Chevrolet Equinox: well done, but bland

Chevrolet's Equinox, a compact sport-utility vehicle that debuted in 2005, is comfort food for the road. Right-sized for many families, relatively fuel-efficient, roomy, medium-priced and all-weather capable, it rides comfortably and handles like a passenger car. Thanks to Chevrolet's massive dealer network, a repair shop is always near at hand.

Like comfort food, however, the Equinox has one shortcoming: It's on the bland side. The base engine, a 182-horsepower Four, delivers leisurely acceleration and can be buzzy when pushed. The car's handling is competent but unexciting. The styling, while relentlessly inoffensive, won't attract many smiles, waves and thumbs-up signals on the highway. And there's an enormous amount of competition; the Equinox vies for attention in a segment – compact SUVs – that Americans have grown to love.

We spent a week with a 2016 Equinox LTZ with all-wheel drive. It was well-appointed and seemed well-built, too. Sticker-priced at $34,755, it featured leather upholstery, heated, power-adjusted front seats, navigation system, Chevrolet MyLink radio with 7-inch touch screen, audio controls on the steering wheel, Bluetooth audio streaming, satellite radio, rear-view camera, forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, blind-spot alert, rear parking assist and rear cross-traffic alert, power liftgate.

The Equinox is available in numerous personality types, from bare-bones to luxurious, bland to high-performance. Front-wheel-drive models don't perform as well in bad weather as versions with AWD, but fuel economy increases to 22 mpg city, 32 highway, from 20/29. We found the Four's performance entirely satisfactory, save the disappointing exhaust note, but Equinox buyers need not limit themselves to that engine. Also available in LT and LTZ trim is a 3.6-liter V-6 churning out 301 horsepower. But it slices the mpgs down to 16/23 with AWD.

Every Equinox model is equipped with a 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission.

The base Equinox L, with the 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, starts at $23,495. The Equinox is the second-smallest of Chevrolet's extensive SUV lineup, bigger than the diminutive Trax. The next step up is the midsize Traverse.

For drivers and front-seat passengers, the Equinox is spacious, with head and leg room especially ample. The rear seat is adjustable fore and aft, a feature we found to have minimal functionality. Most people would use it only to buy an extra few inches of cargo room. Partly because of the seat design, the Equinox' floor is rather steeply sloped when the rear seatback is lowered to expand the cargo compartment to its maximum 63.7 cubic feet.

The list of competitors is long and daunting. All of the Japanese automakers, including Toyota (RAV-4) and Honda (CR-V), are in the game, as are Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia. Ford's entry is the stylish, well-regarded Escape. GMC's Terrain is functionally similar to the Equinox but has a distinctly different look and personality. Last year, the Equinox ranked 14th in sales among all models, with 277,589 units sold, but it trailed the CR-V, RAV-4, Escape and Nissan Rogue.

The Equinox has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2016 Chevrolet Equinox AWD LTZ

Price: $34,755

Engine: 2.4-liter inline Four, 182 horsepower, 172 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Ground clearance: 6.9 in.

Weight: 4,007 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18-in. alloy

Tires: P235/55R18 all-season

Max. towing capacity: 1,500 lb.

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 31.5 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 63.7 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 18.8 gal.

Fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline