The Lutz era has arrived at General Motors, and if Chevy's replacement for the Tracker is any indication, the General is on a certified roll. The all-new Malibu, Malibu Maxx, Colorado, and Equinox were introduced at Detroit's Auto Show in 2003 to remind us that the division has not forgotten about advancing competition. The Equinox offers an affordable car-based SUV for the masses by using component sharing to reduce costs. This new midsize SUV walked the walk and generated the talk wherever we went. If our interaction with potential customers regarding this vehicle holds true, you can expect to see Chevrolet meet its targeted sales of 100,000 units in the near future.

The Equinox is offered with front-wheel-drive (FWD) or an optional on-demand all-wheel-drive version (AWD). Our AWD LT offered the top-of-the-line trim treatment together with seven optional features with a suggested retail price of $27,875.

The Equinox's Theta platform is shared with Saturn's VUE and is built on a 112.5-inch wheelbase versus the VUE's 106.6-inch wheelbase. The overall length is also longer at 188.8 inches. Chevrolet makes the promise of midsize room on a compact platform, and it delivers. For comparison, remember that the earlier Tracker series it replaces was 15 inches shorter in wheelbase and more than 2 feet shorter in overall length. The Tracker series was cramped, underpowered, and tippy.

The Equinox will be a draw for consumers with its larger size, increased stability, appealing styling, standard V-6 power, and we expect, its price. With the base version coming in at $20,995, it won't take long for folks to get the message. A four-cylinder version is not offered.

The Equinox tester is powered by the General's venerable 3.4L (204.4ci) V-6 that has continually improved since the first version appeared in 1960. The upgraded version produces 185 hp and delivers 210 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm. This engine is mated to a new five-speed Aisin automatic, which provides closer steps between the ratios. This translates into improved low-speed performance, acceleration, and greater fuel efficiency. Although the Equinox has mpg ratings of 19 city/25 highway, we pulled two more miles per gallon from city traffic, and one more on the open road.

Since the Equinox is car-based, its interior ride and comfort level is excellent. We immediately noticed sure-footed stability and neutral body roll or lean, during our high-speed runs.

The Equinox's stability can be traced back to the unibody construction and placement of the wheels at the outer four corners. The interior is roomy, and inside, we particularly liked the upgraded instruments with the white backgrounds and the nickel accents around all the controls and door panels. The second-row seat moves forward against the front seats to open up the larger cargo area, and it can be moved 8 inches to the rear with the seats in the upright position. When things need to be carried, a floor-mounted plastic cover attached to the seatback covers the opening between the seat and cargo area to provide an uninterrupted surface. The cargo area is large, with an interior volume rated at 138.6 cubic feet. We liked the door-side pockets and the rear-mounted parcel shelf system shared with the Malibu Maxx. This feature allows placement of a solid shelf in a variety of preset levels so you can have the option of placing items either on the floor or with adjustment, above or below the shelf. The lipped-shelf design keeps your stuff in place and stops it all from sliding around.

Mechanically, the Equinox comes with independent front and rear suspension along with P235/65R16 all-season tires. A 17-inch wheel and tire package is optional. The safety and security features include dual-stage front airbags, remote keyless entry, running lights, a child seat latch system, automatic door locks, and four-wheel antilock brakes with traction control.

Exterior features included power outside mirrors, a rear window defogger, a rear window wiper, tinted glass, body-color bumpers, and luggage rails. Black luggage rack crossovers and front mounted foglamps complete the exterior.

On the inside, our tester had air-conditioning, power windows and locks, an AM/FM compact disc stereo with seven speakers, a multi-flex sliding rear seat with 60/40 split seatback, fold-flat front passenger seat, power driver seat height adjustment, cruise control, front and rear carpeted floor mats, a rear cargo panel system, a driver seatback map pocket, dual map lights, and a cargo convenience net.

Our Equinox came with the 1-SD Package, which includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with temperature reading and compass, and a six-way power seat for the driver. GM's OnStar system was included, and we had the advantage of XM Satellite Radio which offered us the use of 100 channels. A premium sound AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player was along for our ride.

Compact utilities, according to GM, are the fastest growing segment of the SUV market. Sales have reached a million a year and continue to climb. Entering this segment involved a new approach, and with 10 competitors from Ford's Escape to Toyota's RAV-4, Equinox has its work cut out for it.

We were impressed with the entire package, and the Equinox continues Chevrolet's new look in styling. Its quality control is on target, and at this price range, it's a true value. The vehicle's road manners, combined with its performance cues, deliver -- even in off-road conditions. Zero to 60 acceleration figures of 8.5 seconds is equal to some musclecars of the '60s. And as one enthusiast commented, the optional 17-inch alloys aren't bad either.