When the Blazer evolved into the current midsize TrailBlazer, it left a hole in Chevrolet's lineup. That void will now be filled by the Equinox, developed to compete with the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4. Unlike the Blazer, the car-based Equinox isn't meant for serious off-roading. But what it lacks in trail prowess, it makes up for in comfort, interior versatility, and luxury at a bargain price.
Based on a version of the Theta platform (the Equinox's 112.5-inch wheelbase is six inches longer than that of its corporate cousin, the Saturn Vue), Chevy's cute 'ute will be offered with a single engine/ transmission combination: the tried-and-true 3.4-liter, 185-horsepower OHV V-6, backed by a five-speed Aisin-Warner automatic. Suspension consists of a MacPherson-strut front end and a four-link coil-spring rear. Front drive is standard, and an on-demand hydraulically coupled AWD system is optional. All trim levels are equipped with front disc/rear drum brakes; four-wheel ABS is standard on all models except the front-drive LS.
The Equinox's rear-suspension design contributes to its most pleasant and practical surprise: a roomy interior that's easy to configure. The second-row Multi-Flex bench seat has eight inches of travel, meaning that either the cargo or passenger area can quickly be made a higher priority. With the second-row seat set all the way back, tall passengers can sit comfortably for long periods of time, not common in this size class. Chevy claims the Equinox's rear-seat legroom (42.7 inches max) is not only best in class, but exceeds that of the Ford Expedition. The 60/40 rear seats also have two recline positions and fold flat, as does the front-passenger seat. Further aiding storage is a shelf that can be placed at three levels in the cargo area, with hooks that can be used to hold grocery bags.
Optional leather, combined with metal and woodlike accents, gives the interior a feeling of quality rare in this price range. It makes some other compact SUVs look Spartan by comparison. The cabin also is surprisingly quiet, with the exception of some road noise. There are several upscale options, including OnStar, XM Satellite Radio, steering-wheel audio controls, a 3500-pound tow package, and side head-curtain airbags.
The Equinox is entering a highly competitive market segment. But given its versatile interior, ample power, and upscale design--inside and out--it appears well-equipped for the battle.