2016 Chevrolet Equinox Review
Christian Wardlaw | Mar 15, 2016
IntroductionOne of the best-selling models in America, the aging Chevrolet Equinox is a 5-passenger crossover SUV that is sized between traditional compact and larger midsize models. The current version debuted for the 2010 model year and enters its seventh year on the market with a handful of minor changes intended to keep it fresh while Chevrolet readies a replacement.
Subtle exterior styling and interior changes update the Equinox's appearance, and Chevrolet offers a new blind-spot warning system that includes rear cross-traffic alert. Trim levels include L, LS, LT, and LTZ, and a 7-in. touch-screen infotainment system is standard equipment this year, bringing with it a reversing camera. It does not, however, provide smartphone-projection technology like so many other 2016 models from General Motors.
What Owners SayFor this review, our expert evaluated a Chevrolet Equinox LTZ with all-wheel drive, extra-cost Siren Red paint, both of the available Driver Confidence option packages containing driver-assistance technologies, and an Enhanced Convenience option package. The price came to $34,620, including the $895 destination charge.Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new 2016 Equinox, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this SUV and what they liked most and least about it.
Since 2012, owner satisfaction with the performance and design of the Equinox has been dropping, and in the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study,SM the Equinox slipped another two rank positions to seventh place out of 12 models in the Compact SUV segment. J.D. Power data shows that 52% of Equinox owners are women, and are a little older and about 10% less affluent than the average for the segment, at 58 years of age (vs. 56 segment average) and earning a median household income of $80,909 (vs. $90,130 segment average).
Compared with the segment average, more Equinox buyers identify as retired, and twice as many of them strongly agree that they prefer to buy from a U.S. company. Fuel economy is a little more important to them, too, but otherwise their preferences align with the rest of the Compact SUV segment.
Owners indicate that their favorite things about the Equinox are (in descending order) exterior styling, interior design, seats, driving dynamics, and storage and space. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the Equinox are (in descending order) fuel economy, engine/transmission, climate control system, infotainment system, and visibility and safety.
What Our Expert SaysIn the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the new 2016 Equinox performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study.
ExteriorChevrolet unnecessarily spent money updating the 2016 Equinox's exterior styling, which already ranked as owners' favorite aspect of the SUV. While the minor changes serve to better align the Equinox with other contemporary Chevrolet models, the company should have conserved that cash for a significant upgrade to the interior.
InteriorHard plastic prevails within the Equinox, and though it avoids a shiny sheen in most locations, in others the inexpensive and unrefined finish is difficult to reconcile with the SUV's price tag. Furthermore, the test vehicle's dashboard and front door panels were obviously misaligned, and the transmission shifter–a component that an owner uses every single time they drive the vehicle–felt and sounded clunky and unrefined when selecting a gear.
Chrome exterior mirror caps and a chrome transmission shifter surround intend to give the Equinox LTZ a fancier appearance, but on bright and sunny days they produced significant sun flare and glare, nearly blinding the driver.
In addition to chrome trim, the test vehicle had red exposed seat stitching, red storage area liners, blue accent lighting, black seats, and a gray headliner. The result was visually jarring.
SeatsComfort is one of the Equinox's strengths. The front seats are large, supportive, and offer a wide range of adjustment. The steering wheel is perfectly shaped and excellent to grip. Both qualities make the hard plastic on the upper door panels even more difficult to forgive, because if you happen to prefer to rest an arm or elbow there they downgrade otherwise impressive comfort levels.
A "Multi-Flex" rear bench seat is standard, sliding forward and back in order to allow owners to mix-and-match room for passengers or cargo. Moved all of the way back in its track, the seat is quite roomy and is perfect for children and adults alike.
Unfortunately, the Equinox does not supply rear-seat air conditioning vents. During a California heat wave, my 7-year-old daughter asked for more air conditioning and the best my wife and I could do was to aim the dashboard vents toward the rear seating area.
Climate Control SystemChevrolet's top-shelf Equinox LTZ is equipped with automatic climate control, but it is a single-zone rather than a dual-zone unit. As such, and because the driver is more likely to adjust temperature than fan speed, the temperature and fan-speed controls ought to swap places in order to improve ergonomics.
Infotainment SystemFor 2016, the Equinox is equipped with a standard infotainment system with a 7-in. touch-screen display, reversing camera, OnStar subscription services, and an available 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection. Chevrolet's MyLink technology is available but is not the latest version of the system, lacking new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-projection technology.
The system is supposed to offer Siri Eyes Free compatibility, but when I connected my iPhone 6 via the USB port and requested directions from Siri to a building in West Los Angeles, my phone did not issue instructions through the stereo speakers, instead using the phone speaker. I needed Siri's help because, despite a $34,620 sticker price, the test vehicle lacked a navigation system.
Storage and SpaceChevrolet does a good job of carving out storage space for the Equinox's front-seat occupants. Both the center console bin and the glove box are large, and this year's minor change to the dashboard adds a handy storage tray below the climate controls. Switching to a 40/20/40 split rear-seat design would add complexity, but would also improve the Equinox's utility while allowing parents to slide newborns closer to the front seat for easier tending.
