- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Few people are likely to mourn the passing of Chevrolet’s compact and aging Tracker sport utility vehicle, especially when they see its replacement.

The new, early-for-2005 Chevy Equinox has arrived as a larger, more comfortable-riding SUV with a novel rear seat that can slide forward and back nearly 8 inches to provide a whopping 40.2 inches of back-seat legroom — unheard of in the smaller SUV segment.

Also standard in every Equinox: 37 percent more cargo room than the Tracker and a 185-horsepower, 3.4-liter, overhead-valve Vortec V-6 capable of generating 210 foot-pounds of torque.

The Equinox has a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $21,560 for a base, two-wheel-drive 2005. All-wheel-drive Equinoxes start at $23,535.

You’d be hard-pressed to tell from the outside, but the Equinox rides on the same, albeit lengthened, platform as the Saturn Vue.

The Vue, Saturn’s first and only SUV, is a good foundation for a new sport utility. After all, the Vue has seen steady sales increases every year and is poised this year to set a new record as sales could top 90,000.

The compact Vue comes with a buzzy, 143-horsepower, 2.2-liter, four-cylinder base engine.

The Equinox’s engine is mated to a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic and gives the SUV a confident source of power for highway travel.

Better yet, the Equinox’s 210 foot-pounds of torque at 3,800 rpm provide satisfying get up and go from startup and allow drivers to merge with confidrivers to merge with confidence onto freeways.

My main issue with the test vehicle was a certain disconnected feel between accelerator and throttle when I’d let up from the pedal and the Equinox would not immediately begin to slow.

As a result, I felt as though I used the brakes more than I wanted. After a few days of this, I found I adapted my driving style to let up on the Equinox gas pedal sooner as I approached slowed or stopped traffic ahead.

I didn’t hear the engine much as I traveled, but when I did — during hard acceleration — the sound was pleasant in a mainstream way.

Fuel economy for the test Equinox LT with all-wheel drive was rated at 19 miles a gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.

The Equinox is 15.7 feet long from bumper to bumper. The wheelbase is 112.5 inches.

The Equinox has 68.6 cubic feet of interior cargo space — with rear seats folded down. The Equinox can tow up to 3,500 pounds, according to Chevrolet.

While the Equinox works to keep many road bumps away from passengers for a mostly mild ride, passengers do feel the suspension working underneath. Among the most annoying sensations in the test vehicle were noisy “booms” that came when the Equinox passed over potholes and major road bumps.

But wind noise in this SUV wasn’t obtrusive.

I had to be extra-alert making turns at busy intersections, because the pillars around the windshield of the Equinox are large enough to create blind spots and block my view of pedestrians.

But I liked the high driving position of the Equinox, which allowed me to see traffic problems on the road ahead.

There’s a firm foam feel to the seats. They are nicely positioned, so at 5 feet 4, I don’t have to climb up and aboard. I just opened the Equinox door, turned and sat on the seat cushion of the test vehicle.

But the front-passenger seatback didn’t seem to lock fully into place. When someone sat there, the seatback shifted forward and back an inch or so, in harmony with the starting and stopping motions of the vehicle.

Oddly, there are no grab handles at any of the doors of the Equinox. Grab handles are typically provided in SUVs.

I couldn’t even find a hook to hang my dry cleaning inside the Equinox.

This SUV’s rear-seat floor is flat, which makes it accommodating to unsteady-on-their-feet-but-determined toddlers wanting to walk across on their own.

An MP3 player and XM satellite radio are among the notable options in the Equinox.

Head-curtain air bags also are optional, and stability control, which is appearing in more and more SUVs, is not offered.

A final note: Check out the area between the Equinox’s two front seats. It’s open and large enough to stow a purse out of the way and out of view.

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