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PowerSteering: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox Review

PowerSteering: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox Review

By Liz Kim, September 20, 2017

Introduction
Crossover SUV popularity shows no signs of waning, and among these, the compact segment is ever growing, accounting for an increasing portion of new-vehicle sales. To keep up with the times, Chevrolet introduces the all-new 2018 Equinox, totally re-engineered and filled to the brim with new technology.

While the redesigned 2018 Equinox is smaller in almost every measureable way than the model it replaces, prices have increased to reflect a greater degree of refinement and added technology. Trouble is, in response to installing increasingly important safety features, the price tag easily shoots straight through the stratosphere into the realm of entry-level luxury SUVs.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox front quarter right photoDepending on your financial situation, you can get a base Equinox L for $24,525 (including the $945 destination charge), or you can pay substantially more for a Premier with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, all-wheel drive, and all the bells and whistles for more than $42,300. That’s a broad spread, notable because many other mainstream compact crossovers top out at least $5,000 beneath that.

For this review we evaluated a 2018 Equinox Premier with extra-cost paint and the Confidence & Convenience II option package. The price came to $34,625, including the $945 destination charge.



What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new 2018 Equinox, it’s helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this compact crossover SUV and what they liked most and least about it.

According to J.D. Power research data, 51% of Equinox buyers are women, slightly more than the Compact SUV segment as a whole (50%). Their median age is 59 years (vs. 58), and their median annual household income is $79,677 (vs. $88,094). Just 11% of Equinox buyers identify themselves as members of Gen Y (those born 1977 to 1994) (vs. 17%).

Equinox buyer sentiments about vehicles align with those of Compact SUV buyers as a group. Buyers of the Chevrolet are far more likely to indicate a preference for purchasing a vehicle from a domestic company (93% vs. 66%), but otherwise variances in psychographics are minor.

For example, Equinox buyers are slightly more likely to agree that fuel economy is a first consideration in choosing a vehicle (72% vs. 68%), and that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (49% vs. 43%). They are also more likely to agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (59% vs. 54%). Aside from these areas, Equinox buyers feel the same way as people who buy compact SUVs.

Buyers say their favorite things about the previous-generation Equinox were (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, storage and space, seats, and driving dynamics. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the previous Equinox were (in descending order) the visibility and safety, infotainment system, climate system, engine/transmission, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the new 2018 Equinox performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior
Although its design is not terribly distinctive, Chevy did a great job of refashioning the Equinox. It looks mildly upscale, possesses a sporting stance, and fits in well with the rest of the Chevy family.

While the gray side cladding along the bottom of the vehicle doesn’t add much to the design, the creases along the sides and the appealing 18-in. wheels add distinctiveness and make the Equinox Premier stand out as stylish among some of the quirkily rendered entrants in the compact crossover genre.

You can save some money by skipping the pricey Iridescent Pearl Tricoat paint. Unless I got up close and personal with it, I could not easily discern a reason for it to cost extra, let alone $995.

Interior
Sliding into the Equinox Premier’s cabin is like walking into a Zales jewelry store at the local mall. There’s a whole bunch of shiny stuff that is supposed to look expensive, and you don’t know where to look first. Metal finish trim pieces abound, surrounding the air vents and gauge clusters and sprinkled liberally around the dashboard.

Throughout the Premier’s interior, different plastics of various texture, sheen, and quality are used, leading to visual and tactile discordance. Still, the test vehicle’s light gray color scheme sharply contrasted with the black dashboard, and some people might find the dash insert made with solid and perforated leatherette to be an interesting design flourish.

Seats
Thanks to plentiful thigh support as well as comfortable seat padding and bolstering, the Equinox Premier supplies a relaxing ride. As a part of its option package, my test vehicle also included heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and an 8-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat.

When I’m riding shotgun, I like to have a seat-height adjuster for the front passenger’s seat in order to achieve a nice, high perch from which to view the surroundings. It doesn’t matter if it is a manual lever pump or a power adjuster. Unfortunately, to get one in the Equinox, you must purchase the Premier trim level and the Confidence and Convenience II package; no other trim levels offer one.

In the rear, two adult passengers or three children will be happy with shoulder space and legroom. Rear air vents and both USB charging ports and an electrical outlet kept my passengers cool and entertained. The rear seats are split 60/40 for cargo flexibility and each section reclines for greater comfort. Previously, the Equinox had seats that could slide forward and back, but the 2018 version no longer offers that option.

Climate Control System
Easy to use, with clearly marked buttons and temperature readings set within knurled knobs, the Equinox Premier’s dual-zone automatic climate control system is easy to reference and to use. It effectively battled summer heat, too, and the optional seat ventilation sure helped in this regard.

Infotainment System
It was a bit of a surprise that this well-equipped, rather pricey vehicle didn’t count a navigation system among its list of features. Obtaining one requires the purchase of another package, and would have increased the screen size by an inch.

However, the reality is that factory navigation systems are quickly becoming passé. With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection, you can run navigation from your smartphone, and the Siri voice assistant combined with Google Maps easily got me to destinations on time. In fact, I increasingly prefer to use this methodology to find my way to what I seek. But, having the larger screen as standard equipment sure would be nice.

Chevrolet offers a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot in the new Equinox, and it may be a good investment after the free trial period. Subscribe to the service if you and your passengers use a lot of data on the road.

