The Chevrolet Equinox may not represent the return of the sun, either, but it should be considerably brighter for '07, thanks to a bounty of improvements that really are worth celebrating. Four-wheel disc brakes, a tire pressure monitor, StabiliTrak and rollover monitoring have all become standard. Instruments and controls are largely new, and the chassis settings revised for better ride and handling. New options include upgraded audio systems, a remote starter, and at last a navigation system integrated into the stereo.
These are welcome changes because we have not been enthralled with the Equinox cabin.
Equinox is Chevrolet's answer to the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. But Equinox is bigger and roomier than any of these competitors, 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 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, and you can load eight-foot objects inside.
In fact, Equinox is big enough that its dimensions blur the line between compact and midsize sport utilities. It's nearly 14 inches longer than Ford Escape and just three inches shorter than a Chevy TrailBlazer. Its long wheelbase gives the Equinox good stability and ride quality. However, Equinox seats only five, because it does not offer a hopelessly cramped third row, as does the Toyota RAV4. Like Escape, CR-V and RAV4, the Equinox is based on a passenger-car design but has an interior like a traditional SUV. Therefore, industry observers and other car crazies call the Equinox a crossover utility because it crosses over the line from truck to car.
Chevrolet Equinox LS FWD ($22,180); LS AWD ($23,680); LT FWD ($22,970); LT AWD ($24,470)
It's harder to see the difference in the rear spoiler. And in side view, Equinox looks pretty much the same as before. That's good, because we've liked Equinox from that angle since it debuted for '05.
In that broadside view, Equinox looks quite a bit different from the rest of the Chevy truck family. 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 the muted mating of plastic than the hollow clang of sheetmetal. It's a sound that no other Chevy truck makes.
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, or dogs.
The Equinox looks solidly planted on its wheels. 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. That said, some of the materials and control interfaces we found inside last year's Equinox seemed to us less than bright. Chevrolet has addressed some of our concerns for '07 with a new instrument cluster, center stack, shift knob, steering wheel, and heater and ventilation (HVAC) controls. Window switches are now lighted. Also new for '07 is a standard Driver Information Center that includes more than 20 personalization and vehicle information features, such as trip odometer, fuel range, outside temperature display and door locking programs.
The rear seat rides on a track that allows it to slide back and forth 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 40.2 inches. With the rear seat full forward, there's 35.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind it. But even with the seat pushed back into limousine position, there's still plenty of room for your stuff. GM calls this innovative feature the Multi-Flex rear seat.
Because the rear seatback is split 60/40, Equinox can transport two rear passengers along with long cargo items. The front passenger seat folds flat, further extending cargo room length. When folded, the hard front seatback can be used as a table or desktop. Rear passengers also enjoy a 12-volt power outlet and, new for '07, a fold-down center armrest with two additional cupholders. Rear head restraints were downscaled last year, improving rearward visibility for the driver.
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, the same as the more powerful Escape and RAV4 V6s.
Its long wheelbase and 3800-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 steering effort is 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. 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.
StabiliTrak electronic stability control helps drivers maintain control during sudden maneuvers or in low-traction conditions by using a comprehensive series of sensors to measure acceleration, deceleration, steering angle and yaw rate. The system steps in when the Equinox doesn't seem to be going where the driver intended. When that happens, StabiliTrak regains control by regulating acceleration or applying the brakes at individual wheels, a feat no driver can perform.
All-wheel drive improves stability on wet pavement, which makes it a valuable safety features. The system still sends the power to the front wheels in normal conditions on dry roads; it automatically transfers power to the rear wheels only if the front wheels slip.
The optional navigation is integrated into the audio system for 2007.
OnStar is an economical alternative to a full-featured navigation system. All Equinox models with OnStar now include a service called Turn-by-Turn Navigation. Turn-by-Turn allows consumers to talk to a live adviser, who sends complete step-by-step audio directions, as needed, through the vehicle's stereo. The directions are triggered by the OnStar system's GPS capabilities. This enables drivers to find their destination while keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. OnStar is also an excellent safety feature, as its operators will dispatch rescue crews to the scene should your airbags deploy and you fail to respond to their calls. OnStar always knows the location of your vehicle. Simply press the blue button and a human operator responds, to provide directions and other assistance. 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.
XM Satellite Radio is another great feature, especially 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 News, CNN), sports (NASCAR), talk radio, and comedy.
The Chevy Equinox is larger than other compact SUVs. Its flexible interior design provides room for five full-size people and their gear, featuring a sliding second-row seat. Equinox comes standard with a V6 and, with a comprehensive list of improvements for '07, offers good value.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Detroit, with staff reports.