After going back to the drawing board, Chevy is in the hunt again.
You can't swing a Babybjörn these days without hitting a compact crossover. They're the fastest growing segment on four wheels, and predicted to outsell the ubiquitous family sedan in the near future.
Despite a redesign in 2010, the Chevy Equinox had been trundling along on the same basic architecture since its introduction in 2005. It was long overdue for a revamp to keep up with others in the hotly contested segment. Does the third-generation 2018 Equinox have what it takes to give the Bowtie brand a bigger bite of market share? Chevy recently let us drive the new Equinox for two days across North and South Carolina to find out.
What is it?
The Chevy Equinox is a compact, 5-seat crossover that shares a platform with other General Motors products like the GMC Terrain and Buick Envision. That platform is a completely new design for 2018, using different materials, joining methods and design to improve safety, performance, and manufacturing.
Though three drivetrain options will be available eventually, at launch the sole engine offering is a turbocharged, 1.5-liter four-cylinder, generating 170 horsepower and a hearty 203 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic. At 24 mpg city and 30 highway, fuel economy is decent for but not at the head of its class.
This summer that mill will be supplemented by an optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder churning out 252-horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque for those that want a bit more go. By late summer, a 1.6-liter diesel option will round out the motive choices.
Four trim levels are available, starting with the base L trim for $24,475 that comes in front-wheel-drive only. Next up is the LS, which throws in a few creature comforts, a spare, and the option of AWD, starting at $26,405. At $27,645, the LT adds HID headlights, power seats, heated mirrors and a levers in the trunk that fold the rear seats down with a pop. Lastly, the $31,685 Premier comes with heated leather seats, a power liftgate, and 18-inch wheels. At any level but the base L, toss $1,750 at the dealer and you get AWD.
How does it look?
By any measure, the 2018 Equinox's styling is light years ahead of the outgoing model, which looks like something you'd glimpse briefly before a crash in a third world dashcam video. The redesign thrusts Chevy into modernity, even if it falls short of head-snapping flair.
Especially in black, white, silver or gray, its invisibility makes an excellent cloaking device for sub-legal activities. In order to not completely lose it in the Costco parking lot, though, you'd best choose a premium color like Cajun Red, the hue of our test car, or Orange Burst. Be warned, however, that these complexions come with a $395 price tag.
Still, in the pantheon of suburban not-a-minivan-mobiles, it's above average in looks. Some buyers may find extra appeal is in the Equinox's boxier profile, which appears larger than it is and resembles a traditional SUV more so than the soft corners that typify the segment today.
GM has done a superb job differentiating the Equinox from its platform siblings. The Chevy corporate grille integrates nicely into the prow, and a slanted C-pillar is unique among the trio. The Equinox manages to be friendly and unassuming while the GMC Terrain looks upscale and tough and the Buick Envision upscale and organic.
And on the inside?
Climbing into the old Equinox was like slouching into a two-star motel room. It served its purpose, but triggered a mild claustrophobia and you never wanted to stay longer than you absolutely had to. The 2018's interior is an immense improvement, inviting yet airy with a logically arranged controls for the most part.
Despite an exterior measuring four inches shorter than the outgoing model, the redesigned cabin doesn't give up any interior volume. A dashboard with a shorter vertical section gives a feeling of openness and provides great kneeroom.
Whereas the predecessor's interior was a dreary gulag of hard plastic, for 2018 the Equinox is finished in a welcoming blend of soft-touch surfaces and vibrant fabrics. Nicely sculpted door panels and contrasting tones make for a cabin that feels pleasant and natural and no longer synthetic. Our favorite combo was a two-tone black and brandy combo available exclusively in leather at the Premier trim level.
On the center console, knobs and buttons are organized and spaced out well enough that your fingers rarely have to hunt. A new multifunction touchscreen is blissfully easy to navigate by avoiding the cardinal sin of too many menus. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as an LTE wifi subscription, are available at any trim level. If fully optioned out, a wireless inductive charging pad for your smartphone, no less than six USB charging ports and an 8-inch screen (a 7-inch comes standard) ensure you're never lacking in tech.
Safety-wise, the Equinox has the standard suite of warning systems buyers have come to expect. A backup camera and configurable teen driver settings come standard, but you'll have to spring for the Premier to get forward collision, rear cross traffic, lane departure, and blind spot alerts. If you do, the warnings come in the form of an audible beep and a buzz in the driver's seat, which is much preferred over an intrusive jolt from the steering wheel. There's even a bird's-eye parking assist similar to the ones found in Nissan and Infiniti vehicles.
With secondary controls so good, however, it does raise the question of why the primary ones — for, you know, operating the car itself — are so confounding. The steering wheel is too small yet inelegantly chunky. The instrument cluster shoves the two most important gauges, the speedo and tach, off to the sides and shrinks them to a hard-to-read size. The tachometer doesn't even mark the redline. Sure, the center screen can provide a digital readout of the speed, but only at the expense of other info.
Most infuriating of all is the gear selector. The Equinox doesn't have a sport mode, so if you want to hold a lower gear you must rely on the shifter. Unfortunately, it isn't at all obvious how to kick down into manu-matic mode, and once you're there, choosing your gear is done via a bizarre +/- button perched atop the shift knob. It's the least intuitive part of the car, and hardest to operate when you need it the most.
Overall, we'd rank the interior superior to the Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Cherokee and Ford Escape, on par with the Toyota RAV4, but shy of the Honda CR-V. During our hours-long stints behind the wheel, we rode in comfort and never felt fatigued.
But does it go?
Engineers on the 2018 Equinox managed to lop off an impressive 400 pounds for this generation. Coupled with modern manufacturing techniques that allow for a greater variety of metal hardnesses and binding techniques, the resulting chassis is amazingly hardy and composed.
Road irregularities were damped with grace, absorbed through the chassis with no drama or jolts reverberating through the body or shuddering up the steering column. With the diet, the Equinox's movements are no longer ponderous. The steering is quick for a crossover and offers better feedback than many of its competitors. The suspension feels confident in its steps but the brakes could have used better cooling.
The torquey turbo four and six-speed automatic made merging a breeze, with none of the buzzy self-destruct panic generated by a CVT. Engineers even managed to expel the torque steer demons that threaten to wrench the wheel from your hands under hard acceleration.
Visibility was outstanding, especially rearward, which is a refreshing change from the gun slit windows on most crossovers. Cruising serenely at freeway speeds, we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of intrusive wind or road noise.
On top of all this, the Equinox still had one trick left. Part of our route took us through the winding passes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and on those tight switchbacks the compliant chassis and minimal body roll made it surprisingly easy to sling around. The weak link was the transmission, which was eager to up-shift far earlier than we wanted, and the gear selector's design flaws made it difficult to hold your own gear.
Let's get it straight. It's no Miata, or even as tossable as the segment's handling leader, the outgoing Mazda CX-5. We'll can't in good conscience call it fun, but if you really need to hustle through a narrow, twisty road on the run from mountain bandits or something, the Equinox is a capable steed.
Leftlane's Bottom Line
A much needed redesign brings the Equinox into the modern age of crossovers. It boasts useful tech and safety features, has a comfortable cabin, and drives above average for its class. While it doesn't excel in any one area compared to its rivals, it's a fine overall package and a contender again in a competitive segment.
2018 Chevrolet Equinox base price $24,475. As tested, $39,045.
Premier trim, $7,210; AWD $1,750; Sun, Sound & Navigation package $3,320; Cajun Red tintcoat $395.
Photos by Ben Hsu.