Two things. That’s all it took. In 2011, we got behind the wheel of Chevrolet’s bread-and-butter crossover and one of their best-selling vehicles: the Equinox. As it was equipped, it was comfortable, quiet, spacious and well made but it was also something a lot more undesired: slow. Motivated by a 2.4 liter Ecotec inline four cylinder, the rather heavy midsize SUV was unable to spin its tires and hustle up a freeway on ramp with ease. It was by no means rough or deadly; there simply wasn’t enough gusto for it to be truly competitive. A remedy for the 2011’s problem could easily be had and it is a rather obvious one. All it took to make a real difference in the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox was two simple things: cylinders.
Like the crossover we tested last year, the 2012 Equinox rides on General Motors’ Theta midsize crossover platform. Currently in its second generation, the Chevy shares all its innards with the GMC Terrain and part of them with the Cadillac SRX and controversial Saab 9-4X. Just as it was in 2011, the current Equinox is a front wheel drive based unibody vehicle with optional all wheel drive. A fully independent suspension shows its face rather than a torsion beamed rear end and a 112.5 inch wheelbase ensures plenty of interior space to be had. Currently, there are four different trim levels for the Chevy and just like last year’s tester, our 2012 model started life as a next-to-the top 2LT. Carrying with it a base MSRP of $26,870, the present day Equinox is slightly more expensive than the 2011 edition but the standard features are basically the same and rather gracious. Included is a tire pressure monitor, heated power front seats, satellite radio, leather wrapped steering wheel, bluetooth phone pairing, OnStar, and a new, seven inch touch screen media display. Added to our Mocha Steel Metallic test car were a handsome set $1,000 18 inch wheels, $800 perforated leather seats and the reason for it all to matter: the $1,500 3.0 liter V6 engine. Total MSRP with destination charge came out to be $30,980 or less than a grand more than the 2011 Equinox we drove.
On the outside, our 2011 and 2012 testers look rather similar. The only difference between the two are the larger wheels which fit the classically gorgeous “chocolate-brown” paint. The Twinkie syndrome isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the second generation still looks strong and modern. Perhaps a little to “safe”, the vehicle does have the ability to offend absolutely no one with its aesthetics and can blend in with just about any situation. With that being said, careful planning is needed when parking in a crowded lot as on your return jaunt, you might end up trying to unlock someone elses Equinox. It isn’t as muscular as its Terrain brother and not as futuristic as the SRX but the Chevrolet does manage to impress with its slightly flared fenders and wide-mouth grille. Even still, we can’t help but prefer the first generation’s rough and cut lines over the 2012’s softer bubbles.
Once you step inside, any and all concerns about the outward appearance will surly disappear. Equipped with the Jet Black/Brownstone leather trim, the interior is honestly impressive. In the past, finding quality like this on the inside of a Chevrolet would have been unheard off and a joke, but GM has really pushed the Equinox to new heights. The supple seats are vastly comfortable and finding a good position is as easy as eating hot cherry pie with cold vanilla ice cream. Nothing is hard to reach or out-of-place and the Pioneer sourced premium eight speaker stereo is so good that there should be no thoughts of upgrading to an aftermarket unit. Sound is crystal clear and the bass can be turned up enough to shake the rearview mirror without fuzzing-out the speakers. Unlike the 2011’s eight-bit display, the 2012’s features higher resolution and multiple colors but oddly lacks a navigation feature. If there is any Equinox to leave the factory floor without the leather interior option, it shouldn’t.
Another thing that shouldn’t be ignored can be found under the hood. In the place of the 2011’s noisy and underwhelmed 2.4 liter inline four cylinder is GM’s High Feature LF V6. Displacing 3.0 liters, using dual overhead cams with variable valve timing and featuring direct injection with the ability to run on E85 fuel, the all-aluminum engine is the same that was found in the 2011 GMC Terrain we drove last year. With 264 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque, the 3.0 outpowers the 2.4 by 82 horsepower and 50 lb-ft of torque and has an ability that the four simply can’t hold: blast up an on ramp. Connected to one of the best automatic transmissions in the business, our tester could flat-out hustle. Revving the V6 high returned a sweet song and plenty of oomph but there was one trait that was unwanted. With that much power spinning the front wheels and without a limited slip differential, the Equniox suffered from torque steer that could get annoying if not dangerous. As long as forward momentum stayed at a reasonable and normal pace, the wheel stayed true but meeting a right foot with the firewall could jerk it out of line. A proper differential could remedy the issue or the vehicle’s optional all wheel drive system.
In 2011, we watched our Equinox tester buzz away and were left with a feeling of disappointment. Everything was there to make a fantastic vehicle and reasonable family machine but it lacked in a very important department that other competitors featured readily. When shelling out $30 grand for a vehicle that is supposed to haul people and all of their gear, there should be no worry about maintaining a safe speed while on the open road. For just $1,500, the 3.0 liter V6 transforms the Equinox from an almost to a success. There was no real compromise at the pump either as the EPA rates the six cylinder at 17 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway; both of which me managed to beat. In mixed driving, our journalist feet averaged 22 mpg: one less than we got in the 2011. Why anyone would be wary of opting for the V6 is a mystery to us and there is serious doubt as to if GM would lose sales if they were to make the vehicle six cylinder exclusive. By adding those two simple things, the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox stays comfortable, smooth, quiet and efficient while becomes strong, competent, enjoyable and safe. All-in-all, it becomes a solid vehicle and an easy choice for any American family.