This market segment is the largest and has seen the most intense competition for consumers' attention. General Motors has stopped at nothing to make sure its new entrant stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
First off, GM put the Equinox on the automotive equivalent of an extreme diet. It shrunk by 118 millimetres in length.
While it used to be almost stuck in the grey zone, caught between compact and mid-sized SUVs, it is now firmly a compact - in the same segment as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and others.
In the process, the Equinox has shed close to 300 kilograms (it's now even lighter than the Honda CR-v).
But this is a formidable crowd and, if the changes are not done right, it runs the risk of taking the Equinox out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The base front-wheel-drive Equinox starts out at $25,195, and trim levels include LT and Premier. Canadians would likely opt for an all-wheel-drive vehicle instead, which drives up the cost by $2,400. There are more trim levels for the AWD line, with the top being the Premier 2LZ at $37,195.
I drove a Premier 1LZ, which starts at $34,195.
My first impression on getting in the driver's seat was "Wow!"
The previous-generation Equinox was a vehicle that tried hard, but was utterly outclassed by its competitors. It featured acres of hard plastic and reeked of a design by committee.
The pendulum has swung completely in the opposite direction with the 2018 edition. The new model reeks of quality and attention to detail. Any interior designer would be proud to look around and appreciate the carefully laid-out cabin (in two-tone leather on some models).
Not only is the interior welcoming, the materials used have similarly received a substantive boost. As my hand rested on the steering wheel, I noticed that even the spokes of the wheel are covered in a supple material that was pleasing to the touch.
The equipment kit reflects GM's desire to elevate the Equinox into territory it could never had imagined before. My tester boasted a large panorama roof, 19-inch wheels, a Bose sound system, low-speed auto braking, forward collision alert, lane departure, lane-keep assist and auto high beam, surround cameras, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated outboard rear seats, eight-way power front and passenger seats, and wireless cellphone charging - and that's only the highlights.
For the infotainment system, the Equinox features an eight-inch colour touchscreen with MyLink, Apple Carplay, Android Auto and Sirius satellite radio. The system is also a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, so that passengers can connect their tablets wirelessly on the road. Buyers will also get an OnStar five-year basic plan.
Engineers tossed out the old V-6 and replaced it with a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines - a 1.5- and a 2.0-litre. I drove the 1.5-litre mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The engine may be smaller, but I daresay the Equinox feels more spirited, with 300 kilograms less to push. The 1.5-litre produces 170 horsepower, about average in this segment. But the kicker is the 203 foot-pounds of torque, which comes on as low as 2,500 rpm. It is the most torque produced in the segment. By comparison, the Ford's turbocharged 1.5-litre four produces 185 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,320 rpm.
The new engine is also much more fuel-efficient than the V-6 it replaces. While it is not the segment leader, it still bests similar offerings, such as the above-mentioned 1.5-litre from Ford. Technology in the form of a gas-saving stop/start function helps lower consumption.
The 1.5-litre will soon be joined by a more-powerful 2.0-litre and a more frugal 1.6-litre diesel in the months ahead. The latter would be of interest for people who tow or for those looking for the best fuel economy.
The Equinox is quiet on the road, with a compliant ride and predictable handling.
Did General Motors produce a winner this time? If you compare it to last year's model, there is no doubt this year's vehicle is superior. But most importantly, the 2018 Equinox's blend of functionality, features and performance now makes it competitive against the best in the segment for the first time. It is the best contender GM has fielded for a shot at the top.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Compact SUV, front engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine: Turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, 170 hp at 5,600 rpm, 203 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,500 to 4,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,652; width, 1,843; height, 1,661; wheelbase, 2,725
Curb weight (kg): 1,580
Price (base/as tested): $34,195/$40,740 (includes $1,700 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)
Tires: 225/60 R18 on alloy wheels
Fuel type: Regular
Fuel economy (L/100km): 9.8 city/7.9 highway
Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain and roadside assistance