2012 Chevrolet Equinox Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 17, 2012

A versatile layout, impressive performance, good ride comfort, and reasonable pricing all add up to make the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox a strong value—and a good pick for small families.

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.

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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.

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2012 Chevrolet Equinox

Styling

The 2012 Chevrolet Equinox is both unmistakable as a Chevy and uncontroversially good-looking.

Just two years ago, the Equinox got a much-needed redesign, with the resulting look far crisper and sportier-looking. With nicely done proportions and carefully chosen details that fit in more closely the rest of the Chevy car lineup, the Equinox in itself looks more like a sort of like a scaled-down version of the Chevrolet Traverse now.

On the outside, we appreciate the Equinox's sharper details at the front and rear, combined with a softened look in between. The spacing of the headlights next to the grille help it look more like a tall station wagon than before--not at all a bad thing--while the edgy details over a rounded tail is a refreshing departure from the edgy, swept-up look that's become so common.

The cabin design has plenty of dramatic shapes that at first glance might seem a little overt for Chevy. But it all fits in well with the exterior. And the instrument-panel center stack comes strikingly close to that of the Cadillac SRX—with vents flanking the radio and climate controls. The new direction has now also filtered down to models like the Cruze and Sonic.

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2012 Chevrolet Equinox

Performance

Don't count on much driving excitement, but the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox performs adequately or better in every way.

A couple of years ago Chevrolet installed completely new powertrains into the Equinox—including a more responsive V-6 and more economical four-cylinder base engine, both with six-speed automatics—and these powertrains still stand out as among the most advanced in the class.

The Equinox family's trump card remains its base 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which has direct injection in addition to variable valve timing. Besides being a more modern design than some rival engines, it gets a stellar 32-mpg EPA highway rating. It performs pretty well, too, although there's a fair amount of clattery direct-injection sounds when idling. The more powerful 3.0-liter, 264-hp V-6 engine is smoother and more responsive, but much thirstier. Nevertheless, the V-6 should be the choice if you occasionally need to tow a small trailer or often drive with a fully loaded vehicle. Chevy claims that 0-60 mph comes up in under 9 seconds for the four-cylinder and under 8 seconds for the V-6.

The six-speed automatic transmission that's installed across the model line does a good job of combining a low first gear, for quick takeoff, with taller cogs for the upper gears for keeping revs down on the highway (and fuel economy up). With either version, shifts can be rough, though and the transmission can feel hesitant on hills or on-off throttle situations. Manual shifts can be made not though steering wheel paddle shifters or a separate gate, but through little plus or minus toggle buttons on the side of the shift knob.

About the only thing we'd really 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. Otherwise, as we've found on many other recent GM models, brakes are excellent.

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2012 Chevrolet Equinox

Comfort & Quality

Practicality and comfort are right on the money for family use, though there are signs of some cost-cutting if you're a stickler for detail.

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. And in back, there's adult-size space, with good headroom and reasonably good (for the class) legroom), and seatbacks are adjustable for rake.

The four-cylinder versions' noise cancellation system is one piece of clever engineering that gives these models a smoother, quieter feel without adding even more noise insulation. It works like noise cancellation headphones and helps eliminate coarse sounds and even mild vibrations. Door openings with triple seals and glass with integral sound damping further quiet things down inside, helping create a driving experience that feels more Cadillac-like than bargain-basement.

Overall, the Equinox would make a great highway vehicle for a small family; the ride feels more settled, less pitchy than some other compact to mid-size crossovers. And for vacations or daily duty, there's plenty of space for stuff; the in back the Equinox includes a retractable cargo cover, stretchy net, and two deep cargo wells, and the center console well is very deep. One other criticism is that the cargo floor of the Equinox is a bit higher than you might expect.

While we have few complaints about the Equinox interior, and it's mostly handsome and tightly constructed, we're not so fond of the base "premium cloth" seating. There are also a few surprising details that break from the higher-quality ambiance in front, like some thin trim pieces, and the small latch for the big storage bin up top, which you have in view all the time, done in thin, jagged plastichrome.

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2012 Chevrolet Equinox

Safety

The 2012 Chevrolet Equinox has structural protection to give you peace of mind; but outward visibility can be a serious issue.

The Chevrolet Equinox has a great safety record--and a pretty impressive roster of safety features. In addition to head-curtain side airbags and pelvic/thorax seat-mounted side airbags, the Equinox comes with standard four-wheel disc brakes, StabiliTrak electronic stability control, and GM's OnStar emergency and concierge services.

Crash-test results for the Equinox have been good. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests, the Equinox achieved top 'good' test scores in all categories—culminating in another Top Safety Pick Award for 2012. And in the federal government's all-new crash-test and ratings system, the 2011 Equinox earned four stars overall, with a four-star score in frontal impact and five stars in the side test. In addition, it achieved top five-star results in NHTSA's tough new side-pole test--which says good things about the protection provided by its body structure.

Visibility is our main criticism regarding the Equinox's safety. Its rear three-quarter vision—where you look when backing up, or to change lanes to pass—is truly appalling, and somehow worse even than many vehicles in this class that appear from the outside to have higher beltlines. Large blind-spot mirrors (a new standard feature) help work around that, although the rear-seat headrests don't remove or fold down to open up vision in the rear-view mirror. Thankfully, all models from the LT on up have a reversing camera fitted as standard.

One other feature that might help avoid accidents are the new lane departure warning and forward collision warning alert systems that are optional. Unfortunately, they're available only on LTZ models with the V-6, however.

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2012 Chevrolet Equinox

Features

The Chevrolet Equinox was already one of the better-equipped vehicles in its class, and with upgraded connectivity it gets even better for 2012.

The Chevrolet Equinox already came with a set of features that matched or exceeded what other models in this class offer; but Chevy has sweetened the feature set even more for 2012. Most models now include a touch-screen audio system with USB port, 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. The MyLink package includes smartphone connectivity, integrated Pandora and Stitcher app compatibility, and hands-free controls

Standard equipment even on base Equinox LS models includes 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. 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 the LS.

Moving up the model hierarchy, the Equinox LT is nicely—if not lavishly—equipped, with 17-inch aluminum wheels, remote keyless entry and remote starting, an anti-theft system, and one year of OnStar service free. It now also includes Bluetooth, a USB interface, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls. For 2011, the 2LT model now also adds heated cloth seats,

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).

A seven-inch color touch-screen navigation system with SD-card-based map data is newly available on 2LT and LTZ models.

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2012 Chevrolet Equinox

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Chevrolet Equinox has impressive fuel economy ratings in four-cylinder form, but the V-6 is much thirstier.

The 2012 Chevrolet Equinox gets impressive fuel economy, provided you don't step up to the V-6 model.

With its 22 mpg city, 32 highway ratings for the base four-cylinder model with front-wheel drive, the Equinox is among the most frugal vehicles in this class, and the highway figure is better that a Ford Escape Hybrid, even. Stepping up to AWD, mileage drops to 20/29, still good for a comfortably sized crossover. All four-cylinder models now come with an 'Eco' button which, when engaged, causes accessories like the air conditioning compressor to be a little more conservative, has the torque converter lock up a little earlier, and makes the transmission a little more reluctant to downshift.

With the V-6, fuel economy rates a less impressive 16/22 mpg with all-wheel drive, or 17/24 with front-wheel drive.

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September 16, 2015
For 2012 Chevrolet Equinox

Family car with great features!

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My husband bought this car used for me after we had our son. We needed more space for groceries, strollers and other things. Design is great! I love the layout of the interior. We have the 1LT with custom... + More »
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May 30, 2015
2012 Chevrolet Equinox FWD 4-Door LTZ

Very practical and reliable vehicle.

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This vehicle was my first venture into the world of compact SUVs and I have not been disappointed. At 47,000 miles, it has been totally reliable. The V6 provides reasonable performance and economy. The car is... + More »
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Styling 8.0
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Comfort & Quality 8.0
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