Aug
30
2017

THIS SUV HAS THE CAPABILITIES AND ROOM TO BE A STRONG CONTENDER

2018 EquinoxBy Brian Harper, Driving.ca – Yes, General Motors is a King Kong-sized global manufacturer, and its Chevrolet brand as American as baseball, apple pie and all that other stuff, but the Equinox is still built in Ontario – at the CAMI plant in Ingersoll – so I look beyond any obvious flaws in my argument to consider the crossover to be at least quasi-Canadian and, therefore, worth rooting for.  (And, yes, I maintain a certain amount of pride for all vehicles assembled in our nation, regardless of the automaker’s origin.)

It’s not as though this particular Chevy is an underdog; though it isn’t the top seller in the ultracompetitive compact crossover segment – that would currently be the also-built-in-Ontario Toyota RAV4 – it is definitely a player.  Within the Chevy model range, the Equinox is the third in sales in Canada, behind the Silverado pickup and Cruze sedan/hatchback.  And it will likely surpass the Cruze within a few months.

The 2018 model year sees a new, third-generation version, one that sheds a considerable amount of weight – about 180 kilograms – to become leaner and more responsive in comparison with the previous model.  But, more importantly, the new Equinox sets aside its traditional engine lineup – normally aspirated four-cylinders and V6s – for a trio of turbocharged four-cylinder powertrains, including a diesel.

There are LS, LT and Premier trim levels to choose from; the tester was a high-level Premier 1LZ with the base 1.5-litre turbo four and a six-speed automatic transmission.  Putting out a reasonable 170 horsepower and 203 pound-feet of torque, the small four is impressively smooth and lively, not just when puttering about town, but also on the highway.  For comparison, the same-sized engine in the Honda CR-V delivers 190 hp but only 179 lb-ft of torque.  Oh, it’s not going to win any stoplight drag races (zero to 100 km/h in about 9.5 seconds(, but the all-wheel-drive Equinox tips the scales at a trim 1,605 kg, so it’s not overly burdened, feeling quite nimble when turning corners and such.  Plus, the AWD system is disconnected from the rear axle when not in use, improving efficiency.

Initially, though, I felt that were the Equinox to be loaded up with people and luggage – or perhaps towing a small trailer – ticking the box for the 2.0-L turbo (with a far more substantial 252 hp/260 lb-ft, plus a nine-speed automatic) or the 136-hp 1.6-L diesel (236 lb-ft) would be more prudent.  Yet, after putting some 700 km on the odometer with a quick trip to visit friends, I might reconsider.  The crossover handled four adults aboard without missing a beat, and delivered a parsimonious 7.8 L per 100 km – primarily at highway speeds – fuel economy to boot.  Unless you get aggressive on the throttle, the six-speed shifts up early to promote efficiency.  Mind you, southwest Ontario is mostly pancake-flat terrain; the 2.0 L or diesel would probably be a better bet if higher elevations or more varied topography was involved.

Though decidedly fresher in appearance than its doughy predecessor, the new Equinox still blends in with the bulk of the models in the compact crossover segment, rather than standing out.  Design cues for the vehicle came from the aerodynamically shaped Cruze, Malibu and Volt, stalwart Chevy models all, but not known for their drop-dead gorgeous exteriors.  Chevrolet debuted a particularly striking crossover concept called the FNR-X at the Shanghai Auto Show in April; the new Equinox would have made much more of a statement if it had borrowed some of the concept’s styling.

But whatever disappointment there might be with its outward appearance – and I will be the first to say that looks are purely subjective – was mitigated by the Equinox’s bright and cheerful cabin, highlighted by the tester’s two-tone black and tan seats and dash area.  However, the dashboard itself was not the better soft-touch plastic, which, considering the crossover’s nearly $39,000 price tag, smacked of unnecessary cost cutting.

The instrument cluster is first rate, with a configurable information display front and centre.  The same goes for the eight-inch centre console touch screen, with clearly marked icons for a variety of functions.  These include the latest connectivity technologies, such as MyLink infotainment systems designed to support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as an available OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot.

Heated seats and a remote starter are standard on all trims.  The Premier is highly contented and includes such features as dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, power windows, door locks and liftgate, power heated outside mirrors, rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-zone alert and rear-view camera.

As for cargo capacity, the Chevy’s “kneeling” rear seats – the bottom cushions tilt forward when the split-folding seatbacks are lowered – enables a flat rear load floor for easy loading and up to 1,798 L of space, including 846L behind the back seat.

There’s much to like about the redesigned Equinox: fuel efficiency, and impressively smooth ride, good handling characteristics, up-level interior and competitive pricing.  Still, the compact segment is crazy competitive, and the Chevy has to contend with something like 16 rivals, including such heavyweights as the RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape.  Whether the Chevy can elevate its status is up for debate, though it’s not for a lack of trying.  The 1.5-L engine might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the Equinox’s ace in the hole is the fact that there are alternatives.

Overview:  Five-passenger compact crossover

Pros:  Roomy for its size, multiple engine choices, made in Canada

Cons:  Mainstream styling, AWD must be engaged

Value for money:  Good

What I would change:  AWD should activate automatically