By Peter Bleakney, Driving .ca - Originally launched in 2005, the Cambridge-built Chevrolet Equinox compact crossover became a cash cow for General Motors thanks to the segment's ascendancy to North America's vehicle of choice. The first-gen Equinox found more than 2 million homes, and in Canada it was Chevy's second-best seller behind the Silverado pickup.
Ah, but time waits for no crossover mired in the past. To keep up with the raging tide of competitive iron, the Equinox now moves into its third generation for the 2018 model year, getting an all-new structure, tidier dimensions, sharper looks, updated tech and a new base engine - a 1.5-litre turbo-four putting out 170 horsepower 203 lb.-ft. of torque - mated six-speed automatic transmission. It also sheds up to 180 kilograms, depending on the trim.
The 1.5L engine in the Equinox, which we sampled earlier this year, is smooth and reasonably fuel efficient. But for those seeking more punch, Chevrolet answers the call with this 2.0L turbo-four that makes 252 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque from 2,500 rpm. It works in tandem with a nine-speed auto. The Equinox now leaps to the head of the class when it comes to segment power, edging out the speedy Subaru Forester XT with its 250 horsepower, the 245-horsepower Ford Escape and the Kia Sportage, which develops 237 HP from its 2.0L turbo-four.
We sampled the top tier-Premier AWD which layers on such goodies as two-tone leather, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems, memory settings for driver's seat radio and mirrors, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a hands-free powered lift gate and rear park assist, plus 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, a few chrome bits on the exterior, and more.
Escaping the confines of congested Nashville, the 2.0L Equinox feels relaxed and certainly more fleet than the base 1.5L engine. With it's stiff structure, targeted sound insulation and standard noise cancelling, Chevy has fashioned one of the more serene and comfortable riding vehicles in the segment. Ride quality is excellent, and while handling might be not as sharp as the Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5, the Equinox cuts a clean and controlled path on these undulating roads in rural Tennessee.
The nine-speed automatic was developed by GM in-house, reflecting an industry trend to get a wide ratio spread while also keeping engines within a fuel efficient rev range. Hats off to GM for tuning this transmission to avoid unwanted ratio "hunting" and excessive lag when calling for acceleration. The first five gears are closely stacked and slur between each other mostly unnoticed. Under light throttle loads, the nine-speed wants to keep the 2.0L turbo just under 1,500 rpm, but unlike some others with multi-gear transmissions - the new Jeep Compass comes to mind - there's no pathological aversion to downshifting here.
As these were U.S.-spec Equinoxes, we observed 24 MPG on this mix of highway and winding two-lane roads. Plus, not only does the Equinox run on regular grade fuel, an auto start/stop system is standard across the line.
The first stop is the hamlet of Leipers Fork, about an hour outside of Nashville. If you're looking for a killer fried chicken sandwich and some fried green tomatoes, drop in on the friendly folks at The Country Boy diner. And if you're looking to jam on some funky vintage instruments, wander two doors down to Serenite Maison. There's an old Kay standup bass leaning in the corner - been there for decades, they say - along with a selection of Gibson and Martin guitars hanging on the wall. No, they're not for sale - I asked - they're purely for the pleasure of anyone who wants to play them.
Chevrolet has the 2018 Equinox armed for connectivity. Standard is Chevy MyLink infotainment system with wireless audio streaming, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and one year of OnStar that bestows, among other services, a 4G LTE wireless hotspot.
The Equinox's dash looks to be lifted right out of the Malibu, which is no bad thing as all the controls, major gauges and menu structure are clear and logical. The cabin looks good dressed up in this two-tone tan-and-black combo, but lesser trim models in all black are a bit dour. The quality of materials is not up to class leaders like the CX-5 and the Sportage, and some of that faux-chrome trim hints of an old-school GM hangover.
The front seats are comfortable, and rear passengers are not left out here, getting plenty of headroom and legroom, two USBs, a power adapter, a 110-volt outlet and heated seats. It doesn't stop there - rear seat riders can actually choose whether they want warm butts and/or backs.
A raft of new radar and camera-based safety kit is on the menu, including surround vision, forward collision alert and automatic braking, plus lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist systems. Additionally, the standard Rear Seat Reminder warns if a child or dog is left in the second row.
There's plenty of functionality in the 2018 Equinox. The 60/40 split second row easily folds forward with a low-effort fluid motion, creating a flat and smartly configured load space. There is a decently sized hidden compartment under the floor. The hatch opening is large too, although you'll find more cargo room in a CR-V, Forester or Toyota RAV4. With the 2.0L turbo engine, the Equinox's tow rating leaps to 3,500 pounds.
Landing in dealerships now, this accomplished crossover with its bigger engine, grown-up comfy road manners and class-leading technology is the second prong in the Equinox's assault on the compact crossover segment. Later this year, the Equinos will get a 1.6L turbodiesel engine with 136 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque.