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Second-hand: 2005-2009 Chevrolet Equinox/ Pontiac Torrent

Second-hand story, this one on the 2005-09 Chevy Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, appealing but flawed.

As hewers of wood and drawers of cartoons, Canadians weren’t always entrusted to engineer something as complicated as an automobile.

Sure, we’ve had flashes of brilliance — the Avro Arrow comes to mind; the zipper, too — but for the most part we’ve been content to fish and process trees into neat stacks of lumber.

In our branch-plant economy, Canadians have done little more than change the tail lights and badges on a few econoboxes, turning a Ford Pinto into a Mercury Bobcat and a Honda Civic into an Acura EL.

The Chevrolet Equinox was different.

The lead engineering unfolded at GM’s Canadian Regional Engineering Centre in Oshawa, and assembly took place at the joint GM-Suzuki CAMI Automotive plant in Ingersoll.

It was our time to shine.

CONFIGURATION

The all-new-for-2005 Equinox shared GM’s Theta unibody platform with the Saturn Vue, although the five-door body was made of steel and the wheelbase was stretched 15 cm, yielding a commodious cabin with a rear seat that cleverly rolled fore and aft 20 cm on tracks.

Big doors opened almost 90 degrees, giving parents room to affix their tots in their seats. Step height from the curb was shorter than most SUVs and the floor was minivan-flat. The 60/40-split rear bench provided space for three-across seating, although it was tight for more than two adults.

The instrument panel was handsome and uncluttered with everything in full view. Owners noted, however, that even water stained the fabric upholstery.

“Upholstery cleaner will clean the stain; however, the cleaner will stain the seats as well,” posted one owner, paradoxically.

No third-row seat was offered, which left the cargo area neatly configured for, well, cargo. Tall strut towers intruded, but were usefully shaped to support a sturdy shelf. The one-piece rear hatch lacked hinged glass.

There was only one powertrain: GM’s familiar 3.4 L pushrod V6, rated at 185 hp and 210 lb.-ft. of torque, hooked up to a new five-speed automatic transmission. Interestingly, the Aisin autobox was built in Japan, while the engine was imported from GM’s China division.

Front-wheel drive was standard; optional was an all-wheel-drive system without low-range gearing. All engine power was normally directed to the front wheels, but if the computer detected front-wheel slip, it transparently engaged a clutch that dispatched up to one-third of the torque to the rear axle.

The power-steering system was electric, rather than hydraulic. ABS brakes and traction control were standard on all but the base front-drive model in 2005 (made standard in 2006).

Pontiac got its own version, the Torrent, for 2006. It wore the usual styling cues, including red tail lights — an improvement over the Equinox’s chintzy clear lenses.

A revised suspension and steering system, as well as new standard safety features — an antiskid system and rear disc brakes — marked the changes for 2007. Inside, the dashboard and climate controls were restyled.

The Equinox gained two new models for 2008: the luxury-oriented LTZ and performance-minded Sport. The latter featured an all-aluminum, 264 hp DOHC 3.6 L V6 tied to a six-speed automatic.

ON THE ROAD

The Equinox’s workaday 3.4 L V6 was good enough for 8.3-second runs to 96 km/h, not bad for a “compact” SUV that in reality was only a few centimeters shorter than a Ford Explorer.

The invigorated Sport model could do the highway sprint in 6.9 seconds and hugged the road with 0.80 g of stickiness, a decent improvement over the conventional ’Nox’s 0.77 g, thanks to meatier rubber and a lowered suspension.

While the Chevy drove well enough, owners noted that it was saddled with a very large turning circle, making parking manoeuvres clumsy.

Real-world fuel economy was considerably worse than the government ratings. Some owners commented that the Equinox/Torrent twins exhibited a thirst more akin to a full-size SUV.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

On the plus side, drivers liked the trucks’ accommodating and flexible passenger/cargo space, their styling and all-weather capability (AWD models).

Negatively, the Equinox and Torrent seemed to be built the old GM way – the way that bankrupted the former automotive juggernaut.

There’s a sizable number of owners who are not happy with their vehicles, and they presented a litany of complaints online.

Principal among them are suspension struts and mounts that can wear out in as little as 40,000 km; worn and noisy sway-bar links; ignition-lock cylinders that won’t turn or release the key; short-lived batteries and other starter-system components, and a host of electrical faults.

The wheel bearings fail with depressing frequency; the air conditioner is weak and can give up the ghost early and, on AWD models, the rear differential can whine or break altogether. Generally, the pair can emit an ungodly racket.

“More rattles than a can of marbles,” posted one owner.

Avoid the troublesome 2005 model-year, especially. It’s not one of Canada’s shinier moments.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Toyota 4Runner, Jaguar XJ and Ford Explorer. Email: [email protected].

Chevrolet Equinox/ Pontiac Torrent

WHAT’S BEST: sliding backseat, big doors, handsome looker

WHAT’S WORST: upholstery stains, gas hog, frequent repairs

TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2005 – $12,000; 2008 – $20,000

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