The Chevrolet Equinox is a handsome midsize SUV that often drives like a roomy tall car. Its car-type structure could let it pass for a crossover vehicle with a simple, clean and functional design.
The Equinox shares its basic design with the Pontiac Torrent and rugged Suzuki XL-7. It's comfortable and roomy, although a new Sport model has a rather trucklike ride on marginal roads with its stiffer sports suspension. Front- or all-wheel drive are offered.
The base LS and higher-line LT and LTZ models have a 3.4-liter V-6 with 185 horsepower that provides decent performance.
The Sport, which I tested, has a 3.6-liter V-6 with 264 horsepower and more torque. This larger V-6 provides good off-the-line acceleration and worry-free 65-75 mph passing. The Sport even beats a BMW X3 and Porsche Cayenne in the 0-60 mph dash.
Both engines are smooth, and even the smaller 3.4 V-6 doesn't feel taxed or overworked.
Highway fuel economy of either engine is pretty good at an estimated 24 mpg. City economy is 17 for the 3.4 engine and 16 for the 3.6, which is about right for a vehicle that weighs a hefty 3,818 to 3,915 pounds. Only regular-grade gasoline is needed for either engine.
The 3.4 works with a five-speed automatic transmission, and the 3.6 is hooked to an especially responsive six-speed automatic with manual-shift capability.
New Equinox models for 2008 are a luxury LTZ with such items as leather upholstery, power driver's seat and heated front seats -- and the Sport, which has the more potent V-6, special suspension and wide 50-series tires on large 18-inch wheels.
The front-drive Sport was the most responsive Equinox model I tested. It lists at $27,380. It's priced at $28,980 with all-wheel drive.
Even the entry $22,380 Equinox LS model is pretty well-equipped. Standard are air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/CD player, tilt wheel, height-adjustable driver's seat, fold-flat front passenger seat, sliding and split/folding rear seat and power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry.
The LT adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player.
The Sport has those LT features, along with a power driver's seat, heated front seats and a remote engine starter, which costs $190 for the LT.
Safety features for all models include anti-lock all-disc brakes, anti-skid system, traction control and a tire-pressure monitor. The LTZ adds side curtain air bags with rollover deployment. Those curtain bags can be gotten for the LS, LT and Sport for $395.
Other options include a $1,325 package for the LT that includes a power driver's seat and remote engine start. Trailering equipment for the LT, LTZ and Sport is $350, and leather upholstery for the LT and Sport is an extra $595.
Many families will want the DVD entertainment system to keep the kids quiet in back. It's $995 for the LT, LTZ and Sport. A power sunroof costs $695 for those models.
The sport suspension and wide tires allowed my test Equinox Sport to have especially sharp handling. The steering was precise, and stopping distances were OK, with nice brake pedal feel.
Getting in and out of the quiet, nicely done interior just calls for a little extra effort. Outside door handles are oversized and rear door openings are very wide. There's good room for four tall adults, with an especially roomy back seat area. The center of the rear seat is too stiff for comfort for a fifth passenger, but this seat slides fore and aft about 8 inches to provide impressive legroom or more cargo space.
The front bucket seats are supportive, and main gauges can be read at a quick glance, although the secondary engine coolant temperature and fuel gauges are very small. Climate controls are large and audio controls are easy to use, although it'd be nice if they were larger.
Power window controls are oddly and inconveniently put near the center console shift lever.
Doors have storage pockets, but the covered console storage bin is only moderately sized. Dual rear cupholders that pop out from the back of the front console don't look very sturdy and are at floor level.
Visibility from the driver's seat is generally good, although it's hampered by thick front windshield posts and thick rear roof pillars. Large outside rearview mirrors partially help here.
The cargo area is large, although wheel well coverings consume space. This area has a low, wide opening that helps assure quick loading and unloading at, say, airports. Rear seatbacks easily flip forward and lie flat to increase cargo capacity -- as does that sliding rear seat.
The hood is held open by a prop rod instead of more convenient hydraulic struts, but fluid filler areas are easy to reach without getting clothes dirty.
The Equinox provides a good combination of performance, utility, safety and affordability. Rivals such as the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander are more refined but considerably more expensive.
20008 CHEVROLET EQUINOX
LIKES: Roomy. Good acceleration. Secure handling. Decent highway fuel economy.
DISLIKES: Oddly positioned power window controls. Rather trucklike ride for new Sport model. Flimsy rear cupholders.