2005 Chevrolet Equinox
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The small Suzuki-built Chevrolet Tracker sport utility didn't have much going for it except off-road prowess, but its larger replacement gives Chevy a much better vehicle for the entry sport-ute market.
The truck-like, rough-riding Tracker had rugged body-on-frame construction, and was best suited with 4-wheel drive for reaching a cabin in the mountains. The smooth-riding Equinox is car-like with a unibody design and is primarily designed for suburban errand-running, or fast, comfortable highway cruising,
The Equinox can be had with all-wheel drive, but lacks low-range gearing and thus isn't designed for rugged off-road use. Front-wheel drive is standard for its entry LS and higher-line LT trim levels, with all-wheel drive costing extra.
The Equinox is arguably the best-looking Chevy truck, although it's based on General Motors' rather homely Saturn VUE. However, the Equinox uses metal body panels instead of the VUE's plastic body panels and is longer and roomier.
Chevy calls the TrailBlazer a midsize sport ute and the Equinox a compact one because it wants to position them in different markets so they don't compete with each other, although the TrailBlazer is costlier and more powerful than the Equinox.
The Equinox actually seems smaller than it is from the driver's seat because of its car-like design, whereas the TrailBlazer feels like a truck because of its body-on-frame design.
Lively Old-Style Engine
However, the fairly smooth Equinox engine doesn't feel overworked and delivers good acceleration—although it would be nice if the Honda V6 was an option.
The all-wheel-drive system delivers all power to the front wheels during normal driving but shoots some to the rear ones if it detects front-wheel slip.
Both versions of the LT have anti-lock brakes, along with cruise control, fog lights, rear privacy glass and alloy wheels.
Extras include $395 side-curtain airbags. The LT is offered with $250 heated front seats and $545 leather upholstery. There's also a costly $3,745 option package for the LT that contains a power sunroof, in-dash 6-disc CD player, steering wheel radio controls and GM's OnStar assistance system.
Accompanying the slow steering is a soft suspension that smooths out rough roads but causes pronounced body lean in curves if you're driving hard. However, handling is good during routine driving.
The all-wheel-drive system enhances stability, and so do the optional 17-inch alloy wheels and 60-series tires offered for the LT. Standard for the LS and LT are 16-inch wheels and narrower 65-series tires.
The brake pedal is sensitive without feeling touchy, and stopping distances are short.
Easy In and Out
The quiet interior is roomy and functional, with an upscale appearance. There is comfortable room for four 6-footers, with an especially roomy back seat.
Handy Sliding Rear Seat
Visibility is generally good, although thick windshield posts sometimes partially block it.
Gauges can be read at a glance, and climate controls are easy to use. However, the power window switches take getting used to because they're on the console rather than in a more handy location on the front doors. Large outside mirrors can be folded against the front glass to prevent damaging them in tight parking spots.
Shift Design Flaw
The one-piece tailgate should have a separate glass opening, but doesn't. However, the cargo floor is low and wide to facilitate loading.
The decent-size cargo area can be enlarged by folding the rear seatbacks forward. But the combination cargo area cover/adjustable shelf is awkward to use and has side mounting points that eat up cargo room. That item seems like a good idea, but is more trouble than it's worth.
The attractively priced Equinox is nicely assembled and painted. Count on it to be a long-term success.