Storage and Space
Chevy shrunk the Equinox in almost every dimension, and that includes in terms of cargo space. Behind the rear seats, you’ll find 29.2 cu. ft. of capacity, compared with 31.5 cu. ft. for the previous version of this SUV. Fold the rear seats to use 63.5 cu. ft. of volume, down a smidge from the 63.7 cubes available last year.

Not only is the Equinox’s cargo space smaller than the old model, it measures smaller than many competing compact crossover SUVs—especially the sales leaders in the segment. On a positive note, Chevrolet provides a hands-free power liftgate to assist you if your hands are full.

Inside, Chevy does a good job of providing useful storage. The center console bin is huge, and the glove box is generous. Thoughtful trays around the shifter, one with a wireless charging pad, keep your phone and small items organized and within reach. Chevy also includes a storage tray beneath the trunk’s cargo floor.

Visibility and Safety
Sit up high enough and the view out from the driver’s seat is useful; you even have a good idea of where the hood ends. A standard reversing camera, available blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and rear park-assist sensors, give you no excuses for backing into posts, people, or other vehicles. The optional lane-change alert system means you shouldn’t be cutting anyone off, either.

In addition to these features, my test vehicle had a comprehensive array of active safety systems, including forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and a lane-departure warning system with lane-keeping assist. However, I must take Chevrolet to task for making these critical features available only on the top-of-the-line Premier trim level, and then only if you pony up for a pricey option package.

General Motors is to be commended for its leadership in terms of child safety features. Young’uns are protected by a Rear Seat Reminder system, which chimes if you’ve opened the rear door before you start your commute, just in case you’ve forgotten a child in the rear seat. Teen Driver technology helps parents to monitor older children when they are away from home with the family car.

The 2018 Equinox has yet to be crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) at the time of this writing.

Engine/Transmission
Previously, Equinox buyers could choose between a weak 4-cylinder engine and a boisterous V-6 engine. Few of them got the V-6, which likely explains why so many owners of the previous model were dissatisfied with their SUV’s engine and transmission.

For the 2018 model year, Chevrolet takes a completely different approach. A turbocharged, 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard. A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is optional. And a new 1.6-liter turbodiesel engine is expected to get fuel economy near 40 mpg. Plus, the Equinox shed hundreds of pounds as a part of its redesign.

My test vehicle had the standard 1.5-liter turbo engine. While it produces a swell of torque that went undetectable in the previous Equinox’s wheezy and anemic 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, I can’t say that I was terribly impressed with the 170 horsepower and 203 lb.-ft. of torque in the new model.

So equipped, the Equinox still felt underpowered at freeway speeds, and turbo lag made smooth transitions from my subdivision to the main boulevard to the freeway more difficult. The 6-speed transmission didn’t help the cause, with its too-quick upshifts and too-slow downshifts. To resolve this, get the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder for an additional $2,395. Or, for even more torque and better fuel economy, try the optional turbodiesel 1.6-liter 4-cylinder for an additional $3,740.

Need extra traction? The spendy optional all-wheel-drive system runs $3,680 more, but that might represent money well spent for those who live in places where the roads become slippery.

Fuel Economy
Buyers of the previous Equinox were quite displeased with the fuel economy of their vehicles. Unfortunately, the newest Equinox, at least my test vehicle, fared no better in terms of meeting efficiency expectations.

According to the EPA, my front-drive Equinox with the 1.5-liter engine should have averaged 28 mpg in combined driving. I only squeezed 24.3 mpg out of this SUV during a week of mixed driving. That goes beyond disappointing, though it is characteristic of small-displacement, turbocharged engines used in larger vehicles.

Hopefully the larger turbo and the diesel engines will do a better job in this regard.

Driving Dynamics
Kudos are due to the engineering team that tuned the Equinox’s steering, suspension, and brakes. They’ve delivered a crossover SUV that’s controlled yet compliant on city streets, proficient when it comes to navigating twisty roads, and effortlessly secure on highways.

Weight is skillfully managed, the Equinox exhibiting little in the way of wallow, and with its precise steering and well-modulated brakes, the Equinox is genuinely enjoyable to drive. Perhaps when equipped with a stouter engine, it could even be called fun.

Ultimately, that is what is lacking here. Nothing about the Equinox’s driving experience is particularly memorable, aside from the fact that nothing about it—with the exception of the standard drivetrain—causes aggravation. And for many people, that equates to perfection.


Final Impressions
Although Chevrolet shrank the dimensions of its compact crossover, the company has also made many improvements. From styling and interior materials to safety and infotainment technologies, the Equinox delivers…as long as you’re willing to pay what it takes to acquire them.

Among the glaring deficiencies, this SUV gets expensive in a hurry, and key driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies are reserved for the higher trim levels. Other car companies make them more accessible at a lower price. Additionally, fuel economy is disappointing, especially from an engine that lacks potency.

Finally, on a side note, those who usually shop for Chevrolets claim that they prefer to purchase vehicles from a domestic company. Therefore, it behooves me to mention that the Equinox is made in Canada, and many of its parts are sourced from Mexico. People for whom “Buy American” is an important credo need to do their research and find out what that truly means.

General Motors supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Chevrolet Equinox review.


Additional Research:


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