2018 Chevy Equinox First Drive: Lighter, Smarter, Better

– Asheville, North Carolina

The crossover market is flooded with options. Chevrolet sets out to stack its latest Equinox with a potent combination: a whole boatload of technology, new powertrains, and an advanced, lighter-weight chassis. The Carolinas in the southwestern United States are crossover country, where everyone is heading for the hills each weekend with a kayak, dog, kids, or multiples of each. Setting off in the newest Chevy on the Blue Ridge Parkway on the actual first day of spring, I was getting to know the Equinox on the equinox in its natural habitat.

This 2018 model represents the Equinox’s third generation style-wise, but only really the second generation mechanically. The 2010-2017 models were largely based upon the original platform that dates back to 2005. Chevrolet cites use of mini-bulkheads and martensitic steel to shed roughly 180 kilograms (about 400 pounds). The new Equinox is about 127 millimetres (5 inches) shorter in length than its predecessor, and rigidity is increased through use of structural adhesives and advanced welding techniques.

2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive
2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive
2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive
2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive

The exterior design of the new Equinox is conservative with creases; it follows closely on the design language seen in the Volt, Bolt, and Malibu. The “swoop” shape seen on the front end, framing the Chevrolet bowtie, is referred to as “the cradle” by designers, and is maintained throughout the vehicle.

Previous generations of the Equinox were exclusively front- or all-wheel drive, but this new platform offers the best of both worlds through use of a trick differential that can disconnect the rear driveshaft; Chevrolet says this is good for a very small increase in fuel economy (about one or two percent). Of course, Chevy will still offer a FWD-only option for buyers looking to save a few dollars.

As standard, the Equinox is fitted with a new, turbocharged, 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine making 170 horsepower and 203 pound-feet of torque. A 1.5-litre engine sounds miniscule for a 1,509-kilogram (3,327-pound) crossover, and it is, but the new engine packs a torquey punch. Highway merging and steep hills are handled with ease once the transmission figures out what you’re trying to do – more on that later. This 1.5 is designed to deliver peak torque at the bottom end of the rev-band, the thinking being that the torque will be more useful at “around-town” RPMs than at the redline. Low-end power is plentiful, and with the windows down you can even hear a whoosh of turbo intake as the blower spools up. Along with the 1.5-litre engine, two other options will be available for the Canadian market: a 2.0-litre turbo-four and a 1.6-litre turbodiesel, the latter of which will be available sometime after launch.

Along with the 1.5-litre engine, two other options will be available in Canada: a 2.0-litre turbo-four and a 1.6-litre turbodiesel.

Chevrolet mates the 1.5 with a six-speed automatic transmission, despite GM offering eight- and nine-speed automatics in many of its other cars. This six-speed unit is old, and feels every bit of its age. It’s slow to shift and not very intuitive in terms of responses to throttle input. I expect a good automatic transmission to kick down a gear or two quickly in order to deliver the desired power as throttle is applied, especially when going uphill, but the Equinox’s six-speed just feels dimwitted. The CUV’s healthy weight loss and punchy new motor are seemingly undercut by a lackluster transmission that has been around for more than a decade.

The Blue Ridge Mountains offer a good mix of meandering country two-lane roads, tight switchbacks, and short highway jaunts. An unassuming side road can turn out to be a cartoonishly bending stretch of pavement that offers ample opportunity to perform quick handling maneuvers. The Equinox doesn’t feel terribly out of place here – it changes direction accurately and with confidence. Said another way, for a vehicle destined to ply suburban streets stuffed with children and sports gear, Chevy's new Equinox doesn't feel terribly out of place on a winding road. The relatively quick steering rack and physically smaller steering wheel help the Equinox feel much more car-like than its SUV-ish shape would outwardly indicate.

The Equinox’s class-leading drag coefficient of 0.338 is evident in the remarkably low road noise within the passenger space. Cruising at highway speeds, it was never necessary to raise my voice to be heard.

2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive
2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive
2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive
2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive

Chevy has worked hard to spruce up its interiors over the past few years, and that’s immediately evident once inside the new Equinox. The Jet Black with Brandy (brown) leather interior of this car looks especially nice. The new design gives this crossover a decidedly more upmarket feel than the outgoing model. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good in hand, and the interior has a generally warm vibe. Comfortable seats make for a smooth ride through the woods on the border of the Carolinas.

Dual-zone climate control is now standard, adding vents and temperature controls on the back of the front centre console. Two additional USB outlets for rear passengers complement the four available to front-seat passengers making a total of six USB ports throughout the cabin. The rear seats offer ample legroom for my six-foot, two-inch frame, and even recline. Both rear seats fold easily with the pull of a handle in the trunk. Cargo space is plentiful at 1,798 litres, with an additional storage area below the trunk floor.

For a vehicle destined to ply suburban streets stuffed with children and sports gear, Chevy's new Equinox doesn't feel terribly out of place on a winding road.

The eight-inch MyLink touchscreen infotainment system is standard equipment, featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But without the optional True North Edition package ($4,000) your shiny new eight-inch touchscreen will not include factory navigation, and that price could be a tough pill to swallow. Apple Maps and Google Maps do work swimmingly with CarPlay and Android Auto, though many drivers still prefer to use Chevy’s factory nav. Some of the the magic of the rich Bose sound system is lost as the interior panels rattle in reaction to higher volume levels, but that’s a small quibble.

An in-car 4G LTE Wi-Fi network aims to allow drivers and passengers to stay connected on the road, though spotty cell service in the mountains rendered the in-car network all but useless for most of my drive. The Equinox features an impressive, if not slightly over-ambitious, suite of safety systems. Utilizing both radar and sensors, the Equinox is always looking out for something: Blind-spot warning, lane-keep assist, forward collision alert, and low-speed forward automatic braking are all standard equipment. The default front collision warning system is pretty intrusive, but thankfully the intense flashing lights can be turned off. Surround Vision, a top-down live-video view, proves helpful for parking, but the alarmingly low-resolution rear video camera left me guessing at shapes and relying more on the parking sensors.

2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive
2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive
2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive
2018 Chevy Equinox: First Drive

Pricing for the 2018 Equinox begins at $25,195, slightly less than its main competitors, the 2017 Toyota RAV4 ($27,445) and 2017 Honda CR-V ($26,690). Both of the Equinox’s classmates have a hair more horsepower, but the Chevy easily wins the torque competition.

Coasting down from the Blue Ridge Mountains as the sun glowed gold and low in the west, I revel in the comfort and easy-driving goodness of this tech-packed crossover. The design is fresh, the motor is brand new; a new transmission is the only thing this CUV could really use. The overall package offered in the 2018 Equinox is robust and would suit the needs of most families in any season.

 

Photos: Jonathan Harper / Motor1.com

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