As a participant, speaker and co-organizer of the Modern Media Man Summit last weekend in Atlanta, I was perfectly positioned when Chevrolet signed as a premium sponsor to get one of their loaner cars. I got on the list and a week or so before the conference, got a call from the Chevy team asking where we should rendezvous for the hand-off. Nice!
I was originally considering a drive from my home in Boulder to Atlanta, but a quick glimpse at Google Maps cured me of that thinking: a 3,000 mile roundtrip is a lot of driving, however amazing and comfortable the car might be. Instead, I flew to Memphis (where I had some other business) and Brian from Chevy handed me the keys to a brand new Chevy Equinox, their “crossover” SUV, and I was off!
Brian literally met me in the arrivals area of the airport, handed me the keys, said “have fun!” and walked into the terminal for his flight. Which meant I was, um, a bit clueless, so I drove out of the airport and pulled into a parking lot a few blocks away to adjust the seats, mirrors, enter my destination (Birmingham) into the navigational system, etc. only to realize that it was a pretty rough part of town. Motivation to work speedily!
Before I go further, let me disclose again – in case it’s not obvious – that Chevy loaned me this vehicle for the week. They didn’t pay for my gas bills, my hotel, food, didn’t give me a “test” iPod as a gift, nothing. Just a really nice car and a chance to be footloose and really test it out. In fact, I put about 900 miles on the car, the roundtrip drive Memphis / Atlanta. They didn’t ask me to blog about it, just log my trip as I went, which I did with my photostream on Facebook. I’m writing this article because I really liked the car and wanted to explain why. Got it? Good.
I’m an old hand at road trips and love long drives. Give me an audio book and I’m off, easily able to log 10-12 hours at 65-70mph day after day. In fact, when I lived in California, I used to drive San Jose / Kansas City two or three times a year, just me and my dogs.
When I first started driving, cars didn’t have much in the way of electronics. An AM/FM radio with push-buttons for your favorites and that was about all. Not quite the Flintstones, but not much more advanced either. 🙂 Nowadays, cars are rife with gadgets and gizmos, and the Equinox was fully decked out, with a high-end navigational system (with real-time traffic data, cool!), bluetooth, and even a hidden iPod-savvy USB plug for charging my own gizmos and hooking my music into the car stereo.
Better yet, it also had OnStar, which I’d never had a chance to play with before.
I have to say that I liked OnStar. It’s pretty cool to push a button and just say “I need directions to Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham” and have an actual person chat with you then download turn-by-turn directions to your vehicle!
On the other hand, I was quite surprised and disappointed that OnStar isn’t integrated into the navigational system itself, so the directions didn’t show up visually on the map but were just audio reminders to “turn left in 300 yards” and similar. Worse, at one point I suspended OnStar navigation and next time I started my car, OnStar was telling me how to get to one place, while the in-dash nav system was offering me directions to a completely different venue. Can you say crraaazzzyyyy?
I drive a 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid with every accessory and option possible. It was ridiculously expensive, over $50,000, but after having all three of my kids + my daughter’s cello jammed into my previous car, a Prius, it was obvious we needed something bigger. Enter the Highlander, a big, three-row SUV with the expensive add-on of the Toyota hybrid system. End result: A nice, sophisticated car that gets about 25mpg.
The Equinox surprised me in this regard because it’s considerably less expensive (the configuration I had retails for about $33,000, based on the car configurator on their site) but displayed more attention to detail. My favorite two: The center armrest space is deep enough to hold a laptop computer, and also has indentations under the armrest for wires because sometimes you want your iPod (or iPhone) on the seat next to you, even as it’s plugged into the USB or AUX audio in jacks in the console itself.
It also had a rather weird cruise control system, as you can see in the photo above. I’ve never driven a car where all the controls are on the steering wheel rather than on one of the “stems” coming off the steering column. Once I figured it out, however, it was easy to work with, and the display that indicated exactly what speed I was setting was appreciated. Accuracy = less tickets for speeding = good!
In fact, the entire center console is well designed, albeit rather more than a bit complicated:
This is, clearly, not a car designed for someone who is a gadget-phobe! You can also see the nice color display of the navigational map system. I found it very easy to work with, especially after having two generations of Toyota nav system. In fact, the voice is identical, suggesting to me that perhaps they’re sourced from the same company?
I drove all over the South, taking two days to drive the 400 miles from Memphis to Atlanta. Along the way I spent quite a bit of time in Birmingham (including visiting the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and Civil Rights Museum, a must-stop for anyone in the area), and even popped into Tupelo, Mississippi to see where Elvis Presley was born.
I’ve driven a lot of cars, but generally find that they don’t compare to my Toyota. After all, when you pay the $$ for a top-end car, it’s not a surprise that lower-priced cars don’t have the same attention to detail or fit and finish. And yet, that’s what I found with the Chevy Equinox, rather to my surprise! While there’s not the same amount of space for friends and additional family members, this smaller SUV would be plenty big enough for my three kids, a cello, luggage, and even a few sacks of groceries, all while being comfortable and having enough gadgets to keep even the biggest gearhead happy.
Interestingly, it also gets the same gas mileage as my hybrid, but without the expensive hybrid technology: I averaged 26.7 mpg on my drive and I wasn’t paying any attention to the nuances of driving to maximize my fuel efficiency. Nice finish, quiet, comfortable, good mileage. Makes me wonder what I got for that extra $17,000…
I left the car at the Memphis park-and-ride and hopped a plane back to Denver, and retrieved my car from the long-term parking lot. I plugged in my iPhone, turned on the a/c and drove out, rather missing the little Equinox. It’s a nice car.