Pros: Low base price; enticing 100,000-mile powertrain warranty; optional V6 really hauls; responsive steering

Cons: No regular-cab body style; no manual shifter with the V6; no auxiliary audio connectivity except in the pricey RMZ-4 Sport

If you've ever shaken your head at how enormous full-size pickups have become, the 2012 Suzuki Equator might be right up your alley. Like the Nissan Frontier on which it's based, the Equator is classified as a mid-size truck, which means it's not as small as the little Nissans and Toyotas that used to frequent American work sites, but also not as gigantic as big rigs like the Ford F-150. You can even get a four-cylinder engine in the Equator, with a hearty V6 available for harder jobs. For folks who don't need to haul luxury yachts or pull houses off their foundations, the Equator is a Goldilocks truck-it's just right.

The Equator is largely the same as its Nissan relative. If you want familiar Frontier niceties like Bluetooth and a kicking Rockford Fosgate sound system, no problem-the Equator offers them, too. A less fortunate parallel is the Equator's lack of auxiliary audio connectivity on lesser models. Sadly, the Equator doesn't offer a manual transmission with the stout V6 engine; Nissan kept that combination for itself. Otherwise, the only big difference is Suzuki's superior seven-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty; Nissan offers five years and 60,000 miles of coverage.

If you buy an Equator, you'll have to take it to a Suzuki dealership for warranty service, and there aren't too many of those. But if that's no obstacle, we absolutely recommend comparing Frontier and Equator pricing and going with the Suzuki if you can get a better deal. That reminds us of another nice thing about the mid-size Equator: its prices tend to be downright compact.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Suzuki Equator comes as an Extended Cab model with small reverse-opening "suicide" rear doors or a crew cab with four conventional doors. The Extended Cab is offered in base, Premium and Sport V6 trim levels, while the Crew Cab starts as the Sport V6 and also comes in top-of-the-line RMZ-4 V6 trim.

Starting with the Extended Cab lineup, the base trim level comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels. You get manual windows, locks and mirrors, and you can't get a stereo or air conditioning. The optional Comfort package adds air conditioning and a basic four-speaker stereo, but the manual accessories remain.

For a fancier Extended Cab, try the Premium model, with a required automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, upgraded cloth upholstery, a sliding rear window, power accessories and cruise control.

The Sport V6, available in either cab configuration (4WD only for Extended Cab), includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a front tow hook, a map light and a dual-note horn (seriously). The Crew Cab Sport V6 also includes a six-speaker audio system and an overhead console with a sunglasses holder.

The 4WD RMZ-4 V6, available as Crew Cab only, drops down to 16-inch alloy wheels but tacks on cool stuff including foglamps, Bilstein off-road shocks, skidplates, a security system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a height-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support.

Available only on the RMZ-4 is a Sport package that contributes a sunroof, Bluetooth connectivity and an eight-speaker, 380-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with a subwoofer, a six-CD changer and an auxiliary input jack.

On the list of dealer-installed accessories for all Equators are exterior styling and functionality enhancements, Bluetooth and a portable navigation system with a 4.3-inch screen and a dash-top popup mount.

The Equator comes only with two front bucket seats. Unlike the Toyota Tacoma, for example, the Equator doesn't offer a front bench seat on any model. Disappointingly, a height adjustment for the driver's seat is only provided in the RMZ-4. We'd also like to see a telescoping function for the steering wheel to help taller drivers get comfortable, but that's still not a common feature in pickups.

The Equator's dashboard is almost identical to the Frontier's, which means it has a little more interior style than your typical truck, even offering white-faced gauges for a sporty look. The standard dual glove box scores practicality points, and the stereo and climate controls are intuitive and generally glove friendly. The materials aren't nice by the standards of similarly priced cars, but truck people tend to prioritize durability over luxury, and by this measure the Equator's cabin seems satisfactory.

The Extended Cab's back seat is predictably cramped, but it does add a measure of versatility at a starting price point that's usually reserved for regular cabs. Note that the reverse-opening rear doors require the front doors to be opened first. The Crew Cab extends rear legroom considerably and gives rear passengers the ability to exit independently via conventional forward-opening doors.

The Equator comes in two bed lengths: 59.5 inches or 73.3 inches. The Extended Cab is only offered with the long bed, while the Crew Cab can be had with either, depending on trim level.

Technology

Like the Frontier, the Equator trails Toyota in the technology department. Despite the prevalence of portable MP3 players and flash drives these days, a USB jack is unavailable, and an auxiliary audio jack is only offered on the RMZ-4 Sport. Bluetooth can be specified as an accessory across the lineup, though. The optional 4.3-inch navigation system is little different from one you could buy more cheaply at an electronics store, but at least Suzuki offers an integrated popup housing atop the dashboard.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Both the base Equator and the Equator Premium have a 2.5-liter inline-4 rated at 152 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque. Four-cylinder models are only offered with rear-wheel drive. A five-speed manual is the transmission for the base model; the Premium gets a five-speed automatic.

The rest of the Equator lineup has a 4.0-liter V6 rated at 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is a five-speed automatic. The Extended Cab Sport V6 and the RMZ-4 V6 have four-wheel drive; the Crew Cab Sport V6 can be had with either RWD or 4WD.

The truck-tuned inline-4 is typical of its breed, providing decent low-end torque but otherwise unimpressive acceleration. Still, towing capacity isn't bad at 3,500 pounds. Step up to the powerful, noisy V6 if you want tough truck performance, including up to 6,300 pounds of towing strength. Maximum payload ratings range from 986 pounds with the inline-4 to 1,471 pounds with the V6.

Fuel economy tops out at an EPA-rated 19 mpg city/23 mpg highway with the inline-4 and the manual shifter, dropping to 17/22 mpg with the automatic. The RWD V6 gets 15/20 mpg, and the 4WD V6 offers 15/19 mpg.

Safety

The Equator comes with standard stability control, four-wheel ABS and six airbags (front, side and side curtain).

The government hasn't tested the Equator using its new methodology, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Equator its highest score of Good for all except rear impact, for which the Equator was deemed Acceptable (the second-highest score).

Driving Impressions

The Equator's steering is unusually responsive, making for a surprisingly engaging driving experience. The mid-size dimensions of this truck are a plus in congested settings, where the Equator feels quite manageable. The RMZ-4 shines on off-roading trails, although its Bilstein shocks aren't the best choice for paved roads. Notably, unlike some other mid-size trucks, the Equator is not offered with any kind of pavement-biased performance package.

Other Cars to Consider

Toyota Tacoma - The Tacoma has a similar pair of engines and adds a base regular-cab configuration with a front bench seat, as well as dedicated performance models for both on-road and off-road driving.

Chevrolet Colorado - We generally don't recommend the Colorado, which is due for replacement soon, but if you can find one on the cheap with the 5.3-liter V8, you'll have a cool little muscle truck.

AutoTrader Recommends

We think the sweet spot is the Extended Cab Sport V6. It delivers spirited V6 performance, 4WD capability and a decent equipment roster without breaking the bank.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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