There are advantages to entering a segment extremely late.

While in recent years consumers have walked away in droves from Chevrolet's previous compact SUV entry — a rattling truck-based pillbox called the Tracker — General Motors Corp.'s largest division used its time wisely in engineering the replacement.

The Equinox is a perfectly sized cross/utility vehicle, solving one of the biggest problems evident in segment leaders Ford Escape, Jeep Liberty and Honda CR-V: not enough cargo and passenger room.

Based on the same unibody platform as the Saturn Vue, the 5-passenger Equinox features a longer wheelbase and wider stance. At 112.5 ins. (284.8 cm), its wheelbase is more than 8 ins. (20.3 cm) longer than that of the Escape, Liberty and CR-V.

Sometimes it's a game of inches, and here Equinox wins with new benchmarks for roominess. Equinox is a smidgen longer overall than the more expensive Honda Pilot, which starts at around $27,500. Equinox has a price range, excluding destination charges, of $20,995-$24,335.

The ride is confident and balanced thanks to a MacPherson strut front suspension and a rear independent 4-link suspension with coil springs. Equinox's elongated skeleton allows for reasonable agility.

Engine noise is noticeable but not problematic — partly drowned out by the wind as it rushes past the side mirrors and A-pillar.

While GM absolutely nailed the size, its engine choice is questionable. The Equinox is powered by GM's aged overhead-valve 3.4L V-6 that peaks at 185 hp. The segment-leading Ford Escape and Jeep Liberty offer 4- and 6-cyl. engines, and both vehicles offer engines with more horsepower and more modern overhead-cam designs.

GM builds the V-6 in China and ships it to Ingersoll, Ont., Canada, where the CUV is assembled, even though a GM plant in nearby Tonawanda, NY, makes an engine that is identical in displacement, number of cylinders, valve train, horsepower and compression ratio.

Engine power is adequate and its availability wide-ranging. Honda and Toyota, incidentally, have been gaining U.S. market share without winning the horsepower wars. Chevy says the 4-door Equinox will accelerate from 0-60 mph (0-96 km/h) in 8.5 seconds, and fuel economy is expected to be 19 mpg (12.4L/100 km) in the city and 25 mpg (9.4L/100 km) on the highway.

The powerplant is paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission, and the driveline offers front- or optional all-wheel drive. Towing capacity is 3,500 lbs. (1,588 kg).

Equinox's styling stands out in a vanilla segment. The aggressive nose and scowling headlamps featured on the Silverado pickup are carried over to the Equinox.

The interior dabbles with a little too much plastic, but the center stack layout is impressive, especially the side-storage areas. The air conditioning seems a little weak and the 60/40 split rear bench seats are fairly stiff. But the cabin's layout is open.

Rear doors are huge for easy access to the back seats, which can be moved fore and aft 8 ins. (20.3 cm) — the latter providing ample legroom. The maximum cargo room behind the rear seats is 32.2 cu.-ft. (0.9 cu.-m) — more than Escape and Liberty, and slightly less than CR-V. The front passenger seat folds forward for additional cargo space.

GM expects annual sales of at least 100,000 units.

2005 Chevrolet Equinox

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive, 5-passenger 4-door cross/utility vehicle

Engine: 3.4L (3,350 cc) OHV V-6, iron block/aluminum heads

Power (SAE net): 185 hp @ 5,200 rpm

Torque: 210 lb.-ft. (281 Nm) @ 3,800 rpm

Compression ratio: 9.5:1

Bore × Stroke (mm): 92 × 84

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 112.5 ins. (286 cm)

Overall length: 188.8 ins. (480 cm)

Overall width: 71.4 ins. (181 cm)

Overall height: 67 ins. (170 cm)

Curb weight (AWD): 3,776 lbs. (1,713 kg)

Market competition: Ford Escape; Honda CR-V; Hyundai Santa Fe; Jeep Liberty; Toyota RAV4