The Chevrolet Equinox has pricing and features of a compact SUV, but it's slightly larger than its direct competition, closer in size to a midsize and it has features not expected in its price class.
Front-wheel drive is standard, optional all-wheel drive adds winter weather capability. Equinox offers a choice of four-cylinder and V6 engines.
The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder uses direct injection for more power and better fuel economy. It's smoother than most four-cylinders and we think it's a capable engine. The 2013 Equinox with the 2.4-liter engine and front-wheel drive gets an EPA-estimated 22/32 mpg City/Highway; the 2013 Equinox AWD is rated at 20/29 mpg.
For 2013, a 3.6-liter V6 replaces the previous 3.0-liter V6, adding 14 percent more horsepower and 22 percent more torque while delivering virtually equivalent fuel economy. The numbers are 301 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque. The 2013 Equinox with 3.6-liter V6 is EPA-rated at 17/24 mpg City/Highway. With all-wheel drive, the 2013 Equinox AWD is rated 16/23 mpg. Regular gasoline is recommended for all Equinox models; more-expensive Premium is not needed. We found the more powerful V6 makes upgrading to the bigger engine worthwhile.
The 6-speed automatic transmission is updated, also, which benefits all 2013 Equinox models with a smoother driving experience than before.
The current model is the second-generation Equinox, which was launched as a 2010 model. 2013 Equinox models come with some new features, including an eight-way adjustable front passenger seat and a universal garage door opener. The 2013 Equinox LTZ is available with Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert, which can help the driver avoid an accident.
Equinox offers good ride quality, absorbing sharp bumps without disrupting passenger comfort, whether with the 17-inch or 18-inch wheels. The Equinox is not sporty, but its handling is on par with that of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Interior roominess is one of its major strengths. Equinox has plenty of room for up to five passengers and their cargo. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and they have 10 inches of travel, so drivers of all sizes will fit. The useful MultiFlex rear seat offers eight inches of travel, so tall passengers can ride in back or the driver can push the rear seat forward to carry more cargo.
Equinox has an attractively designed cabin, but the sea of hard plastics and the lack of noise isolation impart a cost-cutting feel. There are some nice amenities, though, including ice blue ambient lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power liftgate, and a dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system. Chevrolet's MyLink touchscreen infotainment system is also available; it provides a link to apps through smartphones.
A roomy cabin and a reasonable pricing make the Chevrolet Equinox an attractive alternative to smaller compact crossover that cost about the same. Buyers get some nice amenities not expected in this price range.
The Chevrolet Equinox is larger than a compact SUV (such as the Honda CR-V) and smaller than a midsize (such as the Honda Pilot). Equinox uses the same Theta architecture that underpins the GMC Terrain.
Up front, Equinox features Chevrolet's signature two-tier dual-port grille with gold bowtie insignia. The headlights wrap around the front fenders. Air ducts sit below the headlights and house fog lights in chromed bezels that bisect the openings. The lower front fascia is charcoal-colored plastic and it has an air dam in the center. The hood has three character lines.
Around the sides, the Equinox has pronounced fender flares and a wheels-at-the-corners stance, especially up front. The roof features wraparound side glass at the rear and available tinted rear and rear side windows. All but the Equinox LS model have luggage side rails. Seventeen-inch aluminum wheels are standard and 18- and 19-inch wheels are available.
At the rear, the Equinox has dual round taillights, a takeoff of the Malibu design, and a roof spoiler. The tailgate opens upward, and a power, programmable tailgate is offered. Owners can program the tailgate to open to different heights so shorter drivers can reach it. Overall, the look is attractive and fairly aerodynamically efficient, with a 0.36 coefficient of drag. The LTZ's additional chrome trim adds a touch of class, especially with the chromed 19-inch wheels (though they are ridiculously priced at $3,600).
Chevrolet says the Equinox interior was inspired by the interior of the last generation Malibu midsize sedan. While that may be true when it comes to aesthetics, it's not true in terms of execution. The Malibu has since been redesigned and the interior materials have improved significantly. Equinox lacks the Malibu's soft-touch surfaces and thoughtful flourishes of chrome trim. Instead, like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V that Chevrolet benchmarked when developing this vehicle, the Equinox has hard plastic on the entirety of the dashboard, as well as on the center console and door panels. Elements of the Malibu's attractive double-cockpit design are there, but we'd like to see more soft-touch surfaces, tighter gaps and some wood, aluminum or chrome trim.
There are some nice touches, though. The ice blue ambient lighting is a delightful feature. It's standard on all models, but you get more as you go up the range. Equinox LS models have it on the center stack surround and in the center console cupholders. Equinox LT models add it on the instrument panel and center console, and the Equinox LTZ gets it in the door handle recesses, in the footwells, and in the door map pockets. Equinox offers dual-zone automatic climate control, Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system, and a dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system.
