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With handling and fuel economy that are about on par with a mid-size sedan, plus a taller body that brings more space and versatility, the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox takes on the likes of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. And as one of the roomier compact crossover utility vehicles, it remains a compelling choice for those who need an affordable, comfortable, and well-equipped vehicle that's good for family duty.
The Equinox got a much-needed redesign just two years ago. The previous effort, under the same model name, had been half-baked, to be kind, but the current model has top-notch looks, performance and features. Its styling grew crisper and sportier than its predecessor, with better proportions as well as many of the cues of the 'new' Chevrolet. Inside, the cabin has lots of dramatic shapes and a central control panel, with vents flanking the radio and climate controls, that started with Cadillac and has more recently filtered down to Chevy models like the Cruze and Sonic.
You can get a 3.0-liter V-6 in the 2012 Equinox, but we really think you'll be better off with the much more fuel-efficient (and lower-cost) four-cylinder engine. With 182 horsepower, the 2.4-liter four idles smoothly, albeit with a somewhat clattery direct-injection sound, and one underway it's agreeable and unobtrusive. If you put your foot into it and let the revs rise--which the six-speed automatic handles well--it feels perky enough. And, most importantly, it gets a stellar 32-mpg EPA highway rating. The V-6 would be the choice if you occasionally need to tow a small trailer or often drive with a fully loaded vehicle, but it's much thirstier. About the only thing we'd like to change about the driving experience is the numb feel of the electric power steering, which seems to require a lot of adjustments on center in highway cruising.
Whether you're moving into the Equinox from a mid-size car or from a more trucklike SUV, you'll find a lot to like in the cabin design. The driving position is excellent--upright yet carlike--and the seats are better and more supportive than those in a lot of small crossovers. The cross-stitched dual-tone perforated leather you get in top LTZ models feels quite luxurious. In back, there's adult-size space, with good headroom and reasonably good (for the class) legroom), and seatbacks are adjustable for rake. There's plenty of space for stuff, too, with a retractable cargo cover, stretchy net, and two deep cargo wells in back, and the center console well is very deep.
Crash test scores for the Equinox have allowed plenty to brag about; it's been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and it's earned top four- and five-star results from the federal government. To us, the biggest flaw in the Equinox is its truly appalling rear three-quarter vision—somehow worse even than many vehicles in this class that appear to have higher beltlines. Thankfully, a rear-view camera system is standard on the LT and LTZ models, while all models now (new for 2012) get blind-spot mirrors. Also, lane departure warning and forward collision alert are newly available for 2012--though they're only offered with the V-6 LTZ.
The 2012 Chevrolet Equinox matches most of its rivals in terms of standard equipment, but it beats them in well-optioned form. Air conditioning, an AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary input jack, cruise control, power windows/locks/mirrors, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel are all features included in the base LS. A rear-seat entertainment system, a navigation system, leather seating, heated seats, Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio/phone controls, a sunroof, a rearview camera, and remote start are options. On some models, the cargo hatch is powered and can be easily programmed to different opening heights (helping prevent the hatch from opening into a garage door or other structure).
Most models include a touch-screen audio system this year, and Chevrolet is also phasing in its voice-activated, touch-screen-based MyLink Connectivity system--for easier connectivity for hands-free calling or media access--as an option, so earlier in the model year vehicles with this might be a little harder to find.