New Equinox a car for the ages

We were on hand at Danvers High recently as a young man won a used car in the Village Automotive Group’s Keys to Success program.

As the winner and four of his pals tried on the car, a 2002Volvo S40, for size, an onlooker noted:“Will you look at that.The first thing he’s doing is changing the presets.”

That’s something many of us can relate to when we get into a new vehicle.The pattern is predictable: First, adjust the seat, then the mirrors.

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After that, just like our young winner, it’s time to tackle the radio presets. Fifteen years ago, you would have six AM and six FM stations and be done with it.Then, most automakers added a second tier of FM stations.

Nowadays, you can generally add three (or more) layers of presets for satellite radio stations.

Thus we arrive at today’s test car: the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox, a compact SUV that has Chevy positioned nicely to compete in what industry analysts predict will be a growth segment of the market for years to come.That’s because the segment— CUV if you will—is a sweet spot where downsizing Baby Boomers, empty nesters, and GenY families all are converging to shop.

This second-generation Equinox is a worthy competitor for traditional segment leaders such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4. In addition, Hyundai (Tucson, Santa Fe), Kia (Sorento), Dodge (Journey), Jeep (Compass, Liberty, Patriot), Mazda (CX-5), Nissan (Rogue), and Subaru (Forester) are major players.

Our test car was a well-equipped LTZ (top of the line) all-wheel-drive model with a 3.0-liter V-6, six-speed automatic transmission, and most all options except for navigation. Sticker price, including destination, was $34,675. In comparison, the base Equinox LS with front-wheel- drive and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine starts at $24,348, also including destination.

Among the welcome safety features were side mirrors with blind-spot inserts, lanedeparture warning (a feature I’ve come to appreciate the more I use it), forward collision alert, and a rear vision camera system with rear parking assist. There’s a lot to like about the Equinox; in fact, we were happy with most everything other than middling fuel economy and frustration with the multi-step process to set presets. Otherwise, the audio system set up Bluetooth nicely and streamed Pandora seamlessly.

Controls in the center stack seemed intimidating at first glance but turned out to be relatively intuitive.

Front seat passengers are treated to comfy and supportive heated leather seats in front of a stylish dual cowl dashboard. Interior materials and layout are first class and give the Equinox a definite upscale look and feel.

There’s plenty of legroom both front and rear; indeed, taller drivers will find the Equinox an accommodating choice. Rear passengers also will find roomy seating as the back seats also are adjustable.

The trade-off:There may not be as much cargo space behind the rear seats, but we thought Chevy has the proportions just about right.The space was adequate to comfortably pack all the bags from a major grocery shopping expedition.

A power lift gate with programmable stopping heights worked well.

Styling a small SUV means you’re working with what seems to be a pre-determined “look.”The Equinox, however, is recognizable by its signature two-tiered Chevy grille with a prominent gold bowtie insignia, defined fender arches, and a windshield/roofline that’s reminiscent of its big brother, the Traverse.

On the road, we found the Equinox to be remarkably quiet with a refined four-wheel independent suspension.Visibility is good, the instrument cluster is simple and easy to read, and the steering wheel controls easy to use, including the additional switch for lane-departure warning and forward-collision warning.

We’ve driven the four-cylinder version of the Equinox in the GMCTerrain (a sibling) and like that version as well. That four-wheel-drive version is rated at 32 miles per gallon highway, but the internet is full of owners saying they get well below that.

Meanwhile, our six cylinder was rated at 16 mpg in city driving and 23 on the highway with its all-wheel-drive setup.We averaged 20.2 miles per gallon in a week of suburban driving.

That was about the only thing that wasn’t impressive about the Equinox.