Should you pay $30 per horsepower to save 2 seconds?
Yes. But then that’s almost always the answer when you ask Motor Trend staffers such a question. Allow us to make our case in favor of the quite good redesign of Chevrolet’s strong-selling midsize crossover, the Equinox.
The all-new 2018 Equinox represents a giant improvement over its aging predecessor, and before we attempt to spend your money on the powertrain upgrade, let’s talk about the improvements made to the Equinox lineup and our performance results on the volume-selling 1.5-liter model.
A zealous weight reduction program forced savvy materials choices and joining techniques, plus a switch to hard-mounted front and rear suspension/powertrain cradles. The result is an exceptionally rigid structure weighing some 400 pounds (181 kg) less. It attenuates bumps the way only German luxury sedans could a decade ago, with softer ride-control bushings that pad the bumps better than before. The steering system points the car quite accurately. Sadly, the information coming through the wheel rim is better at corroborating the tachometer reading than describing the road surface. It’s worth noting that the impressive peak torque produces no discernible torque steer even on front-drive models.
The mechanical grip of the 235/50R19 Hankook Ventus S1 Nobel2 tires on our top-trim 1.5T Premier test car seemed appropriate for the segment and delivered top-of-class 0.83 g lateral acceleration. The brakes felt a little grabby at first but proved easy to acclimate to. Stops from 60 mph ranked a fairly middling 119 feet. The crossover’s weight loss brings the Equinox into rough parity with the Honda CR-V, undercutting the other popular midsize CUVs handily. This pays off in a nimble demeanor on twisty Carolina hill country roads and right respectable performance on our figure-eight course: 27.7 seconds at 0.61 average g. The fact that this performance edges out the much quicker AWD Honda by 0.2 second and 0.01 g speaks well to the new vehicle’s lithe agility. In our last Big Test of CUVs, only the Hyundai Tucson 1.6T and the burly V-6 Jeep Cherokee—both with all-wheel drive—were quicker and grippier in this test. Of course, if handling is your top purchase priority for a CUV, consider the Mazda CX-5.
Interior and equipment
Although the interior design and two-tone colors look upscale, much of the interior plastic feels as hard as a poker chip. But the design and ease of use of the infotainment screen rank the Equinox highly in the class. The new nonsliding rear seat offers great thigh support and two backrest recline angles, the lower of which feels more recumbent than a coach airplane seat. Visibility from the elevated back seats is superb, with a kid-friendly low beltline and an available panorama roof. There’s room to stow stuff (including the cargo shade) under the cargo floor, but there are only two tie-downs, and they’re at the back. Our experience with the Equinox has yet to include any inclement weather or bushwhacking, but we’re slightly dubious of an all-wheel-drive system that only engages after you press a button, albeit perhaps at the urging of a warning on the dash.
Some of Equinox’s weight loss is attributable to the move to an all-turbo-four-cylinder powertrain strategy. The base 1.5-liter turbo is rated at 170 horses, ceding power leadership to the optional 1.5Ts in the best-selling Honda CR-V (190 hp) and Ford Escape (179 hp). But the Chevy’s 203 lb-ft trumps these rivals by 24 and 26 lb-ft, respectively. (The Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue make similar power but lower torque from 2.4- and 2.5-liter naturally aspirated fours similar to the outgoing Equinox’s base-model mill.)
The Equinox and Escape use a similar jointly developed six-speed automatic, and the CR-V gets a CVT. That six-speed might be the Equinox’s single biggest negative (and the best argument in favor of its sibling GMC Terrain, which uses a nine-speed with the 1.5T). The transmission acts like it bears full responsibility for achieving the Equinox’s impressive EPA numbers (26/32/28 mpg (9/7.3/8.4 L/100km) city/highway/combined with front-drive, 24/30/26 (9.8/7.8/9 L/100km) with AWD). No matter how hard you cane it, Chevy’s programming has it grabbing the highest plausible gear whenever the throttle lifts. There’s no Sport mode and apparently no Performance Algorithm Shift learning. There’s no redline printed on the 8,000-rpm tach, but automatic shifts happen at 5,500 rpm—1,000 revs shy of fuel shutoff. This engine is no eager revver, so don’t jump out to pass unless there’s a big, long, clear zone as the crossover builds speed gradually.
Also don’t race competitive CUVs for pink slips. This one’s run is almost a perfect overlay of our last Escape SE EcoBoost 1.5 front-driver: 9.2 seconds to 60 and 16.9 seconds through the quarter mile, but the Equinox is traveling a tad quicker, 81.2 mph (131 km/h) versus 80.9 (130 km/h). That’s a shade ahead of the six-speed automatic RAV4, but big-selling CUVs with a CVT are quicker—the naturally aspirated Rogue by a tenth or two, the turbo CR-V by more than a second and 8 mph (13 km/h) (and both of those test vehicles were slowed by the mass and friction of AWD).
Now for the pitch on the 2.0-liter: Tick the order box marked 2LT on either the middle LT or top-drawer Premier trim level, and you add a half-liter of displacement to the turbocharged four-banger and three ratios to the transaxle. This harnesses an extra 82 horses and 59 lb-ft of torque and magnifies the transmission’s leverage considerably. We haven’t tested it yet, but Chevy estimates the 0–60 time at 7.2 seconds, which is near the top of the class. More important than the numbers is the comparative effortlessness with which the 2.0-liter Equinox leaps around long semis on the back roads, thanks in large part to the transmission. Drop the hammer to pass at 50 mph (80 km/h), and the trans orders up a direct downshift to fourth, landing the engine at 4,800 rpm, where some 225 horses are ready to gallop after a fraction of a second of turbo spool-up. Do this from 65 mph (105 km/h), and an instant shift to fifth has the exact same effect. There’s still no Sport setting or adaptive shift logic, but quick shifts and abundant ratios negate the need for it. Oh, and don’t worry, with a taller overall first gear than in the 1.5-liter, there’s no torque steer in the front-drive model or with all-wheel drive switched off.
This welcome power infusion comes at a cost of just 2 or 3 EPA combined mpg rating points and $29–$34 US dollars per horsepower on the LT or Premier trim grades. Defraying that dollar cost are included extras such as a 3,500-pound (1,588 kg) towing package (up from the 1.5’s 1,500-pound (680 kg) limit), bigger wheels, and a dual exhaust. Still sound too pricey? Talk yourself into it by downgrading from the Premier to the LT trim grade, which will save enough to buy the big motor and some of the Premier standard features as LT options. Oh, and later this summer, Chevy will introduce the segment’s first turbodiesel engine—a 137-hp, 240-lb-ft 1.6-liter.
Chevy has vastly improved the Equinox with an attractive exterior wrapped around an inviting, easy-to-use interior on a tight, smooth-riding, lithe-handling chassis. The price seems right—starting at $24,525 USD, the Equinox undercuts the cheapest 1.5T variants of the Escape and CR-V by $1,620 USD and $3,110 USD, respectively. And with a starting price of $30,090 USD, the 2.0-liter is priced just $610 USD above a similarly equipped Ford Escape SE 2.0T and should have the beans to outperform pretty much all the big players in the class. Isn’t that enough reason to spring for the big motor?