The first thing you notice about the Equinox is the interior. GM people have been banging on for some time about how they really get it now with interiors, and with the Equinox, you really see what they're talking about. The dashboard looks like it was lifted straight out of an Acura. There's plenty of style and good separation of function on the busy center stack (this example is optioned to the hilt with navigation, satellite radio, et cetera). Rear-seat riders get not one but two DVD screens. And the two-tone leather in this top-of-the-line LTZ looks great, though one wonders what the three lesser trim levels look like. Furthermore, the rear seat, which reclines and slides fore and aft, has loads of legroom (which is about the only respect in which the cabin echoes the previous Equinox); while huge doors and narrow sills make entry an exit a breeze.
Dynamically, though, things aren't quite so swell. The best automobiles have a uniformity of feel in their controls, but the Equinox does not. The brake pedal is nice and firm but the flaccid throttle has almost no resistance whatsoever. And the electric power steering varies its assistance too much, going from okay when cruising on the highway to way overboosted as you wind on more lock in a parking lot. Speaking of parking, it's a good thing the LTZ comes standard with a rearview camera, since rear visibility is otherwise pretty bad, and the overstyled C-pillars all but obliterate the rear quarter windows.
A V-6 is available, but this Equinox has the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which was not offered in the previous generation, and which plays so prominently in Chevrolet's gas mileage claims. The heavily advertised 32-mpg highway figure is certainly impressive, but this all-wheel-drive version is rated at 29 mpg highway, 20 city. Still, that's not bad. The four cranks out a hearty 182 hp, but it doesn't exactly sound Honda smooth doing so. Mated to a six-speed automatic, it works hard to move this hefty crossover, but ultimately it is up to the job. Unless you live in the mountains or want to tow a trailer, the V-6 is probably not worth the gas mileage penalty, or the extra $1500.
Speaking of money, I was a bit taken aback by the $34,775 as-tested sticker price on this baby. A quick check of Toyota's consumer web site showed that, even factoring out the Chevy's additional equipment (some of which is not available on the Toyota) a four-cylinder, four-wheel-drive RAV4 is about $2500 cheaper. I've got to believe that the compact SUV segment is pretty price sensitive, and if Chevy wants people to be wowed by the Equinox's glamorous new duds, it's first got to get them in the door; pricing yourself $2500 dearer than the segment's mainstay doesn't seem to me to be the way to do that.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor