Why they didn't go for the smallest full-size-SUV moniker is a mystery. I see the Equinox more as the vanguard of a de-evolutionary trend that will turn the minivan and its SUV cousins back into station wagons. But advertising blather aside, I like the Equinox, its looks and its performance. On the outside, the car has some nice sweeping lines and a rakish roof. The body also seems to sit lower than other high-riding SUVs, making it much less of a climb to get into the driver's seat, and once there, making the ride feel more stable. The controls and dash are well laid out, with the exception of two ergonomic hiccups. Controls for the windows are on the center console, making them somewhat awkward to operate. And the driver's seat felt like its lumbar support was at its most extreme setting. But I could not find any controls for lumbar support and assume it was a lumpy seat that escaped quality control. I hope it wasn't purposely designed that way.

Chevy engineers did the right thing in limiting the Equinox to two rows of seats, with the back bench able to move 8 in. forward and aft. This gives rear passengers respectable legroom. The 40/60 rear seats, as well as the front passenger seat, fold down for extra cargo space. There's 32 cu ft of space behind the rear seats and a maximum of 68 cu ft behind the front seats.

Chevy's 3.4-liter V6, the 3400, provides all the power you should need. It is rated at 185 hp with 210 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission handles shifting and an AWD system parcels out power. The system is supposed to aid traction and mobility off-road. But with less than 8 in. of ground clearance and looking more like an upscale suburban SUV than a rough-and-tumble jeepster, I doubt many Equinoxes will get farther off-road than the shoulder. But AWD is still a definite plus in snow and on slick roads.

The vehicle handles and steers much like a large car, thanks to independent McPherson-struts up front and a four-link coil-spring layout in back that includes a trailing arm plus three locating links. The rear suspension does not to intrude much on the interior, which gives the sport ute more passenger or cargo space. Steering is helped by electric power steering, which is also supposed to reduce fuel consumption. (The vehicle is rated at 19/25 mpg city/hwy.)

Our model carried the SE package ($3,745), which includes extras such as a sunroof, leather seats, heated front seats, stereo upgrade, autodimming rearview mirror with compass and temperature readouts, upgraded tires, and the OnStar system for a year. This brought the total to $28,645.