The 2011 Chevrolet Equinox serves as the domestic automaker's most competent offering yet in the extremely competitive compact crossover segment. Redesigned for the 2010 model year, the Chevrolet Equinox continues GM's trend of focusing on fuel economy and build quality in its entry-level automobiles. The Equinox not only stands up to vehicles like the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 that have traditionally dominated small sport-utility sales, but it manages to present a compelling case as to why family crossover shoppers should strongly consider replacing their Japanese hauler with this attractively-styled option.
As mentioned, the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox is up against some big names. Specifically, both the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 have become almost "default" purchases for compact crossover fans after years at the top of the efficiency and reliability pyramid. The Equinox is also facing surging sales from the Subaru Outback / Subaru Forester tandem as these two former tall wagons see the size of their respective platforms continue to swell in size in order to better engage SUV-hungry family buyers. At the lower end of the market, value-oriented offerings such as the Kia Sportage and the van-like Dodge Journey are also considerations.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the Chevrolet Equinox could potentially be seen as a worthy substitute for several of the few remaining affordable wagons still being offered in North America. Although not marketed as a sporty handler, the Equinox's smooth ride could help to disguise its bulk behind the wheel to the point where those considering the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen might choose to step up into the roomier domestic SUV.
The 2011 Chevrolet Equinox comes in four separate trim levels, each of which is further subdivided into front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive editions. The base 2011 Chevrolet Equinox LS (front-wheel drive) starts at an MSRP of $22,995, while the 1LT's additional equipment increases the MSRP to $24,160. The Equinox 2LT significantly upgrades the crossover's comfort features (MSRP $26,220), while the LTZ pours on the luxury while bumping the MSRP to just under $30k ($28,570). Opting for all-wheel drive increases the price of the Equinox by roughly $1,500 for each respective version.
General Motors provided us with a 2011 Chevrolet Equinox 2LT front-wheel drive model for our week-long test, and taking into account the short list of options appended to the vehicle's equipment list the SUV we drove rolled out the door with an MSRP of $27,515.
The 2011 Chevrolet Equinox is a handsome crossover, one which wears the automaker's strong grille treatment and bold front fascia well. The Equinox benefits from sheet metal that is not overly busy, with simple but effective accents such as bulging wheel surrounds, a lower body crease and a mid-body style line that slopes down towards the front of the vehicle breaking up the vehicle's smooth panels. Sporty but not aggressive, the crossover's overall visual effect downplays any bulkiness and does an effective job of disguising the Equinox's truly generous dimensions.
The 2LT model that we tested came with nicely-fitted 17-inch alloy wheels, a pleasant surprise given the proliferation of 18-inch-plus rims and tires that have spread throughout almost every segment of the auto industry. Tinted rear glass cleans up the rear three-quarter view while also serving to protect cargo from prying eyes, and standard roof rails add extra utility for hauling longer, bulkier items.
From the driver's seat the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox impresses with an interior that isn't over-designed but instead provides drivers with a range of controls that fall easily to hand and gauges and information displays that are simple to decipher with a quick glance. Our 2LT tester was outfitted with optional perforated leather seating that looked great but which felt stiff rather than textured to the touch. This was also true of the somewhat sharp edge on the gauge cluster binnacle that rose out of the dash immediately in front of the driver, although this is one part of the interior that is unlikely to come into contact with anyone's hands on a regular basis.
In general, however, the quality of the materials used throughout the inside of the Equinox were perfectly in line with the price paid for the automobile, with no disappointments lurking in the vehicle's trim. A very deep center console introduces a bottomless amount of storage that is easily accessible by the driver, although matching plastic pockets on the front door panels seemed to continually connect with our feet as we entered and exited the vehicle.
Of particular note is the sheer amount of legroom afforded rear passengers. The Equinox's second row of accommodations can be slid forwards and backwards in order to open up either more cargo space or provide substantial separation between the driver and those being chauffeured. Shoulder and hip room is also ample, and seating three across the back bench should pose no issues for all but the longest trips.
Several trips to Ikea also had us admiring the utility offered by the Equinox's 63.7 cubic feet of cargo space. Although not as large as that provided by the Chevrolet's Japanese competitors, with the rear row folded forward accommodating several over-sized bookcases and rugs was absolutely no problem for the compact SUV.
One caveat must be made with regard to the optional power tailgate feature installed on our Chevrolet Equinox tester. Accessible via the keychain remote as well as a button on the crossover's roof console (nestled inside the dial that allows for driver control over how high the tailgate rises when activated, in order to avoid impacting low garage ceilings), the system was extremely convenient when loading and unloading cargo. The issue with the automatic tailgate arises when the feature is in the process of closing and encounters an object - or in our case, an arm or a shoulder - impeding its progress. Like an elevator door the Equinox is capable of sensing an obstacle in the tailgate's path and reversing course to prevent injury. Unfortunately, the amount of pressure that the hatch exerts prior to deciding that it's time to back off is substantial, which suggests that it's a good idea to remain alert when placing yourself in its path rather than rely exclusively on the system's built-in failsafe.
