Larger in both scale and scope than the entry-level Tracker it replaces, Chevy's new Equinox represents the division's first foray into the car-based sport/utility category. Sharing a Theta platform unit-body with the Saturn Vue, the steel-skinned Equinox has distinctive interior and exterior styling cues and boasts a 112.5-inch wheelbase, 5.9 inches longer than its plastic-paneled cousin and barely half an inch less than the truck-based Trailblazer. Both the base Equinox LS and upline LT come with a V-6 engine, roomy passenger compartment, and a generous roster of comfort and convenience touches. Each offers a choice of front- or optional on-demand all-wheel drive. Our test vehicle was a modestly optioned front-drive LS variant.
Although the Equinox maintains traditional SUV cues, the smartly raked back glass adds a bit of contemporary flair aimed at enticing youthful buyers. A broad horizontal chrome bar splits the front grill to reinforce its Chevy truck heritage and further distance the Equinox from the Vue. Standard 16-inch steel wheels wrapped in 235/65SR16 M+S tires can be upgraded to 16- or 17-inch alloy rims, the latter wearing 235/60SR17 rubber.
A relatively low step-in height and large, wide-opening doors ensure easy entry and exit. Inside, standard cloth or optional leather upholstery is set off by argent trim on the doors and center stack. Panel-to-panel gaps on some of the plastic trim bits remain below world class, but the overall look is clean and contemporary. While the firm yet comfortable front seats are seriously lacking in lateral support, drivers will appreciate a height-adjustable seat cushion and manual-tilt steering column. The equally-firm rear bench has a two-position seatback recline that greatly enhances its long-distance appeal. Main controls and switchgear are well positioned, and the instruments easy-to-read. However, diminutive LCD displays for the clock and radio simply disappear in bright sunlight. The standard audio system has an AM/FM/CD head unit and six speakers, and our tester had the upgrade option with a six-disc in-dash changer and MP3-playback capability. LT buyers can opt for a premium seven-speaker system that also brings an amplified subwoofer. Covered storage areas include a non-locking glovebox and a relatively petite center console bin/armrest that flips up to create a large, open area between the front seats. Smaller items can be stowed in expandable mesh pockets on either side of the forward center console, or in narrow pockets in each door. Other vital stats include five modestly scaled but questionably positioned cupholders plus a trio of 12V power points, located in the front, rear, and cargo bay areas. Space is the big story here; lots of it and with mix-and-match possibilities that make the Equinox equally adept at carrying up to five onboard or just loads of their belongings. The single standout element is the 60/40 split-folding rear seat. It offers eight inches of fore/aft travel to accommodate even the longest-legged passengers or expand the cargo capacity from 35.2 to 68.6 cu ft. The large, one-piece liftgate has a bumper-level cutout for easy loading and unloading, but the seatbacks don't fold completely flat and prominent shock towers compromise usable space. On the plus side, there's a slick multi-position rear parcel shelf, and the passenger-side front seatback flips forward to create a mini work surface--or allow the Equinox to swallow objects up to eight feet in length.
Dual front airbags and three-point seatbelts at all seat positions are standard in all Equinox models, with side curtain airbags optional. The Equinox boasts NHTSA's top, five-star rating in both front and side impact tests.