Pros: Quiet and comfortable ride; impressive fuel economy for base engine; refined look and feel; sliding rear seat; good storage space

Cons: No third-row seat; vague steering feel; busy control layout

Not too long ago, the Equinox was an afterthought in the compact-crossover category. Honda and Toyota had defined the segment and had gone on to dominate it. For the late-to-arrive Equinox to be noticed, it would have to up its ante with more refinement, style, features and fuel economy. So that?s what Chevrolet did.

Now in its second generation, the Equinox is a true competitor within a now highly competitive class of vehicles. Besides the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4, the Equinox has to contend with capable small crossovers like the Ford Escape, the Kia Sportage and the Subaru Forester, among others.

Alongside its virtually identical GMC counterpart, the Terrain, the Equinox is very well rounded with equal strengths in quality, functionality and drivability. This sets it apart from competitors that emphasize certain qualities over others. With the Equinox, you get a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. But for a family-centric people mover, that?s a good thing.

For 2012, the Equinox adds a number of features to its already lengthy roster of equipment. The base LS trim receives standard Bluetooth connectivity, while a new touchscreen stereo with USB interface is included on LT and LTZ models. The midlevel LT also gets a standard backup-camera system. Lane departure warning is a new option for the range-topping LTZ. Unfortunately, the rear DVD entertainment system is no longer offered in the Equinox line.

The Equinox is yet another solid and competent choice in a growing sea of compact crossovers, making this segment one of the toughest for shoppers to wade through.

Comfort & Utility

The Equinox offers a spacious and attractive cabin that?s wholly distinctive from those in other compact crossovers. Its interior treatment is fronted by Chevrolet?s eye-catching twin-cockpit design and is even more dramatic with the optional two-tone color scheme and cool blue ambient lighting. Gauges and controls have a refined appearance, but some of the switchgear is a little busy on the eyes.

Seats are well designed and supportive, offering good leg- and headroom in both rows. Additionally, the reclining 60/40 split rear seat can slide up and back as much as eight inches. This not only accommodates passengers of varying heights, it also creates more space in the cargo hold. However, unlike some of its competitors, the Equinox does not offer a third-row seat.

With a maximum volume of almost 64 cubic feet, the Equinox can accommodate quite a bit but is certainly not the biggest in the segment. It also features a host of useful interior storage compartments for smaller items.

The Equinox is available in three trim levels: LS, LT and LTZ. Standard convenience features for the base LS include power height adjustment for the driver?s seat, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering and a six-speaker stereo. The LT adds equipment such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated seats and an upgraded premium audio system. The range-topping LTZ features leather upholstery and a power liftgate for easier loading and unloading. A sunroof is an option on all trim levels.

Overall, the Equinox offers a stylish and functional cabin with many of the features that are important to families - with the important lack of the rear DVD system for 2012. Apparently, Chevrolet thought it was too high-end an option for an entry-level crossover.

Technology

Despite its non-luxury status, the Equinox offers some premium level technology. Included are Bluetooth connectivity, a touchscreen-controlled stereo with USB interface, a backup-camera system, navigation and rear parking sensors.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Front- and all-wheel-drive Equinox models are powered by one of two engine choices. Standard is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder making a sufficient 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. Energy is channeled through a six-speed automatic transmission. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 22 city/32 highway with front-wheel drive and 20/29 mpg with all-wheel drive.

A more robust 3.0-liter V6 is optional for all trim levels except the base LS. Output is 264 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque. With it, fuel economy comes in at a less-than-impressive 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive.

From a towing standpoint, the four-cylinder Equinox is rated at 1500 pounds, while the V6 version has a 3500-pound capacity.

Safety

Besides six airbags, including two-row head curtains, the Equinox comes armed with OnStar, which can alert emergency personnel in the event of an accident.

Also helping the passenger-protection equation are ABS with brake assist, stability control, traction control and the new lane departure warning system, which alerts the driver with subtle cues (a distinctive chime and a gauge light) if the car begins to drift out of its lane due to driver drowsiness or inattention.

Driving Impressions

Where power is concerned, the 4-cylinder Equinox is adequate for daily driving. This engine operates smoothly and without much drama. However, it will labor a bit when the Equinox is loaded down with people and cargo.

The V6-powered Equinox is much more spirited. It enjoys quick throttle response and very good acceleration. Building up to highway speeds or making an aggressive left-lane pass is no problem.

Handling-wise, however, the Equinox is unexceptional at best. It?s not particularly confident in corners, and the steering doesn?t feel very well connected. This little compact crossover is by no means a driver?s car, but it never promises that - and most buyers in this segment aren?t looking for one anyway.

What they are looking for is a comfortable and quiet ride for daily commuting and weekend outings with the family. And that?s just what the Equinox delivers.

Other Cars to Consider

Honda CR-V - The CR-V offers quite a bit more cargo capacity and advanced content such as voice-command navigation. It also has standard all-wheel-drive capability. The CR-V and the Equinox provide equally comfortable transportation for five.

Toyota RAV4 - The RAV4 is sportier, offering more power and significantly better handling. It also offers optional three-row seating and more cargo space. The Equinox?s ride quality is somewhat softer.

Ford Escape - The Escape has more high-tech features (like an automatic parking system) and an available hybrid model, but it lacks the versatility of a sliding rear seat. The Escape and the Equinox are comparable in overall refinement.

Kia Sportage - The Sportage is sportier and more fun to drive than the Equinox. The Sportage also has a longer list of features. But the Equinox offers more cargo room and a roomier third-row seat that slides and reclines.

AutoTrader Recommends

We think the most sensible Equinox is the midrange LT model powered by the 4-cylinder engine. The LT offers the best value of the three available trim levels. It?s very well equipped with such features as a standard backup-camera system and an upgraded touchscreen stereo. Furthermore, the 4-cylinder provides adequate power combined with very good fuel economy. Unless you have a 3000-pound boat to tow, it is the practical choice. For those living in colder climates, we recommend adding all-wheel drive to this package.   

author photo

Shamit Choksey has a love for automobiles that worked into an early career writing and developing cop shows for network television. Later, diving even further into the world of wheels, he became a writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS/Discovery Channel series "MotorWeek." These days, Shamit lives in Southern California, serving as a media consultant and journalist within the automotive industry. Incidentally, his wife and two sons are not impressed by any of this.

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