For some time, cute utes - you know them as the tall car-based SUV impersonators that have the looks and ground clearance of traditional SUVs, but feature many car-like attributes - have won over the hearts of SUV shoppers in droves. These are the entry-level SUVs which offer cargo versatility, great all-weather capability, and a commanding view of the road without the weight and bulkiness of traditional SUVs. While these little guys are not destined for your tough off-road adventures, their charm lies in their handiness in around-town jaunts and weekend-warrior duties, all while getting good fuel economy.
Until now, Chevrolet has been conspicuously absent from this market, unless you count the rebadged Tracker, which is more of a mini-Jeep than a refined soft-roader. The segment first started in 1996 with Toyota's RAV4 and was later expanded by Honda's CR-V, both equipped with standard four-cylinder engines. It was in 2001 that Ford's Escape broke the mold by offering an optional potent V-6 and a larger overall package size, setting the scene for such successful follow-up competition as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Saturn Vue, both available with V-6 engines.
After deciding to join the fray, Chevy knew it had to offer something that no one else could and went to work on a uniquely stylish SUV that would set a standard in interior volume and comfort for the class. Based off the Theta platform (same as the Saturn Vue), but with a 6-inch longer wheelbase, the Equinox comes to the table with a standard 3.4L V-6 engine, five-speed automatic, FWD, and more storage nooks than a minivan has cup holders.
Wanting to draw potential Equinox buyers into the showroom, Chevy researched the target audience's highly stylish tastes. The Equinox had to not only look distinctive from the generic shapes already available, but also had to incorporate family styling cues from the Chevrolet line. Overall, we think Chevy achieved its goal. We liked the wide stance, short overhangs, and taut proportions of the body, but felt the bold look of the front fascia is too ambitious, especially when compared to the small taillight designs. To us, the taillight design is somewhat faddish and will probably look dated before the rest of the design does. Buyers get standard 16-inch wheels, but we would opt for the clean-looking 17s to reside under the handsomely sculpted wheelwell arches. Body color roof rack rails and the deeply tinted wheels take the design even more up market.