The 2011 Chevrolet Equinox is equipped with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder that serves as the base engine across all trim levels. Capable of generating 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque, this was the unit motivating our 2LT test vehicle. Fuel economy for the four-cylinder comes in at as 22-mpg around town and 32-mpg highway and 26-mpg combined, although we saw slightly lower than that in a mix of driving that skewed more towards stop and go. Achieving the advertised EPA rating requires the use of the ECO feature that comes with the Equinox's six-speed automatic transmission, and we moved back and forth between ECO and standard mode during our testing cycle.
A 3.0-liter V-6 engine can also be ordered with all but the least expensive model of the Equinox, and it offers up 264 horses and 222 lb-ft of torque. Like the base power plant, the V-6 is paired with a six-speed automatic and fuel mileage for the 3.0-liter engine shows as 17-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. As previously mentioned, all-wheel drive can be ordered with either engine.
The 2011 Chevrolet Equinox is a heavy vehicle, and while 182 horses might not seem like an overwhelming amount of power the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine gets the job done remarkably well around town. Acceleration off of the line is relatively effortless and leaves little to be desired even when hauling a full load of cargo or passengers in a city situation. Where the Equinox does come up somewhat short is in the highway passing department. Putting your foot to the floor in the crossover musters up enough gumption to get by the vehicle you are looking to overtake, but speed builds at a somewhat leisurely pace and the engine is audibly working hard to get the crossover's bulk moving past 65 miles per hour. We found this to be an acceptable trade-off given the vehicle's fuel economy rating, and one that most SUV shoppers would be willing to make.
The Equinox's gearbox is the one truly disappointing aspect of its drivetrain. When the gas-saving ECO mode is selected the six-speed transmission's shifting is not nearly as smooth as when left in its standard setting. This is especially true when driving in colder weather before the crossover has had the chance to fully warm up. In addition to the ECO mode's clunky feel, there was one instance where we stood on the gas pedal to facilitate a highway lane change and were rewarded with a surprisingly loud clunk from below the vehicle, then a full second pause before the transmission rewarded us with the requested lower gear. This type of behavior was never encountered when driving the Equinox outside of the transmission's ECO setting, and left us wondering whether this might be an issue with our particular test vehicle.
In all other areas the Chevrolet Equinox performed very well. The vehicle's ride was comfortable across all surfaces, including several of the nightmare construction zones that dot Montreal's post-apocalyptic infrastructure landscape. Combined with the crossover's flat cornering and predictable steering response, it was very easy to forget that the Equinox is not a large wagon but actually a tall SUV - a praiseworthy accomplishment by Chevrolet's engineers. Interior noise from the outside world was also at a minimum in most driving situations, save when the four-cylinder engine was forced to kick into high gear.
The 2011 Chevrolet Equinox offers up preventative safety features that include traction control, Stabilitrak electronic stability control, a trailer sway control system to assist with towing and of course anti-lock brakes and a free initial subscription to the OnStar service. The crossover also comes with front and seat-mounted side airbags for both driver and forward passenger, as well as side airbags for those riding in the rear and full-length side-curtain airbags to protect passengers from head injuries.
Our test vehicle was equipped with a backup camera system that automatically transforms half of the Equinox's rearview mirror into a video screen showing a fisheye view of the area immediately behind the back bumper when reverse gear is selected. Useful even in low-light situations, the angle of the camera did take some getting used to, especially when it came to judging just how much distance was between the crossover and the vehicle sitting behind it while parallel parking.
The 2011 Chevrolet Equinox gets the job done, whatever that job might be, and it does it with a minimum of fuss. Looking for a roomy people mover that won't take up a ton of driveway space? The Equinox is there. Need to haul your latest garage sale find home without having to rent a trailer? The crossover's copious amounts of cargo room make it possible. Want an SUV that is at once comfortable to drive, reasonable on gas and comes with far from bland styling? Once again, the Equinox has you covered. Compact SUVs are judged primarily on their ability to mesh seamlessly with the busy lifestyles of their owners, and the Chevrolet Equinox is a perfectly capable daily driver that covers all of the important day-to-day bases without exacting a fuel mileage penalty.
• Competitively priced, especially in lower trim levels
• Exceptional passenger room
• Great-looking exterior design
• Polite road manners
• Automatic transmission's balky ECO mode
• Automatic tailgate's not-quite-sensitive-enough anti-pinch feature