The compact SUV market is growing rapidly, and there’s a lot to like! Compact SUVs come with style, technology, fuel economy and modest cargo volume. Like many American families, my growing family is looking to buy one. But first, I’m going to test out almost every contender in the segment. I’ve chosen 7 compact SUVs that cost around $26,000 and have impressive standard features: The CR-V EX, Rogue SV, Rav4 LE, Tucson Eco, Equinox LS, CX-5 Touring and Escape SE. The Chevrolet Equinox will be my fifth review and just around the corner is our final amazing massive ultimate comparison! (Enough adjectives?) Click here to read our previous review entries.
I’m going to try and keep an open mind with the Equinox, but it’s going to be difficult after my initial research. Why? Because, compared to its peers, the MSRP of the Chevrolet Equinox LS is more expensive than most yet it’s also painfully under-equipped. So, pardon the judgmental tone of my review. But, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe there is more to the Equinox than just the boxes I can check off with a pencil. Let’s find out!
Unfortunately, the Equinox LS is devoid of many exterior features commonly found in this comparison.
The Chevrolet Equinox has a refreshed exterior design for 2016. The new tail light design is slick; a big step in the right direction. The 17″ alloys are fine, but nothing special. I’m not entirely convinced that the front fascia looks better than it did last year. The grille is very prominent, and not in a good way like the new Tucson. The new headlight clusters are attractive and feature projector lamps, but they’re neither sleek nor sporty. Unfortunately, the Equinox LS is also devoid of many exterior features commonly found in this comparison. No fog lights, no side mirror turn signals, no LED accent lights and no automatic headlights… To get all these popular features from an Equinox you have to spend around $31k for a LTZ!
OK, I’m going to switch gears and go on a rant about fog lights… Fog lights are cool I suppose. But, I don’t love them so much as I hate fog light delete panels. The 2010-2015 Equinox fog light deletes (left) might have been some of the ugliest in recent memory. So, while the 2016 ones aren’t as bad (right), it’s still much more black plastic than I ever want to see on the front of a $26,000 vehicle. I expect to see some plastic delete panels on an entry-level sedan, but not a mid-level SUV. At this price point, I find it insulting when all the visual goodies are stripped off. To be fair, the Rogue SV also has fog light delete panels but they’re not as offensive, partially because the Rogue’s chrome nose and sleek headlights command all your attention.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
If you think I’ve been harsh so far, prepare yourself. It’s about to get worse. The Chevrolet Equinox has the least standard equipment of all 7 compact SUVs in this test. Now, I don’t mean to say it’s severely lacking. It has some nice features such as a backup camera, steering wheel controls, a 7″ touchscreen infotainment system and a sliding/reclining rear bench seat. But, at this price point, those features are common place and just won’t cut it. The offerings from Toyota, Honda and Mazda put the Equinox to shame with premium features like sunroofs, proximity keys, heated seats and high-tech safety features! But, I’m trying to stay positive here. So, let’s focus on what the Equinox does well.
The Equinox interior is a mixed bag. On the plus side, I found the seats – front and back – to be supportive and comfortable. The cloth seats have attractive stitching, but the stitching seems loose. I’d worry a little about snags from denim rivets or the like. Sadly, this is the only entry without a fully powered driver’s seat. The center console has upscale materials, but Chevy confusingly kept hard materials on the door rests. Also, the steering wheel has a rubbery tactile feel. The dash materials are just OK, but you’ll hardly notice them because a whole mess of buttons takes center stage. Combine that with a less than optimal screen viewing angle and the whole system, while competent, seems haphazard. On a random note, I like that the dash features a tire pressure graphic showing all 4 tires individually. I think the Tucson is the only other compact SUV that provides a similar graphic.
… a whole mess of buttons takes center stage.
The Chevrolet Equinox is the longest and heaviest SUV in this group, but if you expect redemption in the form of cargo room, you would be mistaken. It’s certainly adequate, but surprisingly below average in EPA cargo volume, seats up or seats down. One underrated feature, which is only offered from a couple of competitors, is the sliding and reclining “Multi-Flex” rear bench seat. Depending on your needs you can slide it to create class-leading leg room or maximize the cargo room. Although, the reclining ability is minimal and difficult to adjust. I think rear seats in all SUVs should be able to slide and recline, it’s a nice subtle feature.
If safety is a high priority for you, there is very little separation between the various competitors. Fortunately for me and you, all of them (except the Escape) have the highest crash ratings possible from the IIHS. Of course, traction control and tons of air bags are ubiquitous now. It’s nice to know that regardless of which small SUV we choose, our families will be well protected.
Someday crash avoidance technology will be as common place as seat belts. But, for now, it’s often sequestered in expensive optional packages and top-end trim levels. The mid-level CR-V and CX-5 include a sampling of this safety technology as standard equipment. However, most do not. In Chevy’s case, to get the tech you must spend several thousand extra for a loaded Equinox LT.
When the Equinox was redesigned in 2010, its 2.4L 4 cylinder engine was cutting edge and it’s 32 MPG highway rating was impressive. Now, the same powertrain carries over to the 2016 model year, and the bloom is off the rose. Over the last six years, several competitors have tuned their engines to put out more usable power and improve gas mileage. On paper, the Equinox has adequate horsepower, however, the torque is lacking, peak numbers come at high RPMs and the highest-in-class curb weight bogs it down. The Equinox’s 22 MPG city rating is the worst in this comparison, and its 26 combined rating is stuck in a 3-way tie for last place. That’s admirable mileage compared to larger SUVs, but not in this heated comparison.
(+) Likable exterior design and road manners.
(-) Rubbery steering wheel and cluttered dash.
(-) The fat kid in class needs to go on a diet.
(-) Anemic list of standard equipment.
In a vacuum, the Chevrolet Equinox is an excellent vehicle. If I was given one, I would gladly accept it. Unfortunately for Chevy, when it comes time to spend our hard-earned money the competition offers better features for less dough. To be successful in this super-competitive segment, it takes more than just flexible cargo space, a fairly nice interior and a comfortable ride. (Although, over 210k Equinoxes/Equinox/Equinoxi have sold in 2015, so Chevy is obviously doing something right.)
In case you aren’t aware, the GMC Terrain is almost identical to – but more expensive than – the Equinox. The exterior is different, but most of my opinions can still be applied to the Terrain. With a total MSRP of $26,105, the Equinox LS has the second highest price tag of the group. Sure, the Equinox and its GMC cousin can be very good automobiles if fully-loaded. But, many magazines and website fail to mention that in order to get a competitive offering of standard equipment, the LT trim and optional packages bring the MSRP close to $30k! No thanks. If I wanted to spend that much for an SUV, I would step up to a Honda Pilot. The great thing about the leaders in this segment is that they let you have your cake and eat it too, all for $26k or less.
Two entries remain in our comparison. The perennial best-selling stalwarts from Honda and Toyota are last but certainly not least. Check back soon to find out how they stack up!