Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A blue 2023 Chevy Equinox is shown from the side parked in front of a brick building.

Why Practicality Is Making a Comeback in the Midsize SUV Category

Nowadays, you can’t drive a mile without seeing at least a dozen SUVs. It wasn’t always this way, but the last three decades have seen a massive influx of SUVs and crossovers as buyers shy away from sedans and minivans. In the race to design the next high-performance SUV full of futuristic tech and a touchscreen larger than your living room smart TV, some automakers have abandoned the one quality that drew buyers to SUVs in the first place–practicality.

Practicality isn’t sexy. You can’t capture it in a glossy home page photo. It’s not a compelling enough feature to sell an SUV anymore. Practicality went out of fashion long ago. Still, with the economy heading towards a recession, the notion of buying a vehicle based on practicality has made a comeback. Consider the 2023 Chevy Equinox: the Equinox shines brightest for its class-leading fuel economy, reliability, and low starting price.

Value and practicality go hand in hand, but what about creature comforts and performance? Vehicles like the Equinox are stylish and have enough high-end features to mask the SUV’s overall practicality value proposition. Intentional? Probably, since buyers still want to impress their neighbors, but if affordability and reliability occupy the top two spots on your must-have list, SUVs like the Equinox are inherently designed to be a natural fit.

How to Prioritize Practicality Early in the Purchase Process

As you set out to select the right SUV for your lifestyle and budget, your first task is cutting through clever automotive marketing and advertising tactics designed to draw in mass buyers. Most automakers don’t lead with practicality because potential buyers in the early stages are attracted first by styling. Much like real estate purchase decisions, they won’t be interested unless they can picture themselves owning and driving the vehicle.

This purchase psychology explains why most manufacturer advertising is stylized with dramatic landscapes and backdrops, celebrity endorsements, and cinematic embellishments. A commercial featuring Matthew McConaughey expertly piloting an SUV up Pike’s Peak in a blizzard is infinitely more exciting than showing a suburban mom bypassing the gas station as she drops the kids off at soccer practice.

Carmakers cast the net wide to attract a larger pool of potential buyers. As a shopper looking for practicality, you should skip the theatrics and head to the vehicle’s specifications section. Specs are gold for value-minded buyers. First, check the SUV’s fuel economy ratings and list of standard equipment. Next, check out the passenger and cargo volume sizes.

The manufacturer’s trim logic is fundamental in the early stages. If you have a list of must-have features, see if a specific trim or add-on package offers them without forcing you to commit to costly extras you don’t want or need. Chevy’s trim logic favors practicality. The Equinox offers four trims and a series of add-on packages that allow buyers to stick with a less expensive trim and still have access to extra comfort and convenience features.

The brown and black interior of a 2023 Chevy Equinox shows two rows of seating.

Whittling Down Your Options to the Best Fit

After scrutinizing each potential SUV’s specifications and available trims and packages, the next step is third-party research. Most buyers seeking practicality care about reliability, safety, and residual value. These data points are available on free sites like Kelley Blue Book and J.D. Power, which rate each vehicle in key categories, allowing buyers to perform side-by-side comparisons conveniently.

Safety Ratings

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) evaluates all new vehicles and assigns an overall rating based on average performance across a spectrum of crash tests. Vehicles with a 5-Star Overall Rating are considered the safest. Similarly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards models with the best crash test performance a Top Safety Pick+ rating. As you’ll find, the practical Chevy Equinox received a 5-Star Overall Rating from the NHTSA.

Subjective Reviews

Subjective reviews also shed light on a vehicle’s long-term practicality. Automotive review sites like Car and Driver and MotorTrend offer comprehensive option-based reviews of every new vehicle. Remember that these sites vary significantly because even objective reporters have personal preferences. Look for word choice when seeking feedback on the little things that turn into big things for owners, like spaciousness.

Car and Driver called the Equinox’s cabin “durable” and “spacious” and called its infotainment system “one of the best-connected” of all SUVs. MotorTrend highlighted its good “feature-per-dollar value,” which is exactly what practical buyers should look for to ensure they get the most bang for every buck spent. These meta-messages are like Easter Eggs in video games–they hide in plain sight, offering buyers precious intel about practicality and value.

A grey 2023 Chevy Equinox is shown from the rear driving on an open road.

When Saying Yes to the Base Model Makes Sense

Many buyers seeking practicality default to an SUV’s base model, which often means few creature comforts and even fewer high-tech features. Take a closer look at the 2023 Chevy Equinox and discover hope for finding a well-equipped base model. The Equinox LS comes standard with a suite of driver-assist safety systems called Chevy Safety Assist. Upscale features like LED headlights are also standard. Chevy also throws in three years of free connected services with the base model, a perk not seen on many other entry trims.

Some auto manufacturers highlight required equipment as a buyer perk. For example, many base models list a backup camera as a standard feature. However, backup cameras are federally required on every new car and have been for years. As you evaluate a base model SUV, consider whether it has the equipment on your must-have list. If not, determine the less expensive alternative: the base model with an add-on equipment package or the next trim level.

The Equinox LS allows buyers to choose between front- and all-wheel drive. For just $785 more than the base price, the LS Convenience Package equips the Equinox with a power driver’s seat, including a power lumbar setting, tinted rear glass, and a larger, more expansive 4.2-inch Driver Data Center. This configuration costs less than the Equinox LT, the next trim level. Deep diving into the manufacturer’s build tool will help you do the math when comparing different trims.

Practical SUVs Are the Newest Automotive Trend

If practicality is first on your list, you’re not alone; even base-model SUVs come with high price tags. Why move up a trim level or spend money on extra packages if even a few thousand dollars could skyrocket your monthly payment? Instead, look for well-equipped base models like the 2023 Chevy Equinox. You’ll get the same fuel efficiency, sporty styling, and reliability as the couple that chose the high-end Premier trim.

Practicality is about prioritizing the basics, like safety. Vehicles like the Equinox feature an array of standard driver-assist safety features without buyers having to move up the trim range. Unfortunately, not all manufacturers are quite so generous. Base models also frequently omit connected services capabilities that allow seamless smartphone integration. These minor inconveniences may become big annoyances over time.

The SUV revolution ushered in an era of convenience and capability. Buyers looking to benefit from SUV ownership don’t have to spend outlandish money to get there. Manufacturers like Chevrolet build lineups with low entry points without stripping a vehicle bare. As long as safety ratings are on the high side and the vehicle has the equipment you want and need, buying a base model could be the most practical decision.