MyLink features a 7-inch touchscreen and provides access to apps through owners' smartphones. The first two apps are Stitcher and Pandora internet radio. The system's home screen features icons that are easy to understand, though drivers may have to stretch to reach the screen, which is also heavily hooded and leans away from the driver. If you can get used to it, you may be better off using the voice commands. The radio, navigation system, Bluetooth phone, and mp3 players are run through the MyLink. Overall, the system is fairly easy to use and it provides much of the connectivity that today's drivers desire, but we find the 8.4-inch touchscreen in the Dodge Journey more user friendly.
The instrument panel is attractive. The speedometer and tachometer feature white numbers and black backgrounds. They are set in large pods and in between are water temperature and fuel gauges, as well as a digital trip computer readout. The base interior has a storage cubby at the top of the center stack. When the MyLink system is ordered, it sits in this spot. The center stack is trimmed in a good-looking clear-coated silver-painted plastic. The controls here are grouped in a tight bunch, with the radio buttons up top and the climate controls at the bottom. This mass of buttons, dials and knobs can be confusing.
Space is not a problem in the Equinox. Cloth or leather, the front seats are comfortable and supportive. GM obviously spent some money here. They are especially attractive in leather, with their two-tone coloring and contrast stitching. The front seats have 10 inches of travel and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so everyone from the very short to the very tall will be comfortable.
The rear seat features the useful MultiFlex system, which includes a reclining feature and eight inches of travel fore and aft. With the rear seat all the way back, a tall rider can fit behind a tall driver. When the rear seat is pushed fully forward, rear cargo capacity is 31.4 cubic feet. The rear seat is also split 60/40 and it folds to open up a total of 63.7 cubic feet of cargo space. The load floor is fairly flat.
With its car-like unibody design, the Equinox offers a controlled if somewhat gruff driving experience. The vehicle leans a bit in turns, but body motions are kept in check. Like its Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 competitors, handling feels like a tall car, not a heavy SUV. The brakes are easy to modulate, and the electric power steering that comes with the four-cylinder engine is light and somewhat numb. The V6 gets hydraulic steering that is a little more direct, but all models are rather noisy. Road and engine noise can intrude on conversation, and we noticed some body drumming over washboard surfaces. Most of Chevrolet's latest offerings are more refined.
The ride, however, is quite good. With the standard 17-inch wheels, the Equinox absorbs even sharp bumps without disrupting passenger comfort. The available 18-inch wheels also provide a comfortable ride, even on rough Midwestern streets. We haven't tried the 19s, but we suspect they will offer more road feel without being too harsh. Models with the V6 get new dual-flow front dampers that both help the ride on rough surfaces and firm up to help to improve handling through steady-state curves.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine benefits from direct fuel injection, which improves both power and fuel economy. It provides usable power from a stop and on the highway, and it even offers decent passing punch. Chevrolet quotes a 0-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds for a front-wheel drive model, which is respectable for a four-cylinder-powered vehicle of this size. The 2.4-liter engine is rated at 182 horsepower at 6700 rpm and 172 pound-feet of torque at 4900 rpm.
Fuel economy for the 2.4-liter four-cylinder is an EPA-rated 22/32 mpg City/Highway on an Equinox with front-wheel drive. Not even the RAV4 or CR-V can match the Equinox's 32 mpg Highway figure. The Mazda CX-5, however, offers up to 35 mpg on the highway. While engine noise is a problem in all models, the 2.4-liter four is smoother than most four-cylinder engines.
The new 3.6-liter V6 is a considerable improvement over the 3.0 it replaces. It offers much more power with little penalty in fuel economy (just one mpg on the highway). It makes 301 hp at 6500 rpm and 272 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm, up 37 hp and 50 pound-feet, respectively. Fuel economy is a government-rated 17/24 City/Highway mpg with front drive and 16/23 with all-wheel drive. With the V6, the Equinox has a towing capacity of 3500 pounds. The four-cylinder can tow only 1500 pounds.
Both engines are Flex-Fuel capable. However, using E85 (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline) results in an EPA-estimated 14/20 mpg with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 12/17 mpg with the 3.6-liter V6. Not an efficient strategy.
While it was hard to tell the difference between the 3.0-liter V6 and the 2.4-liter four, the power of the 3.6 is much more noticeable. It makes the Equinox jump off the line and provides ready and willing passing punch. Chevrolet says a front-drive Equinox with the V6 can accelerate to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, more than a second quicker than last year. The new engine also sounds quite good, emitting a refined growl. We wouldn't have spent the extra $1500 for the V6 last year, but now we would.
The Equinox's 6-speed automatic transmission is updated for 2013. The changes are both internal and in the computer controls. They make the shifts quicker and keep the transmission from hunting for gears as often as in the past. We found it to be smooth, responsive, and hard to confuse.
The Chevrolet Equinox is sized like a midsize and priced like a compact. Equinox offers useful interior space for people and cargo, as well as a choice between thrifty fuel economy and willing power. It looks good, has a smooth ride, and a controlled dynamic character. Small families looking to downsize from a large, inefficient SUV will find the Equinox a good value. However, new competitors like the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape offer greater refinement and better handling for roughly the same price.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report after test drives of Equinox models in Detroit and San Francisco.