2005 Chevrolet Equinox Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

John Pearley Huffman John Pearley Huffman Editor
July 19, 2004




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With Pontiac’s Solstice on the way, it was inevitable that GM would name another vehicle after that namesake celestial event’s opposite. Well, here it is, the Chevy Equinox. Should a Solstice and Equinox collide some time in the future, don’t be surprised if they cancel one other out and both simply vanish like matter meeting anti-matter.

Dear God, let’s just hope the planet can withstand such a catastrophe.

Right size?

In its vehicular mission the Equinox really is nearly the opposite of a Solstice. Instead of being a swoopy two-seat roadster, the Equinox is instead a five-seat SUV-like thing that replaces the already-forgotten Tracker in Chevrolet’s lineup. And as far as SUV-like things go, this one is particularly handsome with a pronounced wedge to its profile and clearly sculpted flanks that evince a slightly Battlestar Galactica/Cylon helmet sort of vibe.

Based on the same platform as the Saturn VUE, the Equinox somehow manages to pioneer yet another micro-niche within the SUVish mega-market. It’s actually a itsy-bitsy bit longer than a Honda Pilot, but narrower and squatter. Compared to the VUE it’s a significant 7.5 inches longer, 0.5 inches taller and a scant 0.1 inches narrower. But the big change is the Equinox’s generous 112.5-inch wheelbase that results in a significantly roomier and more accommodating cabin than the 106.6-inch wheelbase VUE. Let’s not be stingy in praise here: the Equinox is amazingly roomy for passengers and can swallow massive chunks of home supplies smaller SUVs like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Kia Sorento would have to leave on the curb in front of Home Depot.

Built around a front-wheel drive powertrain and car-like unibody, the Equinox has a completely flat floor that’s also relatively low and that combines to only amplify the feeling of spaciousness. But the most impressive element of the interior’s accommodations is the vast amount of rear seat leg and hip room. Because the wheelbase is so long the rear seat is well back of the front seats and the wheel wells don’t intrude on the rear seat’s width because they’re actually behind it.

In fact the rear seat has so much room that it can actually maneuver back there. Chevy has put the rear seat on sliding tracks so that it moves forward and back up across an eight-inch range. The far forward position is fine if your kids are in forward-facing car seats and they’re a bit stubby of stature and you need to carry a lot of cargo. Throw the seat all the way back and you could spread out sand and hold a beach volleyball tournament back there. Beyond that the rear doors are long and open wide making access easy. Hey, bolt in a cargo cage in back and the Equinox would make a much better New York Citytaxicab than the ubiquitous Crown Vic.

The rear seat’s back will also fold forward in a 60/40 split and right front passenger seat will fold flat into a table as well. So if you’re hauling a long, narrow cargo (say ceiling beams for a new barn) they can insert diagonally into the cockpit and be up to about ten feet long – and you could still haul a passenger in the rear along with yourself driving. It’s so remarkable we decided to remark upon it.

There is however not a particularly large amount of cargo room behind the rear seats when they’re up. While 69 cubic feet is enough to be useful, it’s the same as in the smaller Ford Escape. The Escape, however, is nowhere close to the Equinox as far as seating and cargo flexibility goes. For instance, Chevy uses the rear suspension spring towers as supports for a two-tier shelving system. There’s a plastic tray that either sits in the floor or can be raised into defined positions along the tower to form a second level of storage. It’s a neat idea that’s gracefully executed.

Thankfully Chevy hasn’t mucked up the Equinox by trying to cram in a sure-to-be-compromised third row of seats – and fighting that temptation must have absolutely agonizing for them.

The Equinox isn’t just the right size, it’s virtually impossible to conceive of a better size.

Powerful enough?

The sole engine for the Equinox is the 3.4-liter version of GM’s 60-degree pushrod V-6. This undistinguished engine traces its heritage back to the debut of the infamous X-cars back in 1980. Now assembled in China(where it’s used to power the Buick’s GM builds there) the 3.4 isn’t particularly smooth and, at 185 horsepower, not particularly powerful. But it’s absolutely perfectly matched to the Japanese-made five-speed automatic transaxle to which it’s mated. The drivetrain is unobtrusive, adequately powerful around town, and relaxed during cruises. It’s also thoroughly unexciting.

Both front- and all-wheel drive are offered. Out test Equinox was a front drive LT model and we didn’t miss the part-time all-wheel drive system or its extra 97 pounds of weight at all. Skipping the all-wheel drive also saves somewhere between $1600 and $2000 depending on other option packages. And when the Equinox is equipped with the optional 17-inch wheels and P235/60R-17 Bridgestone tires (as ours was) it’s tall enough and looks butch enough to drive to an NRA meeting.

Rides well?

There’s nothing thrilling about the way the Equinox responds. The steering is well weighted but relatively numb and uncommunicative. The front MacPherson struts and rear independent four-link suspension soak up bumps while maintaining the vehicle’s dignity, but the cornering limits are rather low and the tires howl if you ask the Equinox to behave like a sports car. So don’t do that.

Compared to larger, full-frame SUVs however, the Equinox is a veritable go-kart. It careens where truck-based SUVs lumber and pokes through holes in traffic that, if a Tahoe tried to fill it, would result in a major pile-up and years of insurance hassles. It may be slightly longer than a Honda Pilot, but it’s not that long or that wide.

What’s wrong?

2005 Chevrolet Equinox

2005 Chevrolet Equinox

Chevy is pricing the Equinox aggressively and that economizing shows up, where it often does in GM vehicles, in the quality of materials used.

Yes, the interior is spectacularly roomy and wonderfully flexible, but it’s also trimmed in plastic that is so cheesy it practically qualifies as a dairy product. The switches operate indistinctly, the seats are flat and unsupportive and the instrumentation seems hokey. The transmission’s shifter sits in pod hanging below the dash center, but the detents aren’t distinct and they aren’t marked alongside it – instead lights above it indicate gear position and are reading them seems weirdly counter-intuitive. Finally the A-pillars are thick and obtrusive so that the driver is often looking a gray mass of plastic rather than traffic on the periphery.

The crumminess of the interior was made even more readily apparent in our test vehicle by one of the dash panels that was warped and lifting at its edge. That’s just inexcusable.

So dang close

In virtually every way except the materials used to construct its interior, what Chevy has in the Equinox is a breakthrough; a crossover vehicle that clearly mixes the best of both its truck-like proportions and car-like construction in exactly the right size machine.

It’s an encouraging machine in so many ways for Chevrolet, and so fundamentally sensible for the way people live, that you almost take a rooting interest in it. You really want to overlook its shortcomings and there haven’t been a lot of Chevrolets lately that have engendered that sort of affection.

2005 Chevrolet Equinox LT
Base price: $22,710 ($26,250 as tested)
Engine: 3.4-liter V-6, 185 hp
Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 188.8 x 71.4 x 67.0 in
Wheelbase: 112.5 in
Curb weight: 3660 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 19/25 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, daytime running lights, automatic door locks
Major standard equipment: AM/FM/CD player, anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, remote keyless entry, traction control, cruise control, power windows, power mirrors, 60/40 split and sliding rear seat
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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