The roomy Equinox SUV has always been a solid seller for Chevrolet, but it’s not a benchmark for either sales or execution. Last year, in the heart of a tremendous bull market for compact crossovers, the model took a 12.8 percent hit. Still, Chevy found garages for 242,195 of them. That’s a strong number, but it’s far off the number of Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue utes that moved off lots. Part of the reason?
The Equinox is old. Even ancient, at least in automotive years. The Equinox has been riding on the same GM “Theta” platform since 2005. Way back then, the architecture underpinned the dearly departed Saturn Vue and Pontiac Torrent. Remember them? Today, only GMC’s Terrain shares mechanicals. An all-new model was long overdue.
“It’s a fierce market, there’s no question. We spent a great deal of time benchmarking the competition,” says vehicle chief engineer Mark Cieslak. “It (the old model) was not relevant in terms of size. We had to re-proportion and right-size the vehicle.”
To bring the Equinox in line with the competitors, the redesigned 2018 model is 400 pounds lighter and 4.7 inches shorter than before. The chassis by itself is 150 pounds lighter and has a 5.2 inch shorter wheelbase too. That trimmer platform is engineered with a smarter, more complex matrix of high strength and ultra-high strength steels along with a heavy use of structural adhesives. Stiffness is way up—by around 20 percent.
“When you provide an architecture that’s torsionally stiff it takes the handcuffs off the engineers,” says Cieslak. “Because now they can use the tuning elements to really dial in the suspension for ride and handling.”
To preserve ride quality, boost handling performance and add steering precision, the team hard-mounted both the front and rear suspension subframes. The Macpherson strut front suspension cradle is now anchored to the frame in six positions instead of four with a stiffening bar running across the structure too. Losing those soft, squishy rubber bushings means there’s now a solid base for the suspension to react against, and engineers say that direct connection into the body structure improves steering feel too.
Like many of the Equinox’s competitors, you can have any engine you’d like as long as it’s a turbocharged four-cylinder. Initially GM’s 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder will power every Equinox. But more potent options are coming later this year. In this application, the 1.5-liter develops 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque and is paired to a six-speed automatic. That’s 24 lb-ft of torque more than the Honda’s CR-V and 31 more than the RAV4.
The Equinox comes standard with front wheel drive but there’s an all-new AWD system too. It monitors the driver’s behavior along with the driving conditions and uses hydraulic clutches to pre-emptively send torque where it needs to go. The system can be manually disconnected, which Chevy says can increase fuel efficiency.
Chop out a healthy chunk of wheelbase and one might expect legroom to suffer. But somehow the Equinox has 39.7 inches of rear-seat legroom. That’s a fraction of an inch less than the old one and just an inch short of the Honda CR-V. And Chevy has finally added air conditioning vents back there, along with optional seat heat and USB ports. The rear seat does recline, but the lever is located at the top of the seatback. So, there’s really no way to make the seat more comfortable while you’re sitting in it. Fold that seat flat and there’s room for 63.5 cubic feet of stuff. That’s about the same space as the last Equinox but quite a bit less than Honda’s CR-V.
The base L Equinox is a pretty good deal at just under $25,000. However, important safety gear that Honda and others are now baking into their volume models requires more cash here. You’ll need to step past the LS grade to the $27,645 LT model and shell out an additional $1,945 for the Confidence and Convenience package to get stuff like rear park assist, blind spot alert and rear cross traffic alert. More sophisticated tech like lane keep assist and forward collision alert can only be optioned on the most expensive Premier model.
Our experience driving the Equinox was limited to the Premier FWD model, which, at $34,615, came loaded with luxury touches like perforated leather on the dash, comfy heated and ventilated leather seats and GM’s excellent 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Check all the option boxes and it’s possible to see a sticker in the $40,000 neighborhood.
Chevy says one-third of all Equinox models are the lower-level L and LS models. We didn’t have a chance to drive one of those, but there was a swatch of seat material to sample and we certainly wouldn’t mind living with the soft denim-like fabric in those models.
If you’ve logged any time behind the wheel of a Malibu or a Cruze, the Equinox will feel familiar on the inside. The interior design is airy, clean and simple — but it also takes no chances. The analog gauges and digital display screen between them seem smaller and less expressive than those in recent newly redesigned crossovers. The fat leather steering wheel is heated here and feels great. Our only real grumble is elbow comfort. The center console is cavernous, but the lid isn’t softly padded and neither is the arm rest on the door.
Slide the shifter back into drive and the Equinox is reasonably quick around town. And Chevrolet did an excellent job integrating the engine stop/start so that it operates seamlessly in the background. Out on the highway, the ride is very smooth and impressively quiet. Dig deep into the throttle and the 1.5-liter makes a bit more ruckus, but runs out of breath at high speeds.
Similarly, the transmission is too focused on fuel economy for an enthusiast. It tends to upshift into the tallest gear as often as it can. And in the hilly countryside around Asheville, N.C., where we sampled the Equinox, that meant lots of shifting to maintain a quick pace. Yes, there are manual controls for the gearbox to help keep the engine in the sweet spot, but there are no paddle shifters. More importantly, there is no sport mode. That’s really too bad because the rest of the Equinox is totally game for playful drives. There’s little roll in the suspension on twisty roads. The steering is nicely weighted and offers a level of accuracy on par with the best in this class, and the brakes are strong right at the top of the pedal and bring the Equinox down from speed impressively. This is clearly a chassis capable of supporting a far more potent and responsive powertrain.
Our prediction? The new Equinox will be very competitive. The structure, styling and driving dynamics now rival the best in the class. For those who like a little more excitement, Chevy will add its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 252 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque this summer, backed by a nine-speed automatic. Chevy promises a 0-60-mph time of just 6.5 seconds. At around the same time, the Cruze’s 1.6-liter turbo-diesel will become an option too, delivering 240 lb-ft of torque and 40 mpg to give Chevy a diverse mix of powertrains. All told, it should be enough for the Equinox to hit the top of the sales charts once again.
On Sale: Spring 2017
Base Price: $24,475
As Tested Price: $31,685
Drivetrain: 1.5-liter turbocharged I-4, 6-speed automatic, FWD/AWD
Output: 170 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 203 lb-ft torque @ 2,000-4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,375 lbs.
Fuel Economy: 26/32/28 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Roomy; refined chassis; potent engine options
Cons: Conservative design inside and out; no sport mode