Monday, December 25, 2006

Chevrolet adds a little edge to its smallest SUV

Thursday, December 14, 2006
Chevrolet adds a little edge to its smallest SUV
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

General Motors Corp. on Wednesday showed off a sport version of its compact Equinox sport utility vehicle, expected to hit showrooms next summer.

The made-over Equinox will come equipped with a more powerful engine and six-speed automatic transmission, larger wheels and some cosmetic features designed to give the plucky vehicle a more aggressive look.

The original Equinox went on sale in mid-2004 with little fanfare and has been a solid seller for GM. But the SUV could use a boost with consumers. Sales this year are down 13 percent from year-ago levels, with 105,000 vehicles sold through November, according to Autodata Corp., a New Jersey company that tracks car and truck sales.

Giving car buyers a sport option, which Chevy has also done with vehicles such as the Impala, Cobalt and Malibu sedans, should help set the Equinox apart in the increasingly competitive market, Chevrolet Marketing Director Cheryl Catton said. About 1.6 million compact SUVs have been sold this year, she said, and the Equinox goes up against 23 other models.

"There's still a huge volume opportunity with the Equinox," Catton said.

She said the Equinox will compete with the Honda RAV4 and Mazda CX7 compact SUVs and also stacks up well against BMW's X3 luxury compact crossover in terms of engine power and options. Other U.S.-made compact SUVs include the Ford Escape and Jeep Liberty, both of which are outselling the Equinox so far this year.

The Equinox is gaining on Chevy's top-selling Trailblazer SUV. GM sold 58,000 more Trailblazers than Equinoxes through November of this year, down form 100,000 more during the same time last year

The sport features aren't likely to drive high-volume sales, but might help give the Equinox an image boost, said Brian Moody, road test editor with Compact SUVs have become sportier as the segment evolves, he said.

"This may just be more of an image building thing," Moody said. "This is something that looks different -- less like a family hauler and more like something a single person would drive. Everybody wants a minivan, but nobody wants to drive a minivan."

The 2008 Equinox will be available in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. GM is eliminating the roof rack to create a more streamlined appearance.

Buyers can still get the rack as an added option. Also unique to the sport will be 18-inch, five-spoke aluminum wheels, standard all-ebony trim and dual trapezoidal-shaped exhaust outlets in the rear.

GM says the Equinox sport will deliver 263-horsepower performance, compared with the 185-horsepower of the traditional Equinox, and hit the 0-60 mph benchmark in seven seconds.

Pricing has not been set, though Catton said the Equinox sport will likely go for about $10,000 less than the $38,000 BMW X3.

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313) 223-4686 or

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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