Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox 2.0L Turbo

Nashville, Tennessee – More power is always welcome. You may not use it much, but just knowing it’s there is comforting. Just in case. Take the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox. Its initial product launch was actually over two months ago on March 21, the calendar equinox. At the time, eager buyers could only receive the 1.5L turbo four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic. Two more engines were yet to come. Yesterday, the first did, but only to six music lovers who write about cars.

For perspective, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is 260 lb. So the 2.0L engine could tow 13.5 Dwayne The Rocks.

We were the first to test this more powerful two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder direct-injection engine. The difference in power is sizeable and during our ride, often welcome.

If you’re shopping around for a small SUV, put the 2018 Equinox on the list. It costs less than the 2017 and comes equipped with loads of impressive goodies, which we’ll get to a little later. First we’ll talk about the surge in power.

This new 2.0L engine produces 252 gee-gees (we’re in Tennessee and drove it to a former gambling establishment) at 5,500 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 2,500–4,500 rpm.

It’s a compactly built engine with a big appetite, capable of towing 3,500 lb. For perspective, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is 260 lb. So the 2.0L engine could tow 13.5 Dwayne The Rocks [assuming no recent binge eating or dieting – Ed.]. Yet the engine fits neatly in the Equinox line’s allotted space.

It’s controlled by a nine-speed automatic transmission. To improve fuel efficiency, the transmission features an active oil-management system and selectable one-way clutch. Overall, it provides up to two percent better fuel efficiency than the six-speed transmission that comes with the 1.5L engine. Enthusiast drivers can switch to shifting mode, but the miniscule shifting button reduces the enjoyment significantly. This is a practical vehicle.

How does the bigger engine perform? When you punch it, the pause from the turbo is noticeable but the leap to attention just after is thrilling. And small wonder: this 2018 model is 400 pounds lighter than its predecessor.

Indeed, the 2018 Equinox has been completely remade by teams of engineers and designers working to produce maximum efficiency. “Just tenths of a millimetre makes a big difference to a driver,” says Jill Dennis, a Lead Development Engineer on the Chevrolet Noise and Vibration team. The new Equinox doesn’t share any of its architecture with any other vehicles. At least not yet. All that research and designing is bound to spread across other GM lines.

That 400 pound diet the 2018 model went on constitutes a 10 percent reduction – so you notice the lightness throughout: opening and shutting the doors, lifting the hood. Yet combinations of different steels and noise cancelling materials work together to produce a smooth and quiet ride. Even when you’re punching it, the growl is suppressed. Strategically placed ultra-high-strength steel lowers the mass while strengthening the overall structure.

Back to the welcome boost in power: Yesterday a drive partner and I cruised the rolling hills southwest of Nashville. The roads are lovely, unchallenged by extreme winters and the constant pounding of heavy quotidian traffic we see in the GTA, Montreal or Vancouver. While there was some major highway time, the drive took us primarily on two-lane back-roads where the steering, handling and braking were put to the test. You never for an instant forget that you’re in an SUV, but it’s one that handles well.

The brakes are responsive, firm and finely matched to the engine. The dips in the hills were sudden and curvy, necessitating constant changes of plan. Several times the brakes were well tested; they reigned in the Equinox like a master lion tamer. But the power of the engine was welcome.

The rack-mounted dual-pinion electric power steering feels pretty good. There’s no need to overthink the drive. The suspension is well tuned for a good feel of the road. A long wheelbase disperses the heft, improving your cling.

A driver who’s concerned about their passengers’ safety will feel confident. The 2018 Equinox comes standard with rear-vision camera, OnStar (it’s like Siri but with humans actually solving your right-now dilemmas), an active tire-pressure monitoring system and a couple of smile providers. First is the rear seat reminder: a noise and visual onscreen prompt to let you know to check the back seat before you quit the car – maybe you left your bag there... or your dog... or your kid. The other is Teen Driver: if you’ll forgive the mixing of familial similes, it’s like a Big Brother monitoring system for concerned parents who want to know their kids are practicing safe driving.

An extra benefit of the long wheelbase is that for a smaller SUV, there’s loads of room for those passengers. The 2018 Equinox is shorter but offers 3.5 cubic feet more passenger volume than the 2017. Certainly the Equinox would accommodate a nuclear family well but you can take adults out in the backseats too. Last night we had a drunk 6-foot 5-inch writer back there with room to snooze. (Fear not, the driver was a sober pro.) Only the middle seat is tight but that’s nothing new.

You can purchase front-wheel drive and save some money but fans of all-wheel drive (AWD) will love that it’s switchable. You decide when it goes into AWD. Turn it on and stays on until you turn it off, depressing your fuel efficiency – you lose about “half a mile per gallon depending on how you drive,” says Dennis – but gripping the road where and when you need it with dynamic front to rear torque split. However, it’s polite. If you’re in conditions where you do or don’t need the AWD, the computer will suggest switching, rather than taking the option away. Another useful trait is that you can switch on or off in the middle of your drive. The switchable feature is standard on all AWD models.

Keep in mind, though the Equinox is built mostly in Ingersoll, Ontario, this First Drive was an American event. The AWD 2.0L’s estimated fuel economy, suggested by America’s EPA, is 10.7 L/100 km city, 8.4 highway and 9.4 combined, which is so-so. The same ratings system put it exactly in the middle – that is, a five on a scale of one to 10 – for fuel economy and greenhouse gas ratings, and lower than the seven earned by the new-for-2017 Honda CR-V AWD, which was the fuel-sipping king of our recent massive 10-vehicle compact SUV comparison test.

Not that Chevy didn’t work hard to deliver decent fuel economy. Stop-start technology comes standard on all models. Dennis estimates it improves the efficiency by about 1.5 percent. She was also pleased to report segment-leading aerodynamic efficiency. When you’re designing for profit and value, the exterior is the best place to start because “aero is free.” Good point. The Equinox features electronically controlled upper and lower grille shutters, tire deflectors and a bigger rear spoiler, all of which contribute to better aero.

Overall, Dennis’s team did a decent job making the 2018 Equinox an agreeable ride with good dynamics – but this was built to please passengers more than the driver. The Equinox comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. If you’re wondering whether these matter, ask your kids. You can convert your car into a roving Wi-Fi hotspot through OnStar. Careful: It quickly becomes one of those necessitates you had no idea that you couldn’t live without. Other standards include keyless entry, push-button start and – only in Canada eh – heated front seats, heated rear-view mirror and remote starter.

That’s a lot to start with. You can upgrade yourself silly. The Premier model I drove yesterday was gorgeously decked out: leather appointed seat trim, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, power hands-free rear lift gate, sunroof and Bose premium seven-speaker sound system.

Yet another engine is coming later this summer for the 2018 Equinox, a 1.6L turbo diesel, which I welcome. It’ll be interesting to see whether the market embraces it. But watch this space: Chevy’s probably going to make a lot of noise about it too.

Pricing (includes MSRP, Freight and A/C Tax):

2018 Equinox 2.0L LT AWD: $35,645
2018 Equinox 2.0L Premier AWD: $39,245