Cargo volume measures 31.5 cu. ft. behind the rear seat, which is adequate for the segment. However, the narrow width of the cargo space limits practicality; a compact folding stroller does not fit lengthwise, requiring diagonal storage across the bottom of the cargo floor. Maximum cargo capacity measures 63.7 cu. ft., which is small for the segment and unexpectedly stingy given the overall size of the vehicle.
Visibility and Safety
Thick windshield pillars restrict outward visibility, but Chevrolet compensates for this by installing large side mirrors, a reversing camera, and, for some trim levels of the Equinox, an available blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert. All of these features help to make the Equinox easy to maneuver.
In addition to the new blind-spot warning system, the Equinox offers a forward-collision warning system and a lane-departure warning system, which continue from the previous year. Automatic emergency braking is not on the menu.
Sensitivity levels for the forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning systems can be adjusted, which makes the lane-departure warning system more useful and less irritating. Unfortunately, the forward-collision warning system regularly issued false alerts related to shadows on the road, sudden bright sunlight, and even black tar stripes on the pavement.
Should a collision occur, OnStar equips this SUV with automatic collision-notification service. After the first 6 months of ownership, though, it requires an active subscription for it to work. Crash-test results include a "Top Safety Pick" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and a 4-star (out of 5) overall protection rating from the NHTSA.
Compared with the Small SUV segment in general, Chevrolet Equinox owners lodge significantly more complaints about their vehicle's engine and transmission, which is unchanged for 2016. In fact, as determined by the 2015 APEAL Study, the top four opportunities for improvement are, in this order: engine responsiveness and passing power; acceleration from a stop; transmission smoothness when shifting; and the sound of the engine when accelerating rapidly.
Chevrolet offers an optional 3.6-liter V-6 engine for the Equinox, but the majority of those sold are equipped with the standard 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. The 4-cylinder produces acceptable acceleration when driven around town. Accelerating to prevailing freeway speeds, passing slower traffic, and hill climbing do present a challenge. I cannot imagine how sluggish this SUV must feel in the thinner atmosphere of mountainous regions.
While vibration is nicely attenuated, lots of unpleasant noise makes its way into the cabin. Under hard acceleration, the Equinox sounds as though it is suffering the throes of a painful death. Under light throttle, the 6-speed automatic transmission upshifts rapidly in an attempt to conserve fuel, which does not help the SUV to present an energetic personality. Chevrolet supplies a rocker switch on the top of the shifter, which can be used to manually select gears in a futile attempt to extract a more satisfying driving experience.
If you're planning to buy an Equinox, consider the optional 3.6-liter V-6, which produces a robust 301 horsepower. According to Chevrolet, it gets the Equinox to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds and tows a trailer weighing up to 3,500 lbs. Given how inexpensive gas prices are in 2016, this upgrade likely does wonders for the Equinox.
Finally, note that for 2016 Chevrolet has chopped its free scheduled maintenance plan from four free visits to two visits and has shrunk the powertrain warranty from 100,000 miles to 60,000 miles.
Fuel EconomyThe EPA says that a 2016 Equinox with a 4-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive should get 23 mpg in combined driving. During testing, the Equinox averaged 21.3 mpg on the official test loop, and without using the transmission's Eco driving mode.
Choose the V-6 engine and the Equinox ought to return 18 mpg. Despite this reduction in mileage, the V-6 option remains appealing.
Driving DynamicsAligning with what owners tell J.D. Power, our expert believes the 4-cylinder engine is the least appealing aspect of driving the Chevrolet Equinox.
Foundationally, this crossover feels just as solid and robust as it did when it debuted for 2010. The structure and suspension easily dispatch potholes and rough pavement while simultaneously providing a comfortable ride on the highway.
Excellent variable-assist electric steering delivers consistent response throughout the range of motion, combined with perfect weighting no matter the vehicle's speed. In traffic, the brakes are easy to modulate, sensitive and responsive without grabbing as the SUV comes to a stop.
Handling is decent, too, the suspension quelling unwanted body motions. Take the Equinox down a twisty road and it can hustle, feeling secure and predictable right to the limit of adhesion. Ground clearance is somewhat limited, though, measuring 6.9 inches, so off-road adventuring requires caution.
Though certain elements associated with the Equinox's driving dynamics are enjoyable, this vehicle is not enjoyable to drive. The 4-cylinder engine sees to that.
Final ImpressionsChevrolet's Equinox has aged well, and remains a fundamentally appealing crossover SUV.
Stylish design, a roomy interior, comfortable seats, good crash-test ratings, and decent driving dynamics are the Equinox's primary selling points. Chevrolet needs to replace the gutless and loud 4-cylinder engine, upgrade the interior's materials and technological amenities, and improve the amount of cargo space the Equinox supplies.
Clearly ready for a complete redesign, the Equinox is instead refreshed for 2016, the money spent in many of the wrong places. Perhaps in the future, Chevrolet would do well to heed and resolve customer complaints rather than concern itself with making sure a vehicle's styling cues match the other models in its lineup.
General Motors supplied the vehicle used for this 2016 Chevrolet Equinox review.
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