First Drive: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

GREENVILLE, NC. March 22, 8pm – This is a story of balance. Note the date: this press launch began two days ago on the vernal equinox, when the day is as long as the night, when the weather’s as likely to be leonine or lamblike. A time of balance.

There’s a middle-of-the-road customer the Equinox vehicle is aiming for, one who wants it all

The all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, redesigned from the ground up, is very important to Chevrolet’s balance sheet, so to speak. The Equinox is the brand’s second-best-selling vehicle after the Silverado. They’ve sold more than two million over the past ten years – and they have a lot of factors to balance if they want to prolong that success. In fact, exactly six months ago, during the last equinox, Chevrolet North America hosted a massive media event unveiling the prototype 2018 Equinox in Chicago’s famous neo-classical treasure, the Museum of Science and Industry.

They wanted us to know this launch really really matters to them. Their planning paid off.

The new Equinox is a well-balanced package of features and value. My drive partner and I spent several hours yesterday and today pushing this mid-sized SUV’s driving dynamics. Mostly we were on narrow switchback roads in the Smokey Mountains between Greenville, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina, but also logged a few city miles, plus brief stints on interstate highways – all in all, a balanced test of all the day-to-day conditions any mid-sized multi-tasking SUV could face. Multi-tasking?

There’s a middle-of-the-road customer the Equinox vehicle is aiming for, one who wants it all – drivability, safety, fuel-efficiency, comfort, connectivity, and luxury – and doesn’t want to pay much. The 2018 Equinox delivers exceptional value. But let’s walk through the balance of that laundry list.

First, drivability

The Equinox comes in front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel (AWD) with switchable two-wheel drive for better fuel economy. During the two days we sampled vehicles, my drive partner and I drew FWD both times. It performed with aplomb – we were continually pushing the vehicles 10 to 15 mph faster than posted warnings – and often on roads that were littered with detritus from a massive hailstorm. No need for the AWD down here in the South.

The new Equinox also offers three powertrains: a 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic that can tow 1,500 lb (680 kg); a 2.0L nine-speed turbo for the sportier types, which will haul 2,500 lb (1,134 kg); and a 1.6L turbo diesel which will also pull 1,500 lb. (Yes, diesel.)

However, only the 1.5L was available for us during this kick-off event. The other two engines will not be in market until later this spring and the prices for those engines will be announced at that time.

But if you’re that value-conscious buyer, rest assured that both the FWD and 1.5L work really well.

The engine delivers power deftly, achieving 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque. There was a touch of turbo-lag when we wanted to pass other vehicles, taking our 10 to 15 mph over the limit slightly higher, but it’s a good little engine.

Yes, little. Physically, this engine is so small, the designers and engineers of the new Equinox were able to subtract four inches from the length of the 2017 model. More impressively, they subtracted over 400 pounds (181.5 kg) from the materials, giving that little engine a chance to really burst past that lag.

Its estimated city/highway fuel efficiency is pegged at 8.4 L/100km, which was borne out in our real-world test drive. Today we got 28.7 miles per American gallon in an LT model and yesterday 27.6 in a Premier, on mountainous and challenging drives of over 160 km each day. Those numbers translate to approximately 8.2 L/100 km and 8.5 L/100 km.

While we’re on the point of fuel efficiency, it’s worth reporting that all Equinox models also include automatic start-stop technology as standard.

Back to the drive: The Equinox handles well for a midsize SUV. The steering is true – the tuning is fairly tight and the road is easy to feel. Again, we pushed these cars hard and deeply into sharp corners on steep grades. For such a big vehicle, so far from the ground, it provided decent control.

Some excellent safety features come included

With an opening price in Canada of just $26,995 including freight and A/C tax, the entry-level LS doesn’t chintz on safety tech. Standards include a back-up camera (de rigueur in the city); tire pressure monitoring – pay attention to it and it will render better fuel efficiency and extend the life of your tires and suspension; Teen Driver – a combination of virtual nanny, high school vice principal and narc; it activates certain safety systems, allows programming of others and even delivers a “report card” of your teen’s driving style; and OnStar – more than a safety feature, it’s like a cross between Siri and a concierge.

And a balance of others offered

“Low-speed forward automatic braking” is a feature ideal for the modern distracted urbanite. It performs as the name suggests. Yesterday, after several hours of mountaintop twists and turns around no other cars barring the occasional other 2018 Equinox, my drive partner (who had only just discovered the joys of caffeine and demonstrated that on the accelerator) and I were suddenly in a March Madness traffic crunch. Except there was no crunch. The car halted us before he put his foot down. This feature comes with extra packages available to buyers of the Premier trim.

Other interesting optional safety features include rear cross-traffic alert and surround vision, both deeper riffs on the aforementioned rear camera in that they have the city-dweller’s back – and their front and sides.

One final noteworthy safety feature is the Rear Seat Reminder. If the Teen Driver feature exists for the parent who isn’t comfortable leaving the car with their kid, Rear Seat Reminder is for those parents who shouldn’t be leaving their kid with the car, period. Its chiming noise tells you to check the back seat for your child (or, to be fair, your lunch or satchel) when quitting the car. It knows you might want a look back there because you opened the door earlier. Of course, if you need reminding that you walked away and left your children in the back of your car, you’re probably not yet ready to become a car-owner.

Comfort and connectivity

Considering how much subtraction the engineers did to produce a vehicle that’s 400 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the Equinox is surprisingly quiet. It’ll be interesting to hear how the other engines sound.

The base LS comes standard with remote keyless entry, push-button start, plus – oahnlee in Canada, eh – heated front seats, heated rearview mirrors and remote starter.

There’s also plenty of room in the new Equinox. The wheelbase is slightly shorter than last year’s model but there’s more cargo space and passenger room, courtesy of attentive design. For instance, the towers surrounding the wheel wells in the trunk are molded inwards. Furthermore, there’s a spacious cache beneath the removable trunk floor. The second row flattens better than last year’s model too – with just an easy push of a button. And there’s even umbrella storage in the front doors.

Then there are those standard features for people who hate to miss anything: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and a 7-inch touchscreen with MyLink. You can pay for assorted data packages through OnStar, thereby turning your car into a Wi-Fi hotspot.

And, on balance, value

Sometimes it’s tempting to buy last year’s model off the lot when a new one arrives. Resist that temptation! At $26,995, the LS FWD has decreased in price by $1,975, plus Chevrolet has added loads of new standard features, which their marketing people believe are worth nearly another thousand dollars. That’s just the LS. The other trims with and without packages follow suit.

The choices, while simplified, are still baffling for anyone who doesn’t live and breathe this stuff. So here’s the 411. There are three trim levels, ascending in cachet and expense: LS, LT and Premier. The LS comes and stays as is but the LT and Premier each offer extra packages called Confidence & Convenience, and True North. The True North packages entail all the C&C’s do and then some. They too have plenty of goodies to go in the balance.

But as has been said several times, even the base package is a really solid, well-balanced offering.

Value and features in equal measure 3/23/2017 6:30:00 AM