Why is GM’s Bob Reuter rooting for higher fuel prices? The man in charge of developing the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is confident the 32 miles per gallon crossover/utility vehicle is going to be “in the sweet spot,” as gas prices once again start to rise.

Not that long ago, SUVs ruled the road. Even if you just counted traditionally truck-based sport-utility vehicles, sales were nearing 3 million a year, and utility vehicles accounted for more than one in every six new vehicles on the road.

Since last year’s fuel-price run-up, sales have collapsed. And even car-based crossover-utility vehicles have been struggling in the market.

So, why is GM’s Bob Reuter rooting for higher fuel prices? The man in charge of developing the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is confident the 32 miles per gallon crossover/utility vehicle is going to be “in the sweet spot,” as gas prices once again start to rise. 

An all-new remake of one of the market’s lesser entries, General Motors is out to prove it can emerge from bankruptcy with the sort of products that can win back skeptical buyers, and the ’10 Equinox could be one of its best weapons. The new CUV is attractive, well-appointed, roomy and surprisingly refined. And then there’s the issue of fuel economy.

The 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-four engine turns in more than acceptable performance, with a 0 to 60 time of 8.7 seconds. It also delivers a whopping 32 mpg on the highway and 22 in the city, according to federal ratings. The quicker, 264-hp 3.0-liter V-6 will cut a second off 0 to 60 times, increase towing capacity and still bring it in at 18 mpg city, 25 highway.

Both engines are mated to a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic, and you can opt for all- or front-wheel drive.
 
If those numbers are more car- than truck-like, you’ll say the same thing about handling and ride quality. The I-4 package’s advanced electric power steering system feels as good and precise as traditional hydraulic steering. Yet it saves more than a half mile a gallon. Overall, handling on the “base” and upgraded I-4 versions may make you think twice about why you’d need upgrade to the top-line LTZ.

Chevy engineers paid a lot of attention to noise, vibration and harshness. They’ve used plenty of special sound-deadening insulation, and the I-4 models incorporate an active noise-cancellation system, similar to the technology used in the headphones folks wear when flying. Add special insulated front and side glass, and the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is nearly as quiet as some luxury cars.

At a time when many folks are questioning the wisdom of buying domestic, the new Equinox is worth a drive. In fact, compare it to the two key import competitors, the Toyota RAV-4 and Honda’s CR-V. If you’re honest, you may be surprised who comes out on top.

2010 Chevrolet Equinox

Miles per gallon: 22 city/32 highway, with Inline-4; 18/25 with V-6. (Both front-drive, AWD ratings lower.)

Engine options: 182-horsepower 2.4-liter Inline-4, 264-hp V-6, both with 6-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel-drive.

Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $23,185 plus destination.

Cost fully loaded: $35,000

Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than 30 years covering the global auto industry. His work appears in a wide range of publications worldwide, and he is a frequent broadcast commentator on subjects automotive.