There are few vehicles in GM’s current bag of tricks that are certain money-makers. Beyond the big pickups and full-size SUVs that you’d expect, there’s one product that the company can’t build fast enough and so far hasn’t needed any money on the hood to clear out inventory. The current Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain have been such an unqualified hit that not only is the original assembly plant in Ontario ramped up to three shifts, but another line was started in the giant Oshawa facility to make up the difference.
|1. Power comes from a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder with 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque getting 22/32 mpg (FWD and 20/29 mpg (AWD).
2. New for 2012 is Chevy MyLink telematics system with redesigned and easy to use interface plus several apps.
3. An available 3.0-liter V6 makes 264 hp and can tow 3500 lbs.
4. LTZ V6 models get an optional lane departure warning and forward collision alert system.
5. Pricing starts at $23,530 with LTZ models from $29,220.
What makes the Equinox such a hit? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but it’s definitely one of the more attractive efforts in what used to be a yawn-inducing segment. It’s still one of the more memorable designs with its big headlights flanking a big Malibu-esque corporate grille; like a seven-eighths-scale Traverse. On the loaded LTZ tester we drove for a week, the nose also gets chrome brightwork around the air intakes and brushguards, side window line and mirrors, and 18-inch wheels.
The interior is equally stylish, with a dramatic dash that’s angled sharply away from the driver, giving the impression of more space in what’s already a pretty open cabin. The high-quality brushed-aluminum accents and soft trim that appears hand-stitched are offset by big plastic panels on the doors and console. The effect isn’t as noticeable on darker trim; our tester had the Light Titanium (i.e. pale grey) inserts, which amplifies our quality gripes.
At least it wears well – the Equinox is well-designed for kid-hauling duty, if only because the rear bench has eight inches of travel, keeping even the tallest toddlers from scuffing dirty boots on the front seat-backs. Empty nesters will appreciate having the seats pushed forward because it expands cargo space to a generous 31.4 cubic feet or 63.7 with it folded flat.
CHEVY MYLINK NEW FOR 2012
New for 2012 is a seven-inch MyLink touch-screen radio, although it’s integrated into the same location the old display-only unit occupied. That means it’s too far away from drivers to use without a serious lean forward. Also, because it’s recessed from the dash-face to avoid excess glare, the preset buttons don’t line up ‘visually’ meaning plenty of missed stations and curses about fat fingers. Ours also had the navigation system, a reasonable $800 addition that worked very well.
Otherwise, the LTZ comes nicely equipped, including heated leather power seats, climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirrors, an eight-speaker 250-watt Pioneer audio system, projector-beam headlights, a power assisted tailgate and a rear-parking camera with sensors.
One new option Chevrolet offers on LTZ V6 versions is front collision alert and lane-departure warning, something exclusive to the small CUV class. Again, for only $300, that’s a decent value for systems that can cost 10 times that in German machines. But to limit its availability to top-end models seems disingenuous.
4-CYLINDER THE WAY TO GO
Motivating our Equinox was the base 2.4-liter Ecotec direct-injection four-cylinder with a more-than-competitive 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque, although its acceleration was more than blunted by the optional all-wheel drive and its added weight. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. Together, the near 4,000-lb combo gets 20/29 mpg (city/hwy), although during our week we had a combined average closer to 23 mpg thanks to cold weather and winter tires.
There is an optional 264-horsepower 3.0-liter V6, but there’s little reason to spend the extra $2,000 to order it. It might be a little faster and smoother than the base ‘four’ but its only true upside is being able to tow 3,500 lb.
Overall, the Equinox acquitted itself quite well – the tall wagon handled better than its Chevrolet badge promised. That’s not a bash against GM or the people who design them, simply a recognition that the ‘bowtie brand’ is aimed at the broadest base. The steering-feel is rental-car light, although reasonably accurate.
While base Equinox models start at $23,530, all-wheel-drive LTZ models are $31,795. Leaving aside the new active safety measures, the 18-inch wheels ($1,000), power moonroof ($900) and navigation ($795) fitted to our tester are all you can choose giving it an as-tested price of $32,775.
Chevrolet is proud that it can charge – and get – nearly $33K for a loaded Equinox when loaded versions of the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tuscon, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4 are between $2,000 and $4,000 less expensive. Ford’s new EcoBoost-happy Escape and Mazda’s zippy CX-5 will also play in this party, and the former can only build on the aging model’s still-strong sales.
The Equinox isn’t the best of the bunch, but it is pretty close, for now. It’s only a repositioned touch-screen and higher-quality plastics away from a place in our heart.