All new for 2005, the Chevrolet Equinox pushes the 2004 Tracker out of the line-up, although with the Tracker’s smaller size and true four-wheel-drive capability, it’s not a direct replacement. Although Chevrolet bills it as a compact SUV, it’s quite large – it’s only 77 mm shorter than a Trailblazer.

It’s a cousin to the Saturn Vue, riding on GM’s Theta platform as the Saturn does, but with its wheelbase stretched 150 mm, and with a different engine. Unlike the Vue, which is available in four- or six-cylinder configuration, the Equinox comes only with a 3.4-litre V6. It’s pushrod technology, but there’s nothing wrong with that; it accelerates smoothly and has plenty in reserve when it’s needed. The sole transmission is a five-speed automatic.

The Equinox comes in front-wheel-drive or an all-wheel system that powers the front ones until they slip, whereupon it sends torque to the rears. It’s basically meant for urban off-roading – snowy streets, or a gravel path to the cottage. The vehicle is capable of towing 3,500 lbs.

The Equinox rides well, but experiences some harshness over sudden bumps. The electric-assist steering gains needed resistance on the highway, but it’s vague at lower speeds, often to the point that the steering wheel doesn’t feel connected.

The Equinox’s interior is roomy and practical, although the seats are hard. The front passenger seat folds flat, and like the Malibu Maxx, the clever rear 60/40 folding seat can be slid on its tracks 5 cm forward and 15 cm back, giving the option of more legroom or more cargo space. The cargo area needs the help; the rear strut towers take up much of it, covered by big plastic towers. To make the most of it, Chevrolet includes a slide-out, three-position shelf, à la the Chrysler PT Cruiser, which can double as a cargo security cover or table.

The Equinox’s smooth styling features the crossbar-with-bowtie that’s now Chevrolet’s corporate face; it’s one of the better-looking vehicles in the company’s portfolio.

Both FWD and AWD come in LS or LT trim. The base LS includes air conditioning, automatic power locks with keyless entry, automatic headlights, fog lamps, roof rack side rails, 16-inch steel wheels, full instrumentation, power windows, tilt wheel, and CD player with six speakers. ABS is standard on the AWD model.

The LT adds roof rack crossbars, 16-inch aluminum wheels, cargo net, cruise control, floor mats, dual overhead console reading lights, and premium cloth seats with six-way power driver’s seat. A preferred equipment option package is available for each line; on the LT it adds heated leather seats, 17-inch aluminum wheels, auto-dimming mirror and six-CD system.

The Equinox is built in Ingersoll, Ontario.

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