2006 Chevrolet Equinox Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Bigger than your average compact SUV.
The Chevy Equinox is Chevrolet's answer to the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. It's bigger than each of them (including the all-new 2006 RAV4). Equinox is big enough that its dimensions blur the line between compact and midsize sport utilities. It's nearly 14 inches longer than the Ford Escape and just three inches shorter than a Chevy TrailBlazer.
As a result, the Equinox is roomier than other compact SUVs, and has features that enhance its versatility. The back seats are mounted on tracks and slide fore and aft. Slide forward and you have more cargo space. Slide the seats rearward for more rear legroom. The rear seatbacks also recline for additional comfort. Fold the rear seats down, then fold down the front passenger seatback down, and you can load eight-foot objects inside. However, Equinox only seats five because it does not offer a hopelessly cramped third row as the new RAV4 does.
It long wheelbase gives the Equinox good stability and ride quality. Like the CR-V, RAV4, and Escape, Equinox is based on a passenger car design.
Equinox was launched as a 2005 model so there aren't any major changes for 2006. However, the 2006 models do come standard with anti-lock brakes, cruise control, and other features, which wasn't the case last year. Also, interior changes have been made for 2006 to improve the appearance and function of the cabin. Our biggest complaints with the 2005 models had to do with interior materials.
The 2006 Chevy Equinox comes in two trim levels, the basic LS and the better-appointed LT. Both are available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Equinox comes standard with a 3.4-liter V6 and five-speed automatic transmission. The 2006 Equinox LS packs more standard equipment than last year, and the LT level has been split into two sub-levels called LT1 and LT2.
Equinox LS FWD ($21,755) and AWD ($23,505) come with air conditioning; cruise control; cloth upholstery; a fold-flat front passenger seat; a Multi-Flex 60/40 split rear bench seat that folds, slides, and reclines; six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio; and power windows, mirrors, and locks with remote keyless entry. Bumpers are body-color for 2006. LS FWD comes standard with traction control.
LT1 FWD ($23,050) and AWD ($24,675) add fog lights, carpeted floor mats, deep tinted glass, and 16-inch aluminum wheels. Mirrors, door handles, and roof-rack side rails are body-color rather than charcoal or black. Sound system options expand considerably at the LT1 level, and include a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 unit with RDS ($135); a similar unit incorporating a six-CD changer ($395); and digital audio with XM Satellite Radio ($325). Also available: a tilt-and-slide sunroof ($595) and luggage rack cross-bars ($95).
LT2 FWD ($24,180) and AWD ($25,805) add an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with an eight-point compass and outside temperature display, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. In addition to the LT1 options, LT2 buyers can choose leather seating (at no cost), heated seats ($250) with cloth or leather, and a Pioneer seven-speaker sound system with amplifier and subwoofer ($295).
Options for all models include a towing package ($350), engine-block heater ($35), and OnStar.
Safety features include anti-lock brakes, now standard on all models. Side-impact and head-curtain airbags are optional ($395) offering torso protection and head protection in the event of a side impact or rollover. OnStar is an excellent safety feature as its operators will dispatch rescue crews to the scene should your airbags deploy and you fail to respond to their calls.
The Chevrolet Equinox looks the part of a Chevy truck from the front, with its requisite single-bar grille sporting a large gold Chevrolet bow-tie emblem. But its side-view shape is quite a bit different from the rest of the family, and we like it.
The roof pillars and the sheetmetal above the windows but below the roof seem to be extra-thick, imparting a feeling of extra solidity and strength, important for a truck made on a car platform. When you shut the doors, the sound is more like a the muted mating of plastic than the hollow clang of sheetmetal. It's a sound that no other Chevrolet truck makes.
The Equinox look solidly planted on its wheels. Its bigger size is evident everywhere. The doors open wide for easy entry and exit, and the rear gate goes up and out of the way, allowing you to stand fully upright for easy loading of groceries, camping equipment, dogs.
Equinox is based on a car-type platform, with unit-body construction rather than body on frame for better ride and handling.
Inside, where the people live, work and ride, is where the Chevy Equinox shines when compared to some of its competitors. Up front, Equinox carries flexible net storage pockets on both sides of the center tunnel. The center console/armrest has a small storage cubby and a coin holder for toll money. Dual cupholders pop out of the end of it, but they're flimsy and get in the way of the handbrake. The armrest flips up, providing better access to an open floor console that's a perfect place for a purse, briefcase or tote bag. The floor-mounted cupholder works well, while slots farther to the rear holds CDs angled forward for easy selection.
The Equinox cabin is a clean and functional design, with low-gloss nickel-plate trim on the console and control panel, a scheme that matched well with the light gray of our test Equinox LT2's leather upholstery. Improvements for '06 include new knobs for climate control (and a claim of improved performance), and better integration of the passenger-side airbag cover. Down on the console, the T-handle shifter on the '05 models has given way to a more conventional shift lever for '06. Seat heaters are now available with cloth as well as leather seats, and the seat-heating controls of been re-located to the instrument panel.
The rear seat rides on a track that allows it to slide back and forth by up to eight inches, to bring kids or briefcases closer to the front, or to provide extra legroom for tall second-row passengers. With both front and rear seats in the full rearward positions, there's more rear-passenger legroom in the Equinox than you'll found in many larger SUVs: a full 42 inches. And behind the seat there's still plenty of room for your stuff. GM calls this innovative feature the Multi-Flex rear seat. Rear passengers also enjoy a 12-volt power outlet and dual slide-out cupholders. Rear head restraints have been down-sized slightly for '06, improving rearward visibility for the driver.
GM's designers have used the space above the wheel wells to a handy cargo storage system. A lightweight reversible panel slides into slots on the Equinox's wheel wells at three different heights. Carpeted on one side and plastic on the other, the panel can serve as shelf, cargo cover or even a picnic or tailgating table. The tops of the wheel wells contain storage bins for small items. And there are several tie-downs and hooks on the panel from which to hang grocery bags. However, this system is being eliminated during the 2006 model year to increase cargo capacity.
XM Satellite Radio is a great feature when traveling cross country because the stations don't change. It's nice to have around town for listening to music, 24-hour news broadcasts (Fox, CNN), sports (NASCAR), talk radio, and comedy.
Equinox doesn't offer a navigation system, but OnStar can can help and doesn't even need to be programmed. Simply press the blue button and a human operator responds, to provide directions and other assistance. OnStar always knows the location of your vehicle. The operators will notify authorities of your location if your airbag goes off and you do not respond to their calls. Or you can press the emergency button and they'll send out the troops. They can unlock your doors if you lock your keys inside. They can direct you to the nearest gas station or help find a good restaurant or motel. If your vehicle is stolen, OnStar can pinpoint its location and direct the authorities to apprehend and recover.
The Chevy Equinox is among the few compact sport utilities that offers a V6 engine. It delivers good acceleration and it's smooth enough. EPA fuel economy estimates are 19/24 mpg city/highway for front-drive models and 18/23 for the AWD version. The 3.4-liter V6 is an old overhead-valve design that lacks modern features such as variable valve timing and variable-length intake runners. So it feels strained when pushed at high rpm. It delivers 185 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque.
The V6 engine is aided considerably by the five-speed automatic transmission. Chevrolet says the Equinox can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, which should be adequate performance for most families. And while it may not excel at acceleration, Equinox is rated to pull a 3500-pound trailer.
Its long wheelbase and 3600-pound heft give the Equinox a decent ride, making it a suitable companion for long trips. Its handling is responsive and it's easy to modulate the brakes for smooth stops.
The Equinox has good road feel in highway driving, yet the driver may notice that steering effort is very low at low speeds for easier maneuvering in tight parking lots. The steering ratio is variable, and the Equinox uses electric, rather than hydraulic, power steering. An electronic control unit programmed for a variety of performance characteristics regulates an electric motor mounted adjacent to the steering column, providing the right amount of assist for a given driving situation. We don't think the average driver will feel the difference between this system and more conventional hydraulics, and that's a good thing. Unlike a hydraulic servo, the electric booster doesn't use engine power, resulting in slightly better fuel economy.
In AWD guise, Equinox still sends power to the front wheels in dry-road conditions, automatically transferring power to the rear wheels only if the front wheels slip. The system is designed primarily for improved wet-pavement performance but is rugged enough for some light off-road duty.
The Chevy Equinox is larger than other compact SUVs. Its flexible interior design provides room for full-size people and their gear, featuring a sliding second-row seat. It comes standard with a V6 and offers a good value.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in the Detroit area.
Chevrolet Equinox LS FWD ($21,755); LS AWD ($23,505); LT1 FWD ($23,050) LT1 AWD ($24,675); LT2 FWD ($24,180); LT2 AWD ($25,805).
Options As Tested
leather seating surfaces (NC); heated front seats ($250); sunroof ($595); 6-CD changer ($395); 7-speaker Pioneer premium sound system w/subwoofer and amp ($295); XM Satellite Radio ($325) includes 3-month trial subscription; OnStar ($695); towing package ($350).
Chevrolet Equinox LT2 FWD ($24,180).
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