The Chevrolet Equinox is a friendly workhorse of a family car that won’t be outgrown in a couple of seasons like a fourth-grader’s soccer cleats.
The Equinox, which debuted in 2005, may fit the EPA standards for a compact SUV, but it is closer to a midsize in actual dimensions. And it is larger than most of the competition, including the Honda HR-V, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4.
Some foundational simplicities make the Equinox more functional than the more wagon-like crossovers, which tend to sacrifice utility for swoopy styling. Its more upright stance and long wheelbase boosts headroom, back seat room and cargo space.
It also has earned a couple of industry accolades, including “Top Safety Pick” in 2015 by the IIHS — for six years running — and it was in a tie for the “Highest Ranked Compact SUV in Initial Quality” by J.D. Power in 2015.
Equinox is sold in four trim levels, in front- or all-wheel drive with a four-cylinder or optional V-6 engine. Starting prices range from $23,495 to $32,825 for the loaded LTZ with V-6 and all-wheel drive; pricing includes the freight charge from Spring Hill, Tenn., or Ontario, Canada.
Today’s midrange LT tester with two useful optional packages was $29,175. Included are two free maintenance visits for an oil and filter change, four-wheel tire rotation and 27-point inspection.
Standard LT features include remote locking, rearview camera, air-conditioning, six-speaker audio system, 4G Wi-Fi hot spot, MyLink radio with touch screen, hands-free phone and streaming audio (Pandora and Stitcher), power adjustable driver seat, six air bags and rollover mitigation.
Updates for the 2016 model include new styling for a more upscale presence, new wheel designs, added availability for safety technologies and a standard rearview camera.
The front-seat area made me appreciate the Detroit designers and engineers who live with this vehicle and are able to inject features that make a busy life just a little simpler. When you slide behind the wheel with a handful of phone, coffee, briefcase or purse, there are convenient places for all. A handy ledge in the center instrument panel console is a natural place to lay a phone. Below is a roomy cubby with a 12-volt plug. A pair of cup holders is at the ready, and just behind them is an alternate phone slot. The slim but deep center armrest console is not only large enough for a tablet or small laptop, but also has a USB port for charging — and the dual level storage area is lighted, something you don’t often see on a $30K car.
Gauges, switches and other controls are ergonomically arranged and easily viewed and adjusted. The front seats are fully supportive for daylong comfort.
The turning circle is wide at 40 feet, mostly due to the long wheelbase, 112.5 inches. But the cabin gets the benefit in space and cargo flexibility: the 60/40 back seats has nearly 8 inches of slide, which allows limo-like rear seat legroom of nearly 40 inches. Or move the seat forward to expand cargo space to 31.4 cubic feet. With back seat folded, there is 63.7 cu. ft., with a length of almost 6 feet by 39 inches wide. The seats fold easily but not flat, which could complicate loading of some items, such as a bicycle. And the tailgate release in the center of the door does not give good leverage for easy opening, but it is not heavy to close.
Rear headroom is also tall at 39.2 inches and there’s brawny shoulder room of 55.3 inches, which is just a half-inch less than those in front. The floor is flat for good three-across foot room, but there is no center seat head restraint.
The base 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder has good acceleration with eager responses from the six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is good at 22 miles per gallon city, 32 highway and 26 combined, on 87 octane. I was averaging 26 to almost 28 miles per gallon in the unforgiving, daily commute. The 18.8 gallon tank allows a reassuring cruising range of up to about 500 miles.
Even with Active Noise Cancellation through the audio system and acoustic windshield glass, the four-cylinder can sound raspy on hard acceleration. Ride quality can be “active” or even a little choppy on some road surfaces, but it settles down with the gang on board.
For towing or just more punch off the line, the 301-horsepower, direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 has 272 foot-pounds of torque — 100 more than the four-cylinder — at 4,900 rpm. It will allow towing up to 3,500 pounds (2,000 more than the four-cylinder) and has fuel economy ratings on the recommended 87 octane of 16/23 mpg with AWD or 17/24 mpg with front-drive. The V-6 gas tank gets bumped up to 20.9 gallons.
Front and rear vented disc brakes (12.6-inch vented discs front, 11.9 vented discs rear) have a steady and secure response to control the 3,777 curb weight.
Equinox is a meat-and-potatoes entree that will ride along with the family for many years.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage