Editor's note: This review was written in January 2013 about the 2013 Chevrolet Equinox. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2014, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2013 Chevrolet Equinox is a capable crossover with a sliding backseat that can flex and grow with your family, draping occupants in an interior that's more luxurious and spacious-feeling than many of its competitors.
When climbing in for the first time, my 10-year-old daughter exclaimed, "Mom, this is the coolest car ever! Can we pretty please keep it?"
Shoppers can choose between front- and all-wheel drive in any of the Equinox trim levels, which include LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ (see all-wheel-drive versions side-by-side here). I drove the well-equipped all-wheel-drive LTZ with a new 3.6-liter V-6 engine, plus optional MyLink radio with navigation.
The 2013 version hasn't changed much since the past model year, the only major change being the addition of that available 3.6-liter V-6 engine, a step up from the entry-level 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. See the 2012 and 2013 models compared side by side here. If you're in the market for something like the Equinox, you may also want to check out the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage. See them all side by side here.
The Equinox is one of the few vehicles out there that appeals aesthetically to everyone in my family — or at least wasn't overtly offensive to either my husband or to me. It manages to look upbeat and sporty without feeling testosterone-laden. It has smoothed-out lines without being too feminine or curvaceous. It meets a nice, modern, androgynous middle ground.
The Equinox is low enough to the ground that all three of my children, ages 8, 10 and 12, could climb in and out fairly easily. It has a ground clearance of 6.9 inches. The Subaru Outback has a relatively high 8.7 inches of ground clearance even though its roofline is slightly shorter overall than the Equinox.
I only wished for larger doors in the Equinox. With the backseat moved all the way back, I would have loved a wider door opening, offering a roomier entrance into the backseat.
The Equinox's designers must be parents themselves, because there's a nook and cranny to store anything and everything you might need in a day. Eighteen compartments come standard, according to Chevrolet. In addition to the usual two cupholders up front, the Equinox also gave me an extra open storage area just behind the gearshift that fit my phone perfectly. The center console was incredibly deep, enough to accommodate my laptop, but its narrow size makes it ineffective for an average-sized purse. Pockets in each of the four doors are quite shallow, making them less effective. I stashed my favorite travel coffee mug in one of them, and upon opening the driver's-side door it went flying across the library parking lot, lodging itself under another car's nasty, dirty, slushy car tire. Gross!
The real showstopper in the Equinox is its 60/40-split sliding backseat (it moves back and forth up to 8 inches), which can prove quite useful for a growing family. You can slide one or both sides to make room for a gargantuan rear-facing child-safety seat, then slide it forward once your child switches into a forward-facing seat — just in case you need to reach back and hand off a sippy cup or two. Once the kids are in school you can slide the seat all the way back to make room for growing legs and growing backpacks. Pushed all the way back, the Equinox offers 39.9 inches of legroom, more than the Honda CR-V's 38.3 inches, the Kia Sportage's 37.9 inches and the Ford Escape's 36.8 inches of rear legroom.
The sliding second row also benefits the adults up front. My husband, at 6 feet, 2 inches, was able to slide his seat all the way back without fear of pinching and trapping the kids' legs behind him.
The backseat also reclines, which makes finding a perfect fit for child and booster seats of any shape and size easy. It's especially useful for youngsters in booster seats who still nap in the car. You can recline the seat to three different positions to find the right angle to take the edge off and keep your children from dangerously slumping over their seat belts when sleeping.
While the Equinox's 63.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo space comes in toward the bottom of its pack of competitors, it still has more than enough room for all the paper towels and toilet paper you might purchase at the warehouse store. In comparison, the CR-V has 70.9, the Escape has 67.8 and the Sportage brings up the rear with 54.6 cubic feet of cargo space. The Equinox's programmable-height power liftgate is optional on the 2LT and standard on the LTZ I drove. With only so many hands to juggle kids, backpacks, my purse, groceries, science projects, sleds and more, this is becoming a feature I refuse to live without.
The Equinox excels in the arena of interior fit and finish, as the entire vehicle feels much more luxurious than others in its price range. You feel it in the two-tone leather upholstery with red contrast stitching that's standard on the LTZ trim (it's an $800 option on the 2LT). You'll also feel it in the hard plastic surfaces of the dash, which somehow manage to look and feel less cheap and chintzy than most. Some power adjustment, including height and lumbar, is standard on all trim levels. The LTZ adds more power adjustability and seat-position memory, and power for the front passenger seat, as well. This is something I really appreciate in a family setting. My husband and I are often in the car together for the weekend, and the ability to adjust both the driver's seat and passenger's seat for maximum comfort feels like a real luxury.
You'll feel even better about spending time in the Equinox's driver's seat thanks to the large sun visors that protect against too many damaging side sun rays. They slide out on a hinge for additional coverage.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great - Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
BEHIND THE WHEEL
The new 3.6-liter V-6 engine, an upgrade to last year's 3.0-liter engine, should have been in this car all along, as it feels appropriately powered. However, it sometimes seems to revert back to more stereotypical Chevrolet SUV/truck roots, as a Neanderthal-sounding groan sounds when trying to coax the Equinox up to speed on the highway. This loud engine noise is further exacerbated when urging the Equinox uphill.
The Equinox's ride quality is pleasant; it manages to feel well-connected to the road, yet it's soft enough to appeal to the average daily driver. There's also less body roll in the corners than I had anticipated. It could definitely use some refinement in areas such as braking feel and engine noise, but with such a quality interior I was willing to overlook a bit more than I might in other cars.
The all-wheel-drive, 3.6-liter Equinox I drove gets an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg city/highway. The four-cylinder ups those numbers to 20/29 mpg. Choosing front-wheel drive increases combined mileage by 1 mpg for the V-6 and 3 mpg for the four-cylinder. There's no change in mileage for the new V-6 versus the old one, despite its greater power.
The 2013 Equinox is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick, having received the institute's top rating, Good, in frontal, side and rear crash tests and a roof strength test. The 2013 Equinox also received four out of five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with four stars in the front crash test, five for side crashes and four stars for rollover resistance.
As is required of all new models since the 2012 model year, the Equinox has standard antilock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control. There are six standard airbags in the Equinox: driver and front-passenger front airbags and side-impact airbags, plus side curtain airbags that extend to protect both the front and back rows.
Families installing child safety seats will be thanking Chevrolet left, right and center for their incredibly accessible and easy-to-use Latch system. The lower anchors are out in the open and visible between the seat bottom and back. Child seats installed using Latch — whether with a rigid or a flexible connector — will be easy to install thanks to the open lower anchors and the ability to recline the seatback.
Kids in booster seats may be slightly less enthused with the flimsy seat belt buckles, which can be tricky for small hands to maneuver into position without assistance.
The Equinox has a standard backup camera on the three upper trim levels. My test car also came equipped with backup sensors that alerted me with an audible tone if something was behind me. This is an increasingly important feature, especially for families who face the potential of young children, pets and toys inadvertently being behind the vehicle.
GM's OnStar system is another fantastic safety feature for busy families on the go, and the Equinox comes equipped with a six-month trial.
See all the standard safety features listed here.