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2018 Chevrolet Equinox Review

2018 Chevrolet Equinox Review
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The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox is a needed step forward for the brand and a solid compact crossover.

Chevrolet did a lot right with the 2018 Equinox. The new small crossover is lighter, smaller, more aggressively styled, better equipped across the board, and is generally a more complete, competent vehicle than anything to wear the Equinox badge.

New for this year, the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox is offered in L, LS, LT, and Premier trims. It went on sale last year.


The Equinox earned a 6.6 on our overall scale, which reflects our preference for the new body and its good fuel economy. The score will likely change when official safety data rolls in, so stay tuned to this space as we wait for those scores.

By shaving 400 pounds of fat and cutting 5 inches between the wheels, the new Equinox looks more like a true contender to the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4, rather than a plus-size entry among fiercely competent crossover competition. But beneath this smaller, svelter body is a smarter vehicle.

Turbochargers supplant a bigger engine in the Equinox, and promise torque that’s easy to exploit and fuel economy that challenges the segment’s best. Drivers can pair their Apple iPhone or Android smartphone with a standard 4G LTE wi-fi connection and suck tunes from the internet, which are channeled through the audio system that is controlled by a standard 7.0-inch infotainment system. HID headlights illuminate the road, while vented seats blast the driver’s backside with cool air. All around, this is a better, more complete Equinox than came before.

And yet, there are still problems. The smaller body has less cargo space than the competition and the cabin is at least a step behind the competition in material quality and style. The fascia is polarizing, the rear end looks like a minivan, and cutting-edge safety equipment is limited to the range-topping trim, which is itself way too expensive. The Equinox is better and smarter, but it’s not as good or as smart as it needs to be.

Styling
Updated in every way, the Equinox makes strides inside and out.

Chevy’s designers had a tall order to reinvent the aging Equinox body and cabin into something stylish and competitive in 2017, and the results are solidly above average. We like most of the aggressive new exterior treatment, which brings a dose of the Cruze and Malibu to the Equinox’s face, although a van-like tail hurts the overall look. In the cabin, a clean, attractive design and handsome denim-like upholstery aren’t enough to overcome a sea of boring plastic.

The Equinox’s style advances, but Chevy’s efforts—or lack thereof—fell just short of our requirements for a higher score, so this crossover stands at a 7 out of 10.

The new Equinox closes up the sedan-style grille into a single, unified piece that's split by a chrome surround on the lower portion. The Cruze lends the crossover's headlights the same general shape, although the Equinox's lights aren't as aggressively swept into the fenders. The profile's defining features are a subtle character line that runs from the front wheel arch and then splits in the middle of the front doors. One line dives south integrating into the rear wheel arch and giving a sense of continuity to the cutline between the rear bumper and fender. The other line charges past, cutting through the door handles and connecting the the taillights to the front of the car. The D-pillar has an aggressive forward rake—props to Chevrolet's designers for avoiding the floating roof fad—while the rear side glass wraps into the back pane.

But it's in back where the Equinox design fails. The same tall rear hatch that provides a sizable aperture for loading the trunk betrays the crossover's tail. Combined with a boring set of taillights, it's hard not to look at the Equinox's backside and see a minivan. That minor quibble nets the Equinox an only slightly above average exterior style score.

Trim-specific style features extend mainly to the range-topping Premier, which gets chromed mirror caps and chrome slats in its front grille. The LT wears body-color mirror caps, while the L and LS' caps are as black and dull as their grilles.

The Equinox garners only a few points for its cabin, despite a neat denim-style seat upholstery. Unless an owner selects the range-topping Premier, monotonous and uninterrupted plastic dominates the cabin. Going for the priciest Equinox takes the same leather upholstery and applies it liberally to inserts on the dash and doors. What's frustrating is that Chevy could have easily avoided these criticisms by lending some material style to its lesser trims—stick some of that denim-like upholstery in the same places the Equinox Premier gets leather, just to interrupt the seas of black plastic.

Performance
A trio of turbocharged engines firmly upgrades the Equinox's offerings, and a turbodiesel should make things interesting.

An above average base engine is the 2018 Chevy Equinox’s performance highlight, but it’s not good enough to offset a transmission and handling character that’s merely average. The arrival of an available 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder with a slick-shifting 9-speed automatic might boost the Equinox’s score in the future, but for now, the 1.5-liter model’s performance is a solid 6 out of 10. 

