If I hid the badges on the current crop of compact crossover vehicles, you might have trouble telling them apart. I know that I would -- there's a real sameness dominating right now. The Chevy Equinox, for better or for worse, has dodged the sameness and stands out with a unique set of dimensions, a look all its own and a very solid equipment list. The 2012 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ FWD carries a base price of $29,220 ($32,925 as tested), with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and EPA estimates of 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway. Let's drive.
The Equinox burst onto the scene as Chevrolet's smallest SUV for the 2010 model year, and returns for 2012 with just incremental changes. Even though it is the smallest Chevy SUV, it pushes the boundaries on the compact SUV class as one of the largest of the competitors, especially when it comes to second row legroom and cargo space. If you've got tall kids, or if you regularly transport adults in the second row of your compact SUV, Equinox is the class champ (along with stablemate GMC Terrain, which has identical interior dimensions).
If you choose the 2.4-liter direct-injected Ecotec engine in your Equinox and stick with front-wheel drive, you may be able to achieve 32 mpg on the highway. The sacrifice you'll have to make is in driving excitement, as the small powerplant provides adequate acceleration, but nothing thrilling. The available 3.0-liter V6 fits the Equinox better, but at the expense of fuel economy. You really can't have it all, can you? Both engines get a little thrashy under a heavy throttle foot, discouraging spirited driving. I was a little disappointed with the lack of steering feel in my test vehicle, which was equipped with the 3.0-liter V6 engine and hydraulic power rack-and-pinion steering. The 2.4-liter Ecotec-powered vehicles get electric power steering in place of the hydraulic pump.
My other complaint about the Equinox had to do with the interior materials, particularly the dash and door panels. They felt very plasticky, for lack of a better word, with little give or pleasant texture. I've driven several other crossovers in the same price range and class where the dash and door felt much nicer. I'm sensitive to touch on vehicles, and I always find unforgiving surfaces unpleasant to the touch. You might not mind.
If you're considering an Equinox, you should also take a look at the GMC Terrain, which is mechanically identical but cosmetically different. You should also drive the class leader, the Honda CR-V. Take a test spin in the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Kia Sorento, Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5 as well.
If you're still hung up on the Equinox, you'll appreciate the available options, including a power liftgate and OnStar, still a GM exclusive on new vehicles. I'm a distant admirer of the Equinox, as I'm more enamored of some of its competitors. When Chevy gets it right, it's very very right. I just wish that the whole vehicle lived up to its highlights.
- Best second row leg room in the class.
- 32 mpg freeway with the I-4.
- Available V6 power.
- Some cheap-feeling surfaces.
- Zero road feel in the steering wheel.
- General hollow feeling in doors and dash.
Details and specs:
- Base prices: $24,355 (LS FWD); $26,105 (LS AWD); $25,875 (1LT FWD); $27,625 (1LT AWD); $27,695 (2LT FWD); $29,445 (2LT AWD); $30,045 (LTZ FWD); $31,795 (LTZ AWD);
- Engine: 2.4-liter Inline 4 or 3.0-liter V6
- Horsepower: 182 @ 6,700 (I4); 264 @ 6,950 rpm (V6)
- Torque: 172 @ 4,900 rpm (I4); 222 @ 5,100 rpm (V6)
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
- Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway (I4 FWD); 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway (I4 AWD); 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway (V6 FWD); 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway (V6 AWD)
- Wheelbase: 112.5" Vehicle Length: 187.8" Width: 72.5" Height: 66.3"
- Curb Weight: 3,797 - 4,117 lbs
- Cargo: 31.4 cubic feet behind second row; 63.7 cubic feet behind first row.
- Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic; 5 years/100,000 miles powertrain