Chevrolet's best-selling sport utility vehicle, the Equinox, is comfortable, attractive inside and out, and roomy without being oversized.
In fact, thanks to an accommodating sliding mechanism for the rear seats that allows them to go forward and back nearly 8 inches, the Equinox features the most rear legroom -- 39.9 inches -- in its class.
The mid-size, five-passenger, 2012 Equinox also has good safety ratings and is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports. And, unlike some competitors from foreign brands, the 2012 Equinox is available with a V-6.
No wonder, then, that sales of the Equinox are up a whopping 48.2 percent through the first eight months of 2011, to a total of 129,538.
This makes the Equinox, which is a so-called crossover SUV because its platform, ride and fuel mileage are more car-like than truck-like, General Motors' top-selling SUV by far.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $24,260 for a two-wheel drive, 2012 Equinox with 182-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Starting retail price for an all-wheel drive, 2012 Equinox is $26,010 with the same four-cylinder powerplant.
The Equinox's optional three-liter V-6 delivers 264 horsepower and boosts towing capacity to 3,500 pounds, from the four-cylinder's 1,500 pounds. Starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2012 Equinox with this V-6 and front-wheel drive is $27,280.
2012 Chevrolet Equinox FWD LTZ
- BASE PRICE: $23,450 for FWD LS; $24,970 for base, FWD LT; $25,200 for AWD LS; $26,720 for AWD LT; $29,140 for FWD LTZ.
- PRICE AS TESTED: $33,540.
- TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, mid-size sport utility vehicle.
- ENGINE: 3-liter, double overhead cam V-6.
- MILEAGE: 17 mpg (city), 24 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: NA.
- LENGTH: 187.8 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 112.5 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,777 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada.
- OPTIONS: V-6 engine $1,500; 18-inch, chrome-clad, aluminum wheels $1,000; touch navigation screen with audio inputs $795; forward collision alert and lane departure warning system $295.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $810.
Some competitors have lower starting retail prices. For example, the 2011 Honda CR-V starts at $22,705 with 180-horsepower four cylinder and two-wheel drive and is not available with a V-6.
The 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe starts at $24,035 with 175-horsepower, four cylinder and two-wheel drive and starts at $25,935 with 276-horsepower V-6.
Meanwhile, the 2012 Ford Explorer, which has grown over the years in size, has a starting MSRP of $28,995 with 290-horsepower V-6.
The Equinox's exterior is somewhere between a compact SUV and a larger mid-size. At 15.6 feet long, bumper to bumper, it's 9.3 inches shorter than a 2012 Ford Explorer, 8.5 inches longer than a Honda CR-V and 3.6 inches longer than a Santa Fe.
Note that the longer-length Explorer also has a third row of seats. The Equinox only comes with two rows for a maximum of five passengers.
But all the seats in the test 2012 Equinox LTZ were comfortable for adults. In fact, the back seat -- with ample legroom, a flat floor, reclining seatbacks and nice views out the side windows -- was truly pleasant.
I liked that the windows on the second-row doors went down completely, and the uplevel leather trim on the LTZ test Equinox made it easy to slide onto and off the seats.
Of course, two adults in the Equinox back seat using the pull-down center armrest between them is still more comfortable than three adults sitting next to each other.
The test vehicle had the double overhead cam V-6, and it moved the Equinox easily in city and highway traffic. With 222 foot-pounds of torque coming on at a high 5,100 rpm, the Equinox accelerated steadily to merge with cars on the freeway, but it was never unruly in its acceleration.
It also managed a subdued pace in neighborhoods without fuss. Steering had a mainstream feel.
With 70 percent of my driving at highway speeds, the test Equinox without all-wheel drive managed a commendable 21.4 miles per gallon. It was enough for me to check under the hood to make sure I didn't have the fuel-sipping, base four cylinder under there.
The federal government's mileage rating for my V-6-powered Equinox was 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, for a combined 20 mpg.
The base, 2.4-liter, direct injection four cylinder that is standard on every Equinox carries a government rating as high as 22/32 mpg.
But that's the engine that provides the lower towing capacity, and torque peaks at 172 foot-pounds at 4,900 rpm.
All Equinox models come with a six-speed automatic transmission, which compares with a five-speed automatic in the CR-V.
I did feel shift points at times in the Equinox, though I marveled that I heard very little engine noise, even when the Equinox was accelerating. I noticed just a bit of wind noise by the outside mirrors and some road noise came through via the optional 18-inch tires.
My passengers and I also felt vibrations from the road through to the seat cushions as we traveled on cracked and patched pavement.
My biggest complaint in the test vehicle was the fact it had only 344 miles on it and its air conditioner didn't work. On a muggy, hot day, I heard the compressor trying to do its job, but the system did nothing but blow air from outside into the Equinox without a change in temperature.
I liked the Equinox's high ride height; it helped me see over shorter-height cars and through the windows of tall vans for what was ahead. But the ride height also hampered my views out the back of the Equinox. I could not see if anything low to the ground was directly behind the vehicle as I backed up and so relied on the rearview camera to help me.
The Equinox came with plentiful standard safety equipment including front, side and curtain air bags, electronic stability control, traction control and antilock brakes.
The Equinox has good safety ratings -- five out of five stars for the driver in a frontal crash, four out of five stars for front passenger protection, plus four and five stars for occupant protection in side crash testing -- from the federal government.