Test Drive: 2015 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ AWD

A refreshed 2016 Chevrolet Equinox arrives this Fall but as changes are mostly cosmetic you may want to save yourself a few thousand bucks by considering one of the remaining 2015 Chevrolet Equinox models. ’Til the end of August, GM is offering some pretty big incentives. If you have cash, GM is offering a whopping $4,950 rebate ($750 owner cash, $4,200 dealer cash credit) on the 2015 Equinox LS FWD, or you can get zero-percent financing for 84 months on the 2015 Equinox AWD. Our top-of-the-line 2015 Equinox LTZ AWD tester with a few options is currently eligible for a credit of $3,664, bringing its as-tested price of $41,260 (Freight and a/c tax included) down to $37,596.

Over the years, the Equinox has received incremental technology upgrades to keep it current.

First introduced in 2010, the Equinox is best known for its comfortable, quiet highway ride, choice of four or six-cylinder normally-aspirated engines, sliding rear seats that maximize rear legroom, and unique in-car Wi-Fi hotspot. Past criticisms by us included its hard plastic interior surfaces, a rather uninspired driving experience, excessive engine noise under full throttle (four-cylinder engine), and a large turning circle. Still, these faults aren’t necessarily unique to the Equinox in the compact SUV category.

Though five years is a long time between redesigns, the styling of the Equinox has held up well when compared to newer models. The designers seem to have anticipated the trend to taller, bolder front ends while keeping the nose attractively streamlined (unlike its GM cousin, the GMC Terrain). And over the years, the Equinox has received incremental technology upgrades to keep it current, such as MyLink communication system, in-car 4G Wi-fi, and additional safety features.

As before, all 2015 (and 2016) Equinox trim levels come with a standard 182 hp 2.4L four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, or optional 3.6L V6 (an extra $1,725) and six-speed auto. Despite a heavier-than-average curb weight of 1,713 kg the four-cylinder Equinox is as quick as many other popular four-cylinder SUVs, though not particularly quick. AJAC pegs its 0 to 100 km/h time at 9.9 seconds, competitive with the 178 hp Ford Escape 1.6 EcoBoost (9.9 sec) and the 176 hp Toyota RAV4 AWD (9.9 sec), and quicker than the 170 hp Nissan Rogue SL AWD (10.7 sec) and 155 hp Mazda CX-5 AWD 2.0 (10.7 sec). The four-cylinder 185 hp Honda CR-V AWD is slightly quicker at 9.4 seconds.

The real performers in this class are the turbocharged models, such as the 231 hp 2.0L Ford Escape EcoBoost at 7.8 seconds, and the 250 hp 2.0L Subaru Forester XT Turbo with 7.4 seconds. These models offer performance more on par with the 301 hp Equinox V6.

Meet the competition: Comparison Test: Compact Crossover SUVs

Because it’s a bit bigger and heavier than other compact SUVs, the Equinox’s fuel economy suffers. Official NRCan fuel consumption ratings for the Equinox four-cylinder are 11.5 city/8.5 highway/10.0 combined but during a week of mixed freeway and city driving, I was seeing an average of 11.0. For comparison, the Escape 1.6 EcoBoost has a combined rating of 9.4 L/100 km while the Toyota RAV4 AWD offers 9.5 L/100 km combined. Even the Ford Escape 2.0L EcoBoost has a combined rating of 10.1 L/100 km.

An Eco button on the console helps the Equinox improve fuel consumption by altering transmission shift points, reducing throttle input, lowering the idle speed and shutting of fuel sooner when decelerating. However, my test drive wasn’t long enough to see if there was any difference in fuel economy between Eco and normal modes and since I didn’t notice a big difference in performance between the two modes I just left the Eco button on all the time hoping to save as much fuel as I could.

Mated to the standard four-cylinder engine, the six-speed automatic transmission is barely felt and kick-down response is immediate. The engine and transmission work very well together although the engine must work hard under full throttle. The driver can shift manually by moving the