As a result, the Equinox is roomier than other compact SUVs, and has features that enhance its versatility. The back seats are mounted on tracks and slide fore and aft. Slide forward and you have more cargo space. Slide the seats rearward for more rear legroom. The rear seatbacks also recline for additional comfort. Fold the rear seats down, then fold down the front passenger seatback down, and you can load eight-foot objects inside. However, Equinox only seats five because it does not offer a hopelessly cramped third row as the new RAV4 does.
It long wheelbase gives the Equinox good stability and ride quality. Like the CR-V, RAV4, and Escape, Equinox is based on a passenger car design.
Equinox was launched as a 2005 model so there aren't any major changes for 2006. However, the 2006 models do come standard with anti-lock brakes, cruise control, and other features, which wasn't the case last year. Also, interior changes have been made for 2006 to improve the appearance and function of the cabin. Our biggest complaints with the 2005 models had to do with interior materials.
Chevrolet Equinox LS FWD ($21,755); LS AWD ($23,505); LT1 FWD ($23,050) LT1 AWD ($24,675); LT2 FWD ($24,180); LT2 AWD ($25,805)
The roof pillars and the sheetmetal above the windows but below the roof seem to be extra-thick, imparting a feeling of extra solidity and strength, important for a truck made on a car platform. When you shut the doors, the sound is more like a the muted mating of plastic than the hollow clang of sheetmetal. It's a sound that no other Chevrolet truck makes.
The Equinox look solidly planted on its wheels. Its bigger size is evident everywhere. The doors open wide for easy entry and exit, and the rear gate goes up and out of the way, allowing you to stand fully upright for easy loading of groceries, camping equipment, dogs.
Equinox is based on a car-type platform, with unit-body construction rather than body on frame for better ride and handling.
The Equinox cabin is a clean and functional design, with low-gloss nickel-plate trim on the console and control panel, a scheme that matched well with the light gray of our test Equinox LT2's leather upholstery. Improvements for '06 include new knobs for climate control (and a claim of improved performance), and better integration of the passenger-side airbag cover. Down on the console, the T-handle shifter on the '05 models has given way to a more conventional shift lever for '06. Seat heaters are now available with cloth as well as leather seats, and the seat-heating controls of been re-located to the instrument panel.
The rear seat rides on a track that allows it to slide back and forth by up to eight inches, to bring kids or briefcases closer to the front, or to provide extra legroom for tall second-row passengers. With both front and rear seats in the full rearward positions, there's more rear-passenger legroom in the Equinox than you'll found in many larger SUVs: a full 42 inches. And behind the seat there's still plenty of room for your stuff. GM calls this innovative feature the Multi-Flex rear seat. Rear passengers also enjoy a 12-volt power outlet and dual slide-out cupholders. Rear head restraints have been down-sized slightly for '06, improving rearward visibility for the driver.
GM's designers have used the space above the wheel wells to a handy cargo storage system. A lightweight reversible panel slides into slots on the Equinox's wheel wells at three different heights. Carpeted on one side and plastic on the other, the panel can serve as shelf, cargo cover or even a picnic or tailgating table. The tops of the wheel wells contain storage bins for small items. And there are several tie-downs and hooks on the panel from which to hang grocery bags. However, this system is being eliminated during the 2006 model year to increase cargo capacity.
XM Satellite Radio is a great feature when traveling cross country because the stations don't change. It's nice to have around town for listening to music, 24-hour news broadcasts (Fox, CNN), sports (NASCAR), talk radio, and comedy.
Equinox doesn't offer a navigation system, but OnStar can can help and doesn't even need to be programmed. Simply press the blue button and a human operator responds, to provide directions and other assistance. OnStar always knows the location of your vehicle. The operators will notify authorities of your location if your airbag goes off and you do not respond to their calls. Or you can press the emergency button and they'll send out the troops. They can unlock your doors if you lock your keys inside. They can direct you to the nearest gas station or help find a good restaurant or motel. If your vehicle is stolen, OnStar can pinpoint its location and direct the authorities to apprehend and recover.
The V6 engine is aided considerably by the five-speed automatic transmission. Chevrolet says the Equinox can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, which should be adequate performance for most families. And while it may not excel at acceleration, Equinox is rated to pull a 3500-pound trailer.
Its long wheelbase and 3600-pound heft give the Equinox a decent ride, making it a suitable companion for long trips. Its handling is responsive and it's easy to modulate the brakes for smooth stops.
The Equinox has good road feel in highway driving, yet the driver may notice that steering effort is very low at low speeds for easier maneuvering in tight parking lots. The steering ratio is variable, and the Equinox uses electric, rather than hydraulic, power steering. An electronic control unit programmed for a variety of performance characteristics regulates an electric motor mounted adjacent to the steering column, providing the right amount of assist for a given driving situation. We don't think the average driver will feel the difference between this system and more conventional hydraulics, and that's a good thing. Unlike a hydraulic servo, the electric booster doesn't use engine power, resulting in slightly better fuel economy.
In AWD guise, Equinox still sends power to the front wheels in dry-road conditions, automatically transferring power to the rear wheels only if the front wheels slip. The system is designed primarily for improved wet-pavement performance but is rugged enough for some light off-road duty.
The Chevy Equinox is larger than other compact SUVs. Its flexible interior design provides room for full-size people and their gear, featuring a sliding second-row seat. It comes standard with a V6 and offers a good value.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in the Detroit area.