The new entry level engine doesn't feel entry level. While the 1.5-liter is good for just 170 hp, or 12 fewer than the 2.4-liter it replaces, the new engine gains 29 pound-feet of torque for a total of 203 lb-ft. Available from 2,000 to 4,000 rpm, the 1.5-liter's power is far more accessible than the old 2.4-liter's 4,900 rpm peak. The turbocharged engine is quieter than the old base engine, too, whether at cruising speed or under hard acceleration, where the new Equinox emits a refined, smooth-sounding exhaust note with a hint of turbo whistle under heavy throttle.

This substantial difference in peak torque and its availability is a big part of what makes the new Equinox so impressive. The little 4-cylinder can climb steep hills with surprising gusto; a simple dip into the gas pedal scoots the Equinox ahead on a solid wave of turbocharged torque. It's not chest-bursting, supercar-like acceleration, but the performance is satisfying in the same way that an EV or diesel's torque is, delivering just enough ease to surprise.

This solid performance isn't just down to the engine, though. Chevy's engineers slashed nearly 400 pounds of fat moving from the last-generation, front-wheel drive, 4-cylinder Equinox to the new 1.5-liter, front-drive version. At 3,375 pounds, the base front-driver almost qualifies as trim these days.

While the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Equinox gets GM's excellent 9-speed automatic transmission, the base car uses an older and perfectly adequate 6-speed automatic transmission. It's smooth on upshifts, while downshifts happen with little hunting; in other words, the 6-speed mimics invisibility in a bid to be more commuter-friendly.

Like the last Equinox, all versions of Chevy's new crossover use a fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts in front and a 4-link arrangement in back. But the Equinox is light on feedback, both through its chassis and the electric power-assisted steering, making it difficult to measure front-end grip and the state of the road surface. Ignore this lack of confidence (if you can), and the independent suspension's outright handling ability is adequate. There's more roll, squat, and dive than a Mazda CX-5, but buyers seeking a little more zip may want to consider the range-topping Premier's optional 19-inch wheels wrapped in ultra-high-performance all-season tires that deliver more grip and confidence.

We tested the Equinox with both the LT's standard 17-inch Michelin Premier LTX tires and the Premier's optional Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2 tires, and it was never going to be a fair comparison; Michelin designed the Premier specifically for crossover and SUV owners, while the Hankooks are original equipment for sportier cars rather than sport utility vehicles. Still, we didn't expect such a vague, uneasy, and noisy driving experience from the Michelins. They squeal if the driver so much as looks at a turn with less-than-benign intentions. The Hankooks are an ultra-high-performance all-season and they feel like it. While that's not enough of a reason to upgrade to the Premier and then spend the $5,215 Chevy requires to get the 19s, we'd still suggest considering a tire upgrade for the 17s if you regularly encounter curvy roads.

Comfort & Quality
A plush ride and better seats go far, but the best Equinox is still the most expensive.

The 2018 Equinox’s spacious, comfortable backseat and cosseting, quiet ride earn it brownie points on the comfort front, but a lack of cargo volume—less than Honda, Toyota, or Ford’s compact CUVs—an over-snug front seat, and too much soft-touch plastic ruin what could have been an impressive haul in our Comfort score. The Equinox receives 6 out of 10.

Chevy shrunk the Equinox for 2018 and slashed more than five inches from the wheelbase, and yet, the Equinox loses less than an inch in nearly every noteworthy measure of passenger space. In the backseat, that means ample leg and head room and plenty of space for two adult passengers. Three? That's a taller order, but it's something the Equinox should handle well over short journeys. Those back doors open up wide enough that entering and exiting the second row isn't overly taxing, too.

Firing the shrink ray at the Equinox has caused one rather significant issue, and it’s happening at the back. Despite the expansive aperture for loading cargo, there’s just not as much room for stuff as in the last Equinox. Chevy quotes the current model at 29.9 cubic feet with the back seat in place and 63.5 with it folded flat. But both of those figures are significantly below Toyota and Honda’s compact CUVs, and are slightly less than the Ford Escape can manage.
In front, the seat quality is largely dependent on the upholstery. The fabric seats—finished in a really neat denim-like upholstery—feel considerably snugger than the leather seats, which could be a problem for bigger drivers. The only alternative is to pony up for the Premier and its standard leather. Chevy really ought to consider a leather seat option on its volume LT model. Regardless of upholstery, the main driver interfaces are perfectly nice. We like the leather-wrapped steering wheel's diameter, thickness, and the quality of the hides, although we're less fond of Chevy's take on manually shifting an automatic transmission. There's a reason it's the only brand to really put a rocker switch on top of the shift lever.

