2005 Chevrolet Equinox Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
With the 2005 Chevrolet Equinox, General Motors finally has a compact SUV to challenge the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. It's bigger inside and out than most of the SUVs in this class, and that's deliberate. Like the Honda, Toyota and Ford products, the Equinox is car-based, using the new GM Theta front-wheel-drive architecture and adapting it for all-wheel-drive versions. This same architecture is under the Saturn Vue SUV as well.
The Equinox's dimensions blur the line between compact and midsize SUVs. It is 13.9 inches longer than the arch-competitor and market leader Ford Escape, and only three inches shorter than a TrailBlazer, and that extra room will make all the difference on some families' buying decisions. It rides on a wheelbase that is 9.4 inches longer than the Escape's, yielding a generally smoother ride. When the rear bench and front passenger seat are folded flat, there's room inside this truck for eight-foot-long loads. The rear seatback is split 60/40 for added cargo/people hauling flexibility.
Only two Equinox models are available, including the basic LS ($20,995 FWD, $22,970 AWD) and the more luxurious and better-appointed LT ($22,710 FWD, $24,335 AWD) versions. Unlike the competition that offers both four-cylinder and V6 engines, the only engine available in Equinox is the 3.4-liter V6, an ordinary overhead-valve powerplant that has been continuously refined since it was introduced 25 years ago in the old GM X-cars as a 2.8-liter.
Both LS and LT come with the usual basic equipment and cloth interiors, with leather seating and steering wheel optional on the LT only. The LS offers the optional 1SB package ($535), with cruise, tinted glass, luggage rack crossbars and floor mats, while the LT offers the optional 1SD package ($550) with cruise control, tinted glass, roof rack crossbars, floor mats, a six-way power driver's seat with manual lumbar adjustment, a multi-functional inside rearview mirror with compass and outside thermometer and a leather-covered steering wheel. The 1SE package ($3475) for the LT adds to that OnStar, leather seats, power sunroof, premium sound system with seven speakers, the six-CD changer, heated front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, and redundant radio controls on the wheel. Aside from the packages, the equipment is offered as 18 different freestanding options including two colors of metallic paint, with most options available on either the LS or the LT. Building one to your specs won't be difficult.
Equinox certainly looks the part of a Chevrolet truck from the front, with its more or less standard single grille bar sporting a large gold Chevrolet bow-tie emblem. But its side-view shape is quite a bit different from the rest of the family, and for that, we like it.
The pillars and the sheetmetal between the tops of the glass panels and the roof seem to us to be extra-thick, imparting a feeling of extra solidity and strength, perhaps important for a truck made on a car platform. When you shut the doors, the sound that's generated is more like a muted plastic mating than hollow steel sheetmetal, a sound that no other Chevrolet truck makes.
The Equinox look solidly planted on its wheels. The bigger size is evident everywhere. The doors open wide for easy entry and exit, and the rear gate goes up and out of the way for easy loading of cargoes, freight, dogs, camping equipment or what-have-you.
Standard amenities on the upmarket LT version include a remote entry system with programmable locks, a power driver's seat, air conditioning and a six-speaker single-CD stereo. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has rated the Equinox with a four-star rating (out of five) for frontal impact for both driver and passenger and five stars for side impacts, front and rear.
Inside, where the people live and work and ride, is where the Chevy Equinox shines when compared to some of its major competitors. Up front, Equinox carries flexible net storage pockets on both sides of the console. The center armrest has dual cupholders, a small storage cubby and a coin holder for toll money. Under the armrest is more storage, an open floor console with cupholder, CD holder and purse or briefcase storage.
The rear seat sits on a track that allows it to slide back and forth by up to eight inches, to bring kids, brief cases, purses or cargoes closer or to provide extra room for tall passengers in the second seat. With both front and rear seats in the full rearward positions, there's more rear-passenger legroom in the Equinox than you'll found in many larger SUVs, 42 inches, and plenty of room for carrying your stuff. GM calls this innovative feature the Multi-Flex rear seat. There is a 12-volt power outlet and dual slide-out cupholders for rear passengers.
GM's designers have used the space above the wheel wells to create a unique cargo storage system like the adjustable shelf in its larger SUVs. A lightweight reversible panel slides into slots on the Equinox's wheel wells at three different heights. Carpeted on one side and plastic on the other, the panel can serve as shelf, cargo cover or even a picnic or tailgating table. The tops of the wheel wells contain storage bins for small items. And there are several tie-downs and hooks on the panel from which to hang grocery bags.
Equinox's interior is a clean and functional design, with low-gloss nickel-plated trim on the console and control panel instead of the flashier and more problematic chrome trim, a scheme that matched very will with the light gray of our test Equinox LT's leather upholstery.
Having the trio of OnStar, XM satellite radio, and the CD changer onboard meant that there was always more entertainment along for the ride. If you want rear-seat entertainment screens, though, you'll have to step up in size and price to a different vehicle.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the powertrain in the Equinox. It starts, it runs, and it's relatively smooth. That is, until you ask it for full-throttle performance, when it starts to grind and whine a bit. The new five-speed automatic transmission shifts up and down just fine. It's just not a powertrain that will make your blood boil, although GM claims the Equinox's 0-60 sprint comes in only 8.5 seconds, whether it's AWD or FWD. As we said, this is a 25-year-old engine design that is without benefit of balance shafts, variable-valve timing or variable intake, but it's perfectly adequate for family SUV use. Chevrolet rates it to haul families plus trailer loads of up to 3500 pounds, and it has the guts to do it.
We found the long-wheelbase chassis of this 3600-pound car/truck provided a plush ride, good cornering performance, relatively crisp handling, and long-trip comfort. The brakes are well matched to the size and weight of the Equinox FWD that we tested, with good, progressive pedal travel and linear braking force application.
Equinox and the Saturn Vue have an electric power steering system. An electronic control unit programmed for a variety of performance characteristics controls an electric motor mounted adjacent to the steering column to provide the right amount of assist for a given driving situation. The steering ratio is variable, so the Equinox has good, steady road feel in highway driving and low effort at low speeds for easier parking. We don't think the average American driver can tell it apart from hydraulic power steering, and that's a good thing, especially when combined with the fact that engine power isn't used to drive the system and can be used to move the vehicle, saving gasoline.
With its unique look and larger size than the American and Asian competition, the Equinox is in a position to please the more demanding customers looking for more power and more space than the norm in this segment. The Equinox has a very flexible interior design with lots of space for family goods, and lots of space for American-sized people in both rows of seats.
Equinox is a Chevrolet, with Chevrolet-level quality and materials at a Chevrolet price. It has a distinctly Japanese feel to it, inside and out, but it's American, built in Canada, and a heck of a deal for the money, we think. Whether you measure it by the linear foot, the cubic foot, or by visual impact alone, it's the biggest of the smaller SUVs, and our FWD tester was loaded for bear for less than $26,000.
Chevrolet Equinox LS ($20,995); LS AWD ($22,970); LT ($22,710) LT AWD ($24,335).
Options As Tested
1SE package ($3745) includes leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 6-way power driver's seat w/manual lumbar and map pocket, heated front reclining bucket seats, auto-dimming inside mirror w/temp and compass, steering wheel audio controls, P235/60R17 tires, OnStar, 17-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, 6CD changer, 7-speaker premium sound system w/subwoofer and amp; XM Satellite Radio ($325) includes 3-month trial subscription; 5070-pound GVW package (N/C); 2.70:1 axle ratio (N/C).
Chevrolet Equinox LT ($22,710).
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