All things being equal (which of course they never are), you might perhaps find yourself comparing the features in compact sport-utility vehicles with expectations that one or maybe two models might put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack.
Like most competitive classes in the auto industry, especially SUVs, it is hard to find standouts when you compare each model (apples-to-apples) on the same terms. One may have better safety or power, but be much more expensive; or one may not have a six-speed transmission but offers good towing capacity.
Sport-utility vehicles like the Chevrolet Equinox are expected to have additional capabilities; it's the expectation that understandably may result when the word "utility" slips into your name. Smaller, compact versions quite often have the bar set pretty high by their much larger full-size cousins. It can be tough living up to 350 horsepower when all you can muster is 185.
The great thing about the Chevy Equinox is it not only leads its class in several categories, but it neither fails nor falters in any other category. With 67.1 cubic-feet of interior cargo space, it is quite spacious and deserving of the "utility" label often just a casual "tag" for many other models. At 189 inches long, it is right at a midsize SUV size, yet the price is definitely in the compact class. That's good value.
When it comes to style, interior and exterior, separation from the middle ground is something Equinox does pretty well. Clearly the first time you see the Equinox you will notice it is large for this class. On the exterior you have attractive styling cues that are distinctive and more aggressive than many of the more conservative or budget-minded compact SUVs.
I really like the front grille; it has a thick, single crossbar that spans the air intake while extending into the adjacent headlamp assemblies. This really pulls the whole front end together. A steeply raked windshield gives way to a swooping profile that dips down and runs into the rear gate.
The 2008 Equinox gets two new trim levels: the Luxury LTZ and the Sport model. The Sport has received a lot of attention with the addition of 79 horsepower to its 3.6-liter V-6 (total 269 horsepower) as well as the add-on six-speed transmission. Given it had no roof rack, my Sport tester's slightly lower stance was accentuated - as were its polished 18-inch aluminum wheels.
Inside Equinox's cabin you will find good material makeup, nothing plush but noting really hard plasticy or cheap feeling in the dash or headliner. I thought the seating was not only roomy but also comfortable and easily adjusted. The cabin will easily seat four adults with plenty of leg and head room in back, where seats split 60/40 and slide back more than six inches for taller passenger comfort.
The downside to the extra ponies in the Sport model was getting accustomed to the engine noise prevalent in the cabin. While wind noise at highway speeds was noticeable too, engine noise was above average.
My Sport model had the upgrade interior cues including heated front seats, XM satellite radio and a great leather-wrapped steering wheel. I found the stereo and CD player to be adequate, though the upgrade six-disc system with seven-speaker audio is definitely worth looking into.
Behind the second row you have a bountiful 35.7 cubic feet of cargo space; fold the seats down and it climbs to a gigantic 67.1 cubic feet. This is class-leading spaciousness and it adds utility where it is often needed.
Given that the base Equinox delivers a 3.4-liter V-6 with 185 horsepower and a standard five-speed transmission, it is easy to see why the Sport model can be such a compelling purchase. My tester had outstanding acceleration from stops as well as when entering highway traffic situations. It was downright fun at times and often handling was more car like than what I have come to expect from vehicles with SUV in their title. Standard on all Equinox models is a very competent four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system. Fuel economy is average at 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
Base price for the Equinox is $22,380. Sport and Luxury models can push that to as high as $28,980. That's still not the top of the compact lot and fully loaded it is probably one of the best values on the market.