While the Equinox's fully independent suspension is fine for handling, its real benefit is for the ride. This is a comfortable setup, delivering a composed ride over the relatively smooth, undulating roads of our test route. The new Equinox eradicates most road rumble, too; we noticed little roar and muted impacts with both the LT's standard 17-inch wheels and the Premier's 19-inchers. Wind noise is a bigger concern. There's just too much of it. And while we like the sound of the 1.5-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder under load—where it shows off a refined singing voice with a hint of turbo whistle—it's not hard to imagine some owners would find it intrusive.

Safety
Stay tuned, we should know more about the Equinox's safety soon.

As of this writing, crash-test scores for the 2018 Equinox are incomplete. Until that happens, it will remain unrated. 

Federal testers give the 2018 Equinox a relatively low four out of five stars overall for crash safety. Competitors such as the Honda CR-V do better.

Keeping the new model from ranking among the safest vehicles on the market is Chevy's short-sighted approach to safety technology. While Toyota and Honda are offering advanced active safety equipment on the RAV4 and CR-V across trim levels (or on all but the most basic trims), the Premier with the $1,895 Confidence and Convenience Package II is the only trim to get forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking or active lane control. Want an Equinox that's as safe as a $27,635 Honda CR-V? Prepare to spend at least $33,580, including destination. That CR-V also comes with adaptive cruise control which, inexplicably, isn't available on any Equinox regardless of trim or option packages.

On the bright side—no pun intended—Chevrolet has at least addressed one of IIHS' concerns, attaching HID headlights as standard on the LT trim. The Premier gets neat-o bending headlights (Intellibeam in GM speak). Speaking of standard equipment, all Equinox trims come standard with a rearview camera, while the LT has an optional package that adds rear parking sensors, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert. The Premier ups the ante with an optional surround-view camera system.

Chevy also deserves credit for installing its Teen Driver technology as standard equipment. Parents can program the Equinox to limit certain features and prevent deactivation of safety equipment, while also providing a report on a younger driver's behavior. If this tech were around when The Car Connection staff was coming up, we'd still be grounded today.

Features
Updated infotainment and better equipment bring the 2018 Equinox up to speed with the competition.

Impressive base features, a solid roster of optional extras, and an intuitive infotainment system all help elevate the Equinox’s features score. But boneheaded packaging that limits important active safety systems and certain comfort features to the most expensive trim drive the Equinox’s overall total down to a 7 out of 10.

Available in L (front-drive only), LS, LT, and Premier trims, the Equinox runs the gamut in price, starting at $24,475 for the base model and topping out just north of $39,000 for a fully loaded example with all-wheel drive and one of the three $395 premium paint options. In between those two figures are an impressive, but incomplete, array of standard and optional features.

A 7.0-inch MyLink infotainment system, Bluetooth/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, 4G LTE wi-fi, steering wheel audio controls, cruise control, keyless ignition, 17-inch wheels, active noise cancellation, and the usual suite of power equipment are all standard, regardless of trim. More prestigious trim levels, like the LT and Premier, are available with some impressive extras, including HID headlights with an available bending function, a larger, nav-enabled 8.0-inch infotainment system, heated and vented seats, a heated steering wheel, 18- and 19-inch alloy wheels, additional USB ports, and wireless phone charging.

In terms of particular trims, we're recommending the volume LT model with the $1,995 Confidence and Convenience Package. That nets you much of what's listed above, including HID headlights, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, remote start, dual-zone climate control, and a power liftgate for a very reasonable $29,590 or $31,340 if you select all-wheel drive.

Fuel Economy
The Equinox isn't as efficient as some, but the optional turbodiesel is quite thrifty.

The basic 1.5-liter Equinox's ratings of 28 mpg for the front-drive model and 26 mpg for the all-wheel-drive example are deserving of a 7 out of 10 score in our fuel economy category. A fuel-sipping 1.6-liter turbodiesel and a potent 2.0-liter, turbo-4 are both on offer, but our score is based on the more popular powertrain.

Compared to its main competitors, the Equinox fares somewhat well. Its 26 mpg city, 32 highway, 28 combined rating fall short of the turbocharged Honda CR-V, but best the Toyota RAV4. Adding all-wheel drive to the mix yields similar results, with the Equinox's 24/30/26 mpg rating falling just short of the Honda, but better than the RAV4.

The diesel-powered Equinox squares off against hybrids from Toyota and Nissan. With front-wheel drive, it's rated at 28/39/32 mpg. All-wheel drive dents those figures only slightly to 28/38/32 mpg.

The 252-hp 2.0-liter, of course, is the least efficient Equinox: 22/29/25 mpg with front-wheel drive and 22/28/24 mpg with all-wheel drive. The bigger engine also requires premium fuel.

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