The lineup has been expanded for 2008 with the addition of two new models: the luxury-oriented Equinox LTZ and the performance-oriented Equinox Sport.
A 3.4-liter V6 is the standard engine, paired with a five-speed automatic transmission, which get an EPA-rated 17/24 miles per gallon City/Highway. Equinox Sport gets a 3.6-liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission and gets an EPA-rated 16/24 mpg.
All Equinox models are available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive models cost about $1600 more and have smaller gas tanks, by nearly four gallons, cutting their cruising range by 20 percent. On the other hand, all-wheel drive makes the Equinox perform better on snow and ice.
The Equinox LTZ features leather-trimmed seats with seat heaters. A navigation system is optional.
The Sport model is a different kind of Equinox, with a more aggressive look and sporting cabin. It gets an 80-horsepower boost from GM's high-feature, aluminum four-cam V6 and six-speed automatic. The Sport also gets hydraulic (as opposed to electric) power steering, a tighter suspension, 18x8-inch polished, forged alloy wheels with 50-series tires, aerodynamic spoilers and rocker moldings, dual chrome exhaust tips, gauge package, and sport seats.
The Equinox is Chevy Truck's answer to the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4 compact SUVs. However, Equinox is bigger and roomier than any of these competitors. 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.
This is a versatile vehicle when it comes to moving people and cargo. 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 recline for additional comfort. Fold the rear seats down, then fold down the front passenger seatback, and you can load eight-foot objects inside.
Chevrolet Equinox LS FWD ($23,035); LS AWD ($24,660); LT FWD ($23,905); LT AWD ($25,550); LTZ FWD ($27,810); LTZ AWD ($29,435); Sport FWD ($28,115); Sport AWD ($29,470)
Sport models have a more menacing look akin to SS versions of the TrailBlazer and 2006 Silverado.
In the broadside view, Equinox looks 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.
With lower stance, low-profile rubber and deeper bodywork the Sport reinforces that notion, but it is more likely to drag the front on something if you take your Equinox off the pavement or barrel into steep driveways at speed.
For 2008, window switches are lighted and the compass has moved from the mirror to the 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 2008 Equinox Sport gets new gauges.
Rear-passenger legroom is excellent. 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 completely 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, so you can lay a ladder or other objects inside. When folded, the hard front seatback can be used as a table or desktop.
Rear passengers enjoy a 12-volt power outlet and a fold-down center armrest with two additional cupholders.
Cubby storage: Up front, Equinox carries flexible net storage pockets on both sides of the center tunnel. The center console/armrest has a small storage cubby and a coin holder for toll money. Dual cupholders pop out of the end of it, but they're flimsy and get in the way of the handbrake. The armrest flips up, providing better access to an open floor console that's a perfect place for a purse, briefcase or tote bag. The floor-mounted cupholder works well, while slots farther to the rear holds CDs angled forward for easy selection.
The Sport interior is trimmed in dark ebony, with the requisite leather-wrapped steering wheel and more heavily bolstered front seats. All the practical flexibility of the regular Equinox remains, however.
The 3.4-liter V6 is an old, iron-block, pushrod-overhead-valve design that lacks modern features such as variable valve timing and variable-length intake runners, though it does feature hydraulic roller lifters, just like a Corvette. It's paired with a wide-ratio five-speed automatic that uses a direct 1:1 fifth gear for efficiency.
Fuel economy for 2008 is rated by EPA at 17/24 mpg City/Highway.
The standard 3.4-liter 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.
The Sport model's 3.6-liter V6 is a modern, all-aluminum engine with double overhead cams and variable valve timing. It's smooth enough to drop in a Cadillac. With 264 horsepower it outmuscles the 3.4-liter by 80 horsepower and makes 40 lb-ft more torque and much earlier in the rev band.
You don't have to rev the 3.6-liter up as much to get going, but if you do, hold on. Coupled with a more advanced six-speed automatic the Sport is significantly quicker, smoother than the standard Equinox. And realistically, it's no harder on gasoline consumption. However, the more advanced powertrain isn't cheap and plays a big part in the Sport's price premium over an LT.
The ride quality in the Equinox models is decent, a benefit of its long wheelbase and 3800-pound heft. This makes the Equinox a suitable companion for long trips. Its handling is responsive and it's easy to modulate the brakes for smooth stops.
The Sport model rides more firmly but reacts quicker and more precisely because of its firmer suspension and wider tires, but using forged alloy wheels minimizes the detraction from a smooth ride. The Sport seems a bit happier as people are added because the heavier engine and transmission add a few percentage points to the front of a car already nose-heavy and more people balance that out.
The Equinox has good road feel in highway driving, yet steering effort is lighter 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.
Sport models, more inclined to be driven by people who will notice a difference in steering systems, do use hydraulic assist for the rack-and-pinion steering. It delivers better feel than the regular Equinox (no doubt aided by the suspension and tires as well) and needs just 2.5 turns from full left to full right where the standard car needs almost four steering wheel rotations. Both models need nearly 42 feet to affect a U-turn.
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. For 2008, a function has been added that applies the same logic to a trailer sway
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 an ongoing set of improvements, offers good value. The Equinox Sport is more responsive and more fun to drive with little impact to fuel economy.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Detroit, with G.R. Whale in Los Angeles.