In a field of fierce challengers, this compact crossover holds its own.
If I had a dollar for every time I was asked, “What’s your favorite car?” I could buy that car. Even if it were an exotic.
Truth be told, the vehicles that get my professional admiration are the everyday ones, the dependable workhorses that shuttle our children hither and yon, the cars that become part of the family. It’s easy to love performance machines or luxury vehicles with fur-lined glove boxes (not a thing, but you get the gist). But the car geek in me admires budget-restrained engineering teams who create affordable cars that are truly desirable. That’s a black art.
The all-new third generation Chevrolet Equinox crossover is more proof that under Mary Barra, General Motors has found its footing. The Equinox takes care of five people, does the chores, doesn’t drink to excess and looks good.
In the brutal automotive business, the compact crossover market is the most fiercely competitive. It includes not only the Equinox but also the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan and Hyundai Tucson. The Equinox is critical to General Motors. Chevrolet moved 242,195 of them in the United States in 2016, which was second in volume only to the Silverado pickup truck. The 2018 model will probably sell quicker because it’s a far better vehicle.
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Here’s why. The Equinox is more than 4 inches shorter now but retains the same interior space. The 400 pounds it has shed may exceed the weight of the young family who drives it. Let’s buy a round for the engineers.
The Equinox’s breezy design language, which also graces the Cruze, Malibu and Volt, could be used by Lexus in a parallel universe. One reason the second generation overstayed its welcome is that the original design for the third generation was so unloved in consumer clinics that it was scrapped. Good to know the Chevrolet team understands that ugly is forever once it’s on the road.
Friends and neighbors fawned over the Premier model’s cabin with stitched elements on the instrument panel. Owners will be staring at it for years in bad traffic, so glad it’s handsome. Budget plastics are placed below the center console where they’re seldom seen or touched. (It’s how wise product planners cut costs.) The center console is roomy enough to fit a single-lens reflex camera. GM’s touch-screen user interface, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, is simple to use.
A base price of $24,525 will give pause to price-sensitive internet shoppers. Climbing to $33,975, my top trim Premier tester lacked available all-wheel drive and a panoramic sunroof. And adaptive cruise control is not even listed as an option. To be fair, the price includes vented front seats, a heated steering wheel and a surround-view camera system that some competitors don’t offer. Generous pricing margins may allow Chevy dealers plenty of negotiation room. Get in there and haggle hard.
Considering the comfort and refinement, the effort may be worth it. The Equinox shines by delivering a polished and quiet dynamic verging on luxury brand levels. If the roads to soccer or Little League practice are rough, this suspension smooths the bumps. It’s respectable in the curves, too, without challenging the Mazda CX-5’s cornering chops.
Chevy’s supportive seats impressed my backside (though that’s a personal thing). A bonus: Set off the lane-keeping assist system and the driver’s cushion vibrates discreetly, with no tattletale chimes. It’s a marriage-saving feature first found in Cadillacs.
The standard engine is a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder providing 170 horsepower and 203 pound-feet of torque. That’s hooked up to a six-speed transmission that aggressively holds low ratios for fuel efficiency. This standard power plant is smooth with acceleration in the middle of the pack. The CR-V is a little quicker and efficient. The Environmental Protection Agency rated the average fuel economy of a front-drive Equinox at 28 mpg versus the Honda’s at 30. A comparable RAV4 scores 25.
Any performance and efficiency deficiencies can be rectified in spades with two engine options. There’s a 2-liter turbo gasoline engine with 252 horsepower and a nine-speed transmission for Speed Racer. Scrooge McDuck may be interested in the four-cylinder turbo diesel paired to a six-speed that’s expected to return 40 mpg.
The Equinox’s automatic engine start-stop system is smooth enough to forget about in many situations. Good thing because it can’t be turned off. Unlike the automatic all-wheel drive systems used by others, the Equinox requires drivers to enable it manually. (There’s a prompt to push the button when conditions warrant.)
Automatic emergency braking is standard on the RAV4, the 2018 Nissan Rogue and most CR-Vs. That safety tech is part of a $1,900 package on the Equinox and only available on the top Premier model.
The back seat no longer slides fore and aft (eliminated because some second-generation owners never knew it did). The space is generous with a raised seat cushion offering significant thigh support for adults and superior visibility for children. The back also sports two USB ports, a 12-volt socket and a 115-volt three-prong outlet, so there’s nothing that can’t be charged.
The days of Japan Inc. clearly outgunning Detroit & Co. on every level are gone. While my left brain admires the overachieving Honda CR-V, my right brain gives the nod to the comfortable, refined and stylish Equinox. Both engineering teams performed the black magic needed to make a mainstream car appealing.