.4L 4-cyl. direct-injection gasoline engine.

The all-new I-4, offered in addition to the new 3.0L DIG V-6, delivers an estimated 22-32 mpg (10.7-7.4 L/100 km) city/highway fuel-economy rating on front-wheel-drive models.

Yet, the frugal little engine provides an ample 182 hp and 172 lb.-ft. (233 Nm) of torque. Both engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

On two separate driving occasions, we found the 4-cyl. powertrain quiet, fuel-efficient and generally well-behaved.

Ward's editors averaged 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) running errands in the Equinox and 28 mpg (8.4 L 100/km) on the highway while in Eco Mode, a driver-selective technology altering shift points to improve fuel economy by an average of 1 mpg (0.4 km/L).

We'll take both performance numbers anytime. The CUV does not lack for giddy-up, either, whether accelerating from an intersection or passing.

Styling wise, the new model receives Chevy's updated global face — a 2-tiered grille with a prominently displayed gold bow tie and wraparound headlamps. The result is a bold, yet gentler, more family-friendly fascia than the previous model.

Rear glass also wraps around on the new Equinox, giving it a sleeker, more sporty appearance. GM shortened the overhangs at both ends.

Inside, the Equinox successfully continues the brand's dual-cockpit design. GM offers 2-tone leather seating surfaces, another lesson learned from the Malibu's success in imparting a premium touch.

Gauges and lighting glow a pleasant icy blue at night, and the various functions are easy to navigate. There are plenty of nooks and crannies.

The rear bench seat travels 8 ins. (20.3 cm) fore and aft, providing lots of legroom or extra cargo space in the rear.

Ride and handling are satisfactory. There's no harshness penalty for the low-rolling resistance tires GM adds to boost fuel economy. And the rack-mounted electric power steering from ZF Friedrichshafen AG feels spot-on, with the appropriate assist on the highway or in the parking lot. Models with the V-6 engine receive a hydraulic unit.

GM stickers what it expects to be the most popular trim level at $24,105. That's cheaper than both the previous model and the base Honda CR-V. A fully loaded LTZ model with the 3.0L V-6 and all-wheel-drive amenities tops out at $35,000.

Interest is heavy, and a number of dealers say they can't get enough of the new CUVs to satisfy customer demand.

So what's wrong with the new Equinox?

For starters, no second-row head restraint for the in-board passenger. GM says it would obscure the driver's rearward vision and jeopardize safety, but why not add the pop-up head restraint found on the new-for-'10 Cadillac SRX?

Also, GM offers three wheel choices, and the smallest, 17-inchers, don't adequately fill the wheel wells.

Despite a couple wrinkles, GM delivers a nicely updated CUV that is quiet, stylish, safe and affordable. That's always a winning combination.

'10 Chevrolet Equinox

Vehicle type: Front-engine, 2WD 5-passenger CUV

Engine: 2.4L DOHC all-aluminum direct- injection 4-cyl.

Power (SAE net): 182 hp @ 6,700 rpm

Torque: 172 lb. ft. (233 Nm) @ 4,900 rpm

Compression ratio: 11.4:1

Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/manual mode

Wheelbase: 112.5 ins. (285.8 cm)

Overall length: 187.8 ins. (477 cm)

Overall width: 72.5 ins. (184.2 cm)

Overall height: 73.8 ins. (187.5 cm)

Curb weight: 5,641 lbs. (2,559 kg)

Base price: $24,105

Fuel economy: 22-32 mpg (10.7-7.4 L/100 km)

Competition: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Ford Escape

[+]PROS/CONS[-]
Library-quiet interior No fifth headrest
High-tech 4-cyl. Small wheels, big wells
Family-friendly styling Demand tops supply

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