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2005 Chevrolet Equinox

The Handsome Newcomer Proves Talented Too

    Before the arrival of the Equinox, Chevrolet was sitting on the sidelines of the Small SUV game. In fact, the sidelines would have been an improvement, considering they never let the Tracker out of the cheap seats. Yes, the Tracker was ugly, underpowered, incapable and uncomfortable. Even so, it couldn’t have been that bad, could it? Actually, it was, and Chevy knew it. A lot of valuable time passed before the bow-tie boys got a replacement in the showroom, but now that the Equinox is available, is it a serious player in the still-hot small SUV field? Luckily, for GM, it is.
     In our opinion, the greatest success of the Equinox is its design. Its proportions are spot-on and the details, like clear headlamps and brake lights, give it a freshness that the competition just doesn’t have. From head-on the Equinox wears a distinctively Chevy grille and the tiny fog lights look upscale and work well. Body-colored mirrors would be a nice addition to the LT models, as would an integrated antenna—perhaps next year. In profile you notice the long wheelbase makes possible long back doors. A feature that allows for vastly superior access compared to the competition. Open the rear hatch and you’ll find a surprisingly narrow cargo area, but a handy divider does provide for organized loading and helps make the most of the available space. Fold the rear seats down, however, and you’ll have a good chunk of space for hauling stuff.
     GM used to have a tendency to aim mid-pack when developing new vehicles. It appears that is what happened with the Equinox’s only available engine—at least on paper. Actually, the 3.4-liter V6 and its 185hp and 210 lb-ft of torque feel sufficient in real-world driving. This can be attributed to the 5-speed automatic, which pretty much blows the tendency to aim mid-pack theory out of the water. The 5-speed uses its well-spaced ratios to move the Equinox smartly off the line and a couple of downshifts at cruising speed get you back into peak power range. If GM is wise they will soon offer the wonderful 250hp Honda V6 currently available in the Saturn VUE and that would certainly draw a few more customers and a hearty round of praise from the critics.
     The brake pedal feel was all right and modulation was natural, which is something that can’t always be said of the electric steering. We’ve yet to find a great electric steering setup and this one isn’t terrible, but every now and then you’ll find the effort change mid-corner and it’s always an odd feeling. The AWD worked imperceptibly during the snow we encountered during our time with the vehicle.
     Nice colors and textures greet passengers when they slide inside. Noticeably absent is the all-black all-the-time look that GM often, and incorrectly, thinks is a good idea. Our model had a black over light gray color scheme that keeps things looking airy and when mixed with the aluminum-look plastic, looks a dozen times better than the competition’s cabins.
     Our tester had heated leather seats as part of the comprehensive 1SE package. We’re fans of heated seats, but Chevrolet has the switch mounted on the base of the seat so you can’t tell if its set to low, high, or even on at all. Why the switch isn’t mounted where you can see it is beyond us. We also directed harsh words at the interior door pulls, which are oddly shaped and unfriendly toward most fingers. The second row seats are simply the best in the segment. They are split 60/40 and can slid fore or aft through 8-inches of range to provide limo-like legroom and can also recline several degrees to provide a more relaxed angle. Completing the interior is a console-mounted shifter, cruise and stereo controls on the steering wheel, a power sunroof and CD6 stereo. Some of those features are bundled in the same $3,745 1SE option package that gets you the heated leather chairs. Besides that extensive package, the only other option was head curtain side impact airbags for $395.
     Here’s a word of warning when exiting the vehicle in poor weather. The doorsill is extended by a piece of black plastic that serves as a design element on the exterior of the Equinox. The problem is that it gets sprayed with road grime and mud and anyone less than 6-foot tall really has to concentrate to miss brushing their leg on it.
     Sometimes being late to the game gives you a chance to study your competition. After a week in the Equinox it looks like Chevrolet took excellent notes. It’s handsome, gets 19mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway, fully loaded stickers at $29,040 and seats 4 or 5 in comfort with plenty of room in all directions. If you can do without the $4,140 in options, you still have a capable and comfortable SUV for around $25k. Luckily for us, GM’s handsome newcomer is talented too.

The Good:
Handsome good looks, long wheelbase = spacious cabin, 5-speed automatic makes 185hp seem like more.
The Bad:
Heated seat switch mounted by moron, doorsill extension prays on pant legs.
The Verdict:
Chevrolet now deserves a spot on your shortlist of small SUVs.


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