Sales of compact crossovers have grown significantly over the past five years, motoring past family sedans to become America’s favorite form of transport. More than a dozen contenders swarm like bees to clover, striving to offer the best combination of features, functionality, performance, mileage, and value. What these high-riding, hatchback half-breeds sacrifice in style, agility, and driving delight, they make up for in dog-hauling and Jet Ski–towing prowess.
Seemingly each new entry wrings more performance and fuel economy from fewer cylinders and cubic inches. This is especially true of Chevy’s 2018 Equinox, which is fresh from the ground up. Its new Opel-engineered platform trims 4.7 inches of length and hundreds of pounds of fat. Despite a 5.2-inch-shorter wheelbase, passenger and cargo space barely change. With a lighter load to tote, its turbocharged four-cylinder engine has little difficulty topping past mileage ratings and achieving 30 mpg or more on the highway, per the EPA.
Running Down the Rundown
To augment our first drive, we tested an all-wheel-drive Equinox AWD Premier powered by the base turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four providing 170 horsepower at 5600 rpm and a 203 lb-ft torque plateau stretching from 2500 to 4500 rpm. (For reference, our favorite compact crossover, Honda’s CR-V, makes 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque from its turbocharged 1.5-liter four.)
As its name suggests, the Premier is as good as it gets for the Equinox, the top rung of a four-step ladder. Starting at $35,330 with all-wheel drive, the Premier includes a six-speed automatic transmission, all-LED lighting, leather trim, driver and front passenger seats with both heat and ventilation, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity entry, and remote starting. The OnStar communication system includes a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, while the Chevy MyLink audio package is commanded through an 8.0-inch touchscreen and offers Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto connectivity. This Equinox’s list of advanced safety features includes forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and automated low-speed braking, although adaptive cruise control is not included. An elaborate array of sensors and cameras provides blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear park assist, a rearview camera, and a bird’s-eye view of your perimeter. A teen-driver system sets speed warnings and maximum audio-system volume and can be programmed to provide a tattletale report card.
Adding but two options to our lavishly outfitted Premier hiked its total price over $39,000: $395 for Cajun Red paint plus a $3320 Sun, Sound, and Navigation package that includes a power sunroof, 19-inch bright-finished aluminum wheels, navigation, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, and HD radio reception. Exceeding $40K will be possible when the powertrain lineup fleshes out this summer with a 137-hp 1.6-liter turbo-diesel and a 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter gas-burning four-cylinder.
Compared with the previous Equinox, this third-gen model is some 350 pounds lighter on our scales, a significant slimming down given its greater load of creature comforts and safety features. Riding on 235/50R-19 Hankook Ventus all-season radials, the new Equinox saw cornering grip jump from 0.79 to 0.86 g, allowing this new version to spank key competitors such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4. All but the Escape were equipped with all-wheel drive when we tested them.
We also found exemplary braking with a 70-mph-to-zero stopping distance of 161 feet, a surprising 14-to-23-foot advantage over competitors. When traffic abruptly grinds to a halt, that distance can be the difference between a near miss and a heavy crash. In addition, this crossover’s brake pedal is firm underfoot and easy to modulate when you’re intent on slowing aggressively without triggering ABS.
To see how much the improved cornering and braking performance benefits dynamic behavior, we gave the new Equinox a chance to show its stuff on our local ersatz Nordschleife course. The first observation was a ride supple enough to take the sting out of troubled pavement and no quakes reverberating through the significantly stiffer body structure. There’s enough roll stiffness to keep the cabin right with the world through flat-out sweepers. Tapping the AWD button reduces the likelihood of wheelspin during hard acceleration, but engaging drive to the rear axle had no noticeable effect on cornering dynamics.
The electrically assisted steering felt nicely calibrated with a narrow on-center dead zone, quick response, and linear rise in off-center effort. Over major dips, swells, and ragged pavement verges, the Equinox maintained its heading with no midcourse corrections needed to ace every apex. There are encouraging hints of feel at the steering-wheel rim, but, as usual, we hunger for more feedback from the road.
Turbo’d but Tardy
Regrettably, the Equinox’s powertrain doesn’t uphold its end of the bargain. The 8.9-second dash to 60 mph and 16.9-second quarter-mile times we measured spot this machine at the sluggish end of the field, behind the Toyota RAV4 (8.4 and 16.7 seconds, respectively). They further trail the 1.5-liter CR-V and the 1.6-liter Hyundai Tucson, both turbocharged, which run to 60 mph in less than eight seconds. Worse yet, the Equinox’s transmission is so lazy in providing downshifts that ordinary passing moves raise beads of sweat on the driver’s forehead.
Registering 81 decibels during full-throttle acceleration and cruising at 70 decibels, this Equinox also is noisier than its rivals. To improve the speed-to-ruckus ratio, we suggest waiting for the 2.0-liter engine, which brings nearly 50 percent more power and three more gears. Flogging our 1.5-liter test car mercilessly to keep up with traffic and to savor its back-road handling prowess yielded a disappointing 20-mpg average. It wouldn’t surprise us if the more potent engine does better.
An extra-large sunroof cleared any hint of gloom in our test car’s black interior except for the rear-quarter areas, which are clouded by thick C- and D-pillars and tiny tinted windows. Polished metal frames, tasteful stitching, and swaths of perforated leather provide a luxurious mood diminished only by a few more hard-plastic panels than one should see in a near-$40,000 crossover. Venturing beyond cupholders, the interior designers have provided handy cubbies to stash your keys and cellphone, and there are six USB ports, one 120-volt AC outlet, and an inductive charging pad to power toys and tablets.
The front bucket seats are comfortable but not quite firm enough to keep thighs from flailing when every last bit of cornering grip is exploited. The chair-high rear seat bottoms are sufficiently wide to carry two adults or three juniors. Handy release levers drop the backrests and shift the cushions both down and forward to provide a flat, nearly level load floor nicely aligned with the cargo hold. There’s also bonus storage space beneath the rear floor panel.
One ergonomic annoyance is a long reach to the 8.0-inch touchscreen’s top-right corner. The volume knob centered below the screen also demands an elbow stretch. Easing those concerns, there are rocker switches tucked behind the steering-wheel spokes to tune stations and adjust volume.
The outgoing Equinox has been a huge success for Chevy, racking up nearly 2 million sales and advancing to second place in the brand’s lineup (after the Silverado pickup). Three months into 2017, the Equinox sits in fifth place among its peers, with roughly two-thirds the sales volume of the leading Nissan Rogue and Honda CR-V. That surely will change with the arrival of the 252-hp 2.0-liter engine this summer. Then, the 2018 Equinox should have all it needs to make life miserable for the class’s current masters.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED: $39,045 (base price: $35,330)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 91 cu in, 1490 cc
Power: 170 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 203 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 107.3 in
Length: 183.1 in
Width: 72.6 in Height: 65.4 in
Passenger volume: 99 cu ft
Cargo volume: 30 cu ft
Curb weight: 3646 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 8.9 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 26.8 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 36.6 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 9.6 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.9 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 6.6 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.9 sec @ 83 mph
Top speed (drag limited): 124 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 161 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.86 g
EPA combined/city/highway driving: 26/24/30 mpg
C/D observed: 20 mpg