The Chevrolet Equinox first appeared in late 2004 as a 2005 model, but got a major makeover for the 2010 model year. It was one of the first vehicles introduced post-bankruptcy by the smaller “new” GM and, although much of the development work had been done prior to the financial difficulties, the new Equinox showed how serious the company had become about competing in the current marketplace.
The second-generation Equinox is built on GM’s global Theta platform in Ingersoll, Ont. While the style, inside and out, was a considerable improvement, much of the upgrading occurred under the skin with a pair of new-generation engines and a new six-speed automatic transmission. The whole effort was a considerable leap forward, especially in terms of design, ride quality and fuel efficiency.
Whether you call these vehicles SUVs or crossovers, they have become a major factor in the Canadian market as consumers move away from minivans but still seek the utility offered by a boxy shape. The second-generation Equinox is a lot less boxy than its predecessor, and has made huge gains in a number of critical areas, specifically drivetrain, ride, comfort and features. The new design is contemporary with sharp creases and lines outside and an extremely stylish interior with a premium feel. You spend more time inside a vehicle than looking at the outside so it is particularly warming that GM designers obviously felt the same.
The interior, especially in the higher trim levels where two-tone treatments are found, is quite attractive. In addition to the clever use of textures, shades and finishes, the instrument panel contains a number of angles.
The instruments are contained in a pod, with the two primary gauges canted inward toward each other, thus providing the driver with easily-to-read information. The centre stack is topped by another shaded hood, this time over a seven-inch, full-color information screen that, depending on model, trim and options, has a wide variety of readouts. There are large round knobs and rectangular buttons for HVAC and audio systems and the whole enchilada is flanked by a pair of vents. Stylish and practical.
Entry and exit are easy thanks to big door openings and the taller seats so you step in instead of down. Visibility is good to most quarters but appalling to the rear three-quarter thanks to wide pillars and a tall belt line. This is a vehicle that benefits from a rear-view camera. Thankfully, one is either available or standard depending on trim level.
The front seats are wide, supportive and comfy over long distances. The rear seat is especially roomy, more than others in the class. Space is one area where the Equinox excels. But you can’t have it all. The extra spacious rear seat comes at the cost of cargo space, which is less than most competitors, even with the sliding rear seat in its foremost position. But, with that seat pushed to the rear, there is legroom galore and an air of spaciousness not associated with this size of vehicle.
Another area of compromise, one which intended customers will appreciate, is the ride/handling balance. The Equinox has a comfortable ride, smooth, quiet and well controlled; it is at home on the open road. But it gets sloppy when pushed in the turns with copious amount of lean and understeer; however, not many people will drive this vehicle this way.
Chevrolet has made a considerable effort to promote the fuel efficiency of the Equinox and its new engines. The standard unit is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with direct injection and variable valve timing. It produces a decent amount of power but is fairly loud at idle, thanks to the direct injection system. It is also burdened with the considerable weight of this vehicle.
The Equinox is a porker, weighing in 300 to 400 pounds more than the more recent competition. That is the equivalent of carrying around two passengers at all times and is reflected in performance and fuel economy. The 2.4-litre engine takes 10 seconds to get the Equinox from rest to 100 km/h; that is on the wrong side of acceptable.
The need to use so much throttle to attain and maintain speed plays havoc with fuel economy. The Equinox has some impressive ratings. But they were obtained at less than real world speeds on simulated flat roads. On highways, where there are hills and the occasional need to pass, the engine struggles and comes nowhere near the ratings. Thanks to the six-speed automatic transmission’s ability to keep the engine in a narrow rev range, the situation is much better in the city.
If you need to carry people or drive on less-than-flat roads or tow anything, opt for the six.
Tech specs: 2012 Chevrolet Equinox AWD LTZ
Type: Five-passenger compact SUV
Base price: $35,700; as tested, $38,740
Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 182 hp/172 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.1 city/6.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV-4, Volkswagen Tiburon
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