2005 Chevrolet Equinox - A Better Box - Truckin's SUV Section
'05 Chevrolet Equinox
For some time, cute utes - you know them as the tall car-based SUV impersonators that have the looks and ground clearance of traditional SUVs, but feature many car-like attributes - have won over the hearts of SUV shoppers in droves. These are the entry-level SUVs which offer cargo versatility, great all-weather capability, and a commanding view of the road without the weight and bulkiness of traditional SUVs. While these little guys are not destined for your tough off-road adventures, their charm lies in their handiness in around-town jaunts and weekend-warrior duties, all while getting good fuel economy.
Until now, Chevrolet has been conspicuously absent from this market, unless you count the rebadged Tracker, which is more of a mini-Jeep than a refined soft-roader. The segment first started in 1996 with Toyota's RAV4 and was later expanded by Honda's CR-V, both equipped with standard four-cylinder engines. It was in 2001 that Ford's Escape broke the mold by offering an optional potent V-6 and a larger overall package size, setting the scene for such successful follow-up competition as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Saturn VUE, both available with V-6 engines.
After deciding to join the fray, Chevy knew it had to offer something that no one else could and went to work on a uniquely stylish SUV that would set a standard in interior volume and comfort for the class. Based off the Theta platform (same as the Saturn Vue), but with a 6-inch longer wheelbase, the Equinox comes to the table with a standard 3.4L V-6 engine, five-speed automatic, FWD, and more storage nooks than a minivan has cup holders.
Wanting to draw potential Equinox buyers into the showroom, Chevy researched the target audience's highly stylish tastes. The Equinox had to not only look distinctive from the generic shapes already available, but also had to incorporate family styling cues from the Chevrolet line. Overall, we think Chevy achieved its goal. We liked the wide stance, short overhangs, and taut proportions of the body, but felt the bold look of the front fascia is too ambitious, especially when compared to the small taillight designs. To us, the taillight design is somewhat faddish and will probably look dated before the rest of the design does. Buyers get standard 16-inch wheels, but we would opt for the clean-looking 17s to reside under the handsomely sculpted wheelwell arches. Body color roof rack rails and the deeply tinted wheels take the design even more up market.
We have noticed a recent trend with automotive manufacturers paying more attention to interior detail with new models, and the Equinox doesn't disappoint. Interior materials are vast upgrades from other Chevy products, and the dashboard design is pleasing to the eye with its modern satin-nickel finish and agreeable ergonomics. Storage pockets are everywhere, and there are thoughtful touches all over, such as a pad on the shifter console that a cell phone can be placed on without sliding off during spirited driving. As if the cavernous interior space and ample storage weren't enough, Chevy made great strides in designing a configurable passenger compartment with flexible cargo options. The 60/40 split rear Multi-Flex seat, while slightly hard and flat for our tastes, has 8 inches of fore and aft travel, which gives occupants more legroom than in some fullsize SUVs. The rear seat also folds flat, and with the hard-backed front passenger seat folded forward, the Equinox can carry an 8-foot ladder with the hatch closed. In the rear cargo area, the height-adjustable rear parcel shelf can be placed at three different levels and is hard on one side and carpeted on the other. It also incorporates a leg, allowing it to be used as a table for tailgate parties. Giant doors make getting in and out of the SUV a snap.
Unlike much of the competition, no four-cylinder engine is offered. All models come standard with the General's venerable 3400 pushrod V-6, and in this application, it makes a solid 185 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. An all-new, slick-shifting Aisin five-speed automatic transmission impressed us with its smoothness, along with the ability to always find the right gear without hunting. An on-demand AWD system is an option on both the LS and up-level LT trim. The Equinox gets its own version of GM's efficient electric steering, which we admit to not being a fan of on other GM products. Fortunately in the Equinox, engineers spent quality time tuning the system, which has paid off in a nicely weighted feel, without the usual unattached driving sensation. The MacPherson strut front suspension and the rear independent four-link with coil spring suspension is very refined for the class, resulting in an excellent ride and very good handling characteristics. Front disc and rear drums with anti-lock is standard, except on the LS FWD which is the same setup but makes due without the ABS.
On the highway, we enjoyed the six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo and optional six-disc CD changer with MP3 capability. A premium sound system and XM Radio are also options. The front seats are comfortable, and the visibility is generally good in every direction. Wind noise is minimal, but some road noise from the tires was detectable at speed. At higher-than-posted speeds, the Equinox remained stable, and the V-6, with its good low-end grunt, seemed more than eager to motivate the newest Chevy.
Overall, we think Chevy has met its goal by producing a capable small SUV that has a distinctive identity in a crowded field of competitors. An expansive and upscale interior, AWD capability, and good ride and handling qualities make the Equinox a good choice for people who spend a lot of time in their SUVs - especially those who rely on sure-footed transportation in all weather conditions. Chevy offers all of this in a package that is reasonably priced, starting at $21,560. In our next SUV of the Year competition, we'll be sure to include the Equinox and let you know if its innovations and design are enough to send it to the top of the heap.