Part of Chevrolet’s lineup for the past decade, Equinox has the pricing and features of a compact crossover SUV, but it’s slightly larger than its direct competition: closer in dimensions to a midsize model. Standard features are more abundant than typically expected in its price class. Equinox comes in four trim levels: LS, 1LT, 2LT, and top-of-the-line LTZ.
Chrome-clad wheels are standard on 2014 Equinox LTZ models. Otherwise, nothing has changed for 2014, apart from two new exterior colors.
Front-wheel drive is standard, while optional all-wheel drive adds winter weather capability. Chevrolet offers a choice of four-cylinder or V6 engine for the Equinox.
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 2014 Equinox with the 2.4-liter engine and front-wheel drive gets an EPA-estimated 22/32 mpg City/Highway; the 2014 Equinox AWD is rated at 20/29 mpg. With front-drive, in particular, that’s an impressively thrifty highway figure for this class.
Gas mileage drops considerably with the optional 3.6-liter V6 engine, which generates 301 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque. The 2014 Equinox with 3.6-liter V6 is EPA-estimated at 17/24 mpg City/Highway. With all-wheel drive, the 2014 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, in spite of the extra cost, though you can expect to spend considerably more on fuel. With either engine, the 6-speed automatic transmission helps delivers a smooth driving experience.
The current Equinox is the second-generation version, which was launched as a 2010 model. Standard features include an eight-way adjustable front passenger seat and a universal garage door opener. Four-cylinder models include an active noise cancellation system. The 2014 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 it’s fitted with the 17-inch or 18-inch wheels. Though an Equinox is not sporty, its handling is on par with that of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Interior roominess is one of its major strengths, with up to 39.9 inches of legroom in the back seat. 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 nearly eight inches of fore/aft travel, so tall passengers can ride in back or the driver can push the rear seat forward to carry more cargo.
A closed storage box is located under the center armrest. Chrome option packages are available for LT model. The 1LT package includes door handles, heated power mirrors, 18-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels, and a driver convenience group. Upper models include a rearview camera.
Equinox has an attractively designed cabin, but the sea of hard plastics and the lack of noise isolation impart a cost-cutting feel. Some nice amenities are available, though, including ice blue ambient lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power liftgate, and a dual-player, dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system with displays in the front seatbacks. Chevrolet’s MyLink touchscreen infotainment system is also available; it provides a link to apps through smartphones.
That roomy cabin and reasonable pricing make the Chevrolet Equinox an attractive alternative to smaller compact crossovers that cost about the same. Buyers get some tempting amenities, unexpected in this price range.
The Chevrolet Equinox is larger than a compact SUV (such as the Honda CR-V), but 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 a gold bowtie insignia. 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, with an air dam in the center. The hood contains 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 powered, 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 pricey.
Chevrolet says the Equinox interior was inspired by the cabin 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 its 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 entire 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.
Chevrolet Equinox has 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 can be equipped with 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 on black backgrounds. They’re set in large pods, and in between are water temperature and fuel gauges, as well as a digital trip computer readout. The base Equinox 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. Whether 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 should 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.
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 sounds 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 dual-flow front dampers that help the ride on rough surfaces, and also firm up to help 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 also 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-estimated 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, but they’re not far short at 31 mpg. In city driving, the RAV4 and CR-V top the Equinox, with estimates of 23 and 24 mpg, respectively. The Mazda CX-5 promises up to 35 mpg on the highway, but that’s with manual shift (32 mpg with automatic). While engine noise is a problem in all models, the 2.4-liter four is smoother than most four-cylinder engines.
The 3.6-liter V6 It offers much more power, but with a sizable penalty in fuel economy. It makes 301 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 272 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. Fuel economy is a government-rated 17/24 mpg City/Highway with front-drive and 16/23 mpg 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 15/22 mpg with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, and 13/22 mpg with the 3.6-liter V6. Not an efficient strategy, numerically speaking.
Compared to the 2.4-liter four, the power of the 3.6 V6 is more than 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. The engine also sounds quite good, emitting a refined growl. We’d spend the extra $1,500 for the V6.
The Equinox’s 6-speed automatic transmission shifts quicker than in the past, and keeps the transmission from hunting for gears. 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, delivers a smooth ride, and has a controlled dynamic character. Small families looking to downsize from a large, inefficient SUV will find the Equinox a good value. However, 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.