The all-new 2010 Chevy Equinox has a terrific new interior design and, in most models, an all-new stereo with a USB iPod interface. I spent some time testing the new system, and in most ways it shows that GM is at the forefront of utilizing this type of setup. Of course, with others like Hyundai and especially Ford fielding strong competition, GM better be at the top of its game.
The USB input is in the center console, which is nicely lit so you don’t have to feel around for the input. Once you plug in your iPod, if the stereo is on it will immediately recognize the device and display its name on the center-mounted screen. I was shocked at how quickly it brought up the device and started playing music. There was no noticeable sync time like I’ve encountered with other systems, including Ford’s uh … Sync. Another editor tried a 160GB iPod, however, and did encounter a more typical sync time.
At first I was a bit annoyed that the default playlist was all songs listed alphabetically. To surf through artists, albums or playlists, you have to use the right tuner knob and select “search.” The word “search” might not be the best, but after discovering it owners clearly wouldn’t forget where this vital function is.
The knob also works great as a surfing tool. It’s stubby enough to grasp easily and is ringed in rubber. To make a selection, you just press the “Menu Sel” button in the middle of the knob. This gets you through your library quite effortlessly. Unfortunately, you can’t surf through songs or albums via steering-wheel controls. They’ll only skip forward and back through tracks.
By far my favorite part of the system was the blue-lit readout screen. Even in bright sunlight, the sharp lettering was easy to see. All the information you need is right there, whether you’re listening to an iPod or the radio.
The big drawbacks are pretty big, however. The system won’t play all non-iPod MP3 players. I plugged in our test iRiver Lplayer and got nothing via the USB connection. Obviously, it worked via the analog MP3 jack. Now, I’ll admit the iPod’s market share is 85%, but it’d be nice if every system were universal, like Ford’s Sync. Equinox product manager Mark Cohoon says the USB is compatible with an array of other MP3 players, our iRiver just happened to be one that falls into the does-not-compute file. Microsoft Zune owners and various other third-party players, including other iRivers, do work with the system. It also plays music uploaded to most USB flash drives.
The second problem is that the USB adapter isn’t standard on the new Equinox. It isn’t available at all on the base LS model, and it’s a $495 option on the 1LT. It comes standard only on the 2LT and LTZ trims. I humbly suggest GM make it standard starting in 2011, or at least available on the LS.