All-new for 2006, the Torrent is Pontiac’s version of the Chevrolet Equinox. The company calls it “Pontiac’s first SUV”; obviously, like the rest of us, it’s trying to forget the Aztek, which bowed out at the end of the 2005 model year.

Like the Equinox, the Torrent is available in front-wheel-drive, or with an on-demand, automatic all-wheel-drive that powers the front wheels until it detects slippage and sends torque to the rear. The sole engine choice is a 3.4-litre V6, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Two trim levels are available, Torrent and Torrent Sport, both of which can be ordered in FWD or AWD configuration.

The Torrent includes numerous standard features, such as five-passenger seating, power locks with keyless entry, power windows, air conditioning, six-speaker CD, flat-folding front passenger seat, fog lamps, 16-inch aluminum wheels, ABS, electric power steering and dual-stage frontal airbags.

Optional equipment includes leather interior, heated cloth or leather seats, power-adjustable driver’s seat, 17-inch aluminum wheels, six-CD stereo with MP3 capability and subwoofer, traction control, wheel-mounted audio controls, power sunroof, multi-tier rear cargo system, and OnStar.

Compared to its cousins Chevrolet Equinox and Saturn Vue, the Torrent is the most expensive of the three. It comes with numerous standard features, although it’s hard to understand why ABS and traction control, which are standard equipment on FWD Torrents in the U.S. market, are an extra-charge item in Canada. There’s plenty of room for rear-seat passengers, thanks to a clever multi-position rear seat that slides ahead or back, to maximize legroom or cargo space; the front passenger seat also folds flat, to carry long, narrow items. The rear cargo area can be optioned with a cargo storage system that puts handy storage bins in the floor and wheel wells.

The Torrent may be an SUV, but it’s more like a sport utility crossed with a car. The ride and handling are more like a big sedan, with speed-sensitive, variable-effort steering and a four-link independent rear suspension. In fact, it’s very close to driving the less-expensive “mid-vans” that were new to GM’s line-up in 2005, including the Chevrolet Uplander and Buick Terraza; don’t forget to check them out when you’re comparison-shopping.

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