Chevrolet didn't exactly invent this category, but the Equinox represents a new level of refinement, style and overall performance that sets it apart from its segment peers.
The Equinox has been a major bright spot for General Motors and Chevrolet ever since its reorganization a few years back and it's no mystery why. Clever touches abound in the design, like the integrated rocker panels in the doors that reduce entry step-over height. (They also help keep pant legs from brushing up against the vehicle's lower body area.) But the most significant aspect of the Equinox's styling is that it displays a rugged sport-utility-vehicle boldness shared with Chevy's larger Traverse and still-larger Tahoe. You won't find that in the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, or most others in the segment. No, the Equinox looks as though it could leap over tall boulders and ford waist-deep streams. It's an illusion, of course, but it hasn't hurt sales one bit in an age where projecting that sort of image borders on political incorrectness.
It isn't until you step inside that that image gives way to reality, but in a very good way. The car-like interior is simply gorgeous and highly practical. It has dual gloveboxes, easy-to-read twin gauges set in large pods and plenty of handy storage bins. There's also a versatile split folding rear seat that can be adjusted fore and aft over an eight-inch range to optimize legroom or cargo capacity.
So the Equinox isn't a giant-killer in the off-road sense, but at least it can now boogie down the road with more authority, thanks to a new-for-2013 3.6-liter V6 option that generates 301 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque. It replaces last year's 3.0-liter V6 that only mustered 264 horses and 222 pound-feet of torque.
Virtually unchanged for 2013 is a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's worth 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque.
Both powerplants are connected to six-speed automatic transmissions, although the four-cylinder comes with an Eco mode that limits the maximum revs in each gear so that it all operates more economically.
Front-wheel-drive is standard, but all-wheel-drive is available on either the 2.4 or 3.6.
With a rating of 22 mpg city and 32 highway (20/29 for AWD models), the 2.4 is the economy champ in the lineup. However the very efficient V6 earns the same 17 mpg city/24 highway (16/23 AWD) numbers as the previous 3.0. The choice is yours, of course, but if lugging around a full load of people and cargo and towing up to 3,500 pounds of trailer is part of your lifestyle, the V6 would appear to be more of a requirement than an option.
A wide assortment of standard equipment (air conditioning, cruise control, keyless remote entry and power windows/locks/mirrors, etc.) comes in the base LS, as does a new seven-inch touch screen to work the standard audio system. The 1LT gets you premium cloth seats and a rear-vision camera, while the 2LT adds a power driver's seat and an up-level audio package. The LTZ loads up with climate control, heated leather seats and a power liftgate. There are also a couple of a added highway safety systems for the LTZ that let you know if another vehicle is closing in on either side of you, or if you start to close in too quickly on the vehicle traveling in front.
Standard this year in all but the base LS is MyLink, which is a combination voice-activation/touch-screen system that operates the various audio options, hands-free smart-phone communications and navigation functions.
Being fashionably rugged, impressively more powerful and technologically up-to-date is what the Equinox is all about. And with a starting price of $24,400, the financial part of equation alone should make this Chevy a strong candidate to fill your transportation needs.
What you should know: 2013 Chevrolet Equinox
Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive mid-size tall wagon.
Engines (hp): 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (182); 3.6-liter DOHC V6 (301)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: Smaller and more affordable wagons such as the Equinox are increasingly being sought out by buyers seeking more fuel-efficient models or downsizing from larger, more traditional sport utility vehicles.
Points: Styling still looks good heading into its fourth model year; Base four-cylinder only average now for fuel economy; power; Upgraded V6 option better for all-around use, AWD versions; Sliding rear seat adds versatility; Lots of newly available safety features on tap; Equinox a mid-size model that looks and acts like a larger wagon.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 22/32 (2.4, FWD)
Base price (incl. destination) $24,400
Base price: $23,800
High-quality wagon with a gutsy turbo I4 engine and precise handling qualities.
Base price: $23,400
A junior-sized Murano with sharp looks and lots of interior room for five.
Base price: $26,600
Shares the same platform and engines as Equinox, but has a different look.