Editor's note: This review was written in August 2011 about the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2012, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
With the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox's high-quality interior and great ride, it's easy to see why the compact SUV has been a runaway success, though its value diminishes as the trim level and price rises.
It's been two years since our initial review of the redesigned 2010 model. Now, a few years in, we've tested multiple Equinox trim levels against fresher competition. This time around, I drove the most-expensive trim, the LTZ, with a four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. Other trims are the LS, 1LT and 2LT.
There aren't many feature changes for the 2011 Equinox versus the 2010. For a comparison of the two model years, see here.
Winner of $29,000 SUV Shootout
The Equinox's competition has only improved since our original review, yet the Equinox took the top spot in Cars.com's $29,000 SUV Shootout against the redesigned Kia Sportage, Dodge Journey and six other SUVs. The Equinox's family-friendly features, premium interior feel and value won over our editors and the participating family. To read the full comparison, click here.
Less Is More
The lower-priced LS and LT models offer the most bang for the buck in the Equinox lineup, with great interior fit and finish, high-quality materials and an isolated experience from the road compared with crossovers in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. Plus, the Equinox's most family-friendly features aren't limited to just the LTZ.
That's great news for LS and LT models, but it contributes to the fact that the Equinox starts to lose its charm above $30,000. The four-cylinder Equinox LTZ I tested cost $33,260 with optional all-wheel drive, navigation and sunroof, excluding an $810 destination fee. At that price, its interior teeters on average compared with the quality of the similarly priced Ford Edge and Nissan Murano. Conversely, what's impressive is that the Equinox starts at $22,995 with essentially the same interior.
A front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder LTZ starts at $28,570 and includes leather seats, a power liftgate, rear parking assist, driver's seat memory and roof rails.
The Equinox's power liftgate is a handy feature that's seldom found on affordable cars. It's also available on the Equinox 2LT for $495 — especially nice given it's not uncommon to see a feature like this offered only on a model's most expensive trim level or bundled in a pricey option package. The power tailgate with remote open/close proved an invaluable convenience during a weekend trip when the liftgate was opened and closed a dozen times per day.
Another family-friendly option on the 2LT is a rear-seat entertainment system with dual screens for $1,295. There's a standard backup camera on 2LT models that doesn't require a navigation system, as many cameras do, while a rearview camera is optional on 1LT ($24,160) models for $845 in a package that also includes remote start and a powered driver's seat.
With its great highway manners, the Equinox excels on road trips. I drove more than 300 miles, round-trip, on highways with posted speed limits of 70 mph. The Equinox tracks straight and true at those speeds, rarely requiring course correction from the steering wheel. It's also quiet and comfortable at 70 mph, with a compliant ride.
As we've noted in other evaluations, the Equinox's cargo area is smaller than its large exterior suggests, which is a potential problem for road-trippers. The sliding backseat moves forward to provide the most cargo room, mitigating the problem but sacrificing backseat legroom. Doing so was the only way I was able to fit a weekend's worth of cargo for four people: four duffle bags, two slow cookers, two folding chairs, a golf bag, a large cooler, and groceries. Only with some clever packing were we able to maintain visibility through the rear window.
Under the Hood
The Equinox's wheezy 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder is an under-performer considering the LTZ's high asking price. The engine struggles to pull its freight when fully packed. My passengers commented on the straining noises that came from under the hood as the engine wound out in every gear to compensate for the additional weight.
The four-cylinder is acceptable in LS and LT models, but for $30,000-plus, in the LTZ it leaves a large performance gap compared with the Murano's and Edge's silky smooth V-6 drivetrains. A 264-hp V-6 is an additional $1,500 on Equinox 1LT, 2LT and LTZ trims for those who need extra power.
The Equinox is a Top Safety Pick at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It scored the agency's best rating, Good, in front-, rear- and side-impact crash tests, as well as in a roof-strength test.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Equinox four out of five stars overall using its revised testing procedures for 2011. In frontal and rollover tests, the Equinox received four out of five stars, and it earned five out of five stars in side crash tests.
Standard safety equipment includes front airbags, side-impact airbags mounted in the front seats, and side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers. Also standard are an electronic stability system, antilock brakes and six months of OnStar with automatic crash response. A paid subscription is required after the initial trial period.
For a complete list of standard safety features, see here.
Equinox in the Market
Buyers don't have to spend the steep $34,000 as-tested price of our LTZ to get what makes the Equinox a great crossover SUV. The Equinox's greatest attributes are just as present on less-expensive trim levels, and as the Cars.com $29,000 SUV Shootout proved, the Equinox has the right stuff to be competitive in the busy sub-$30,000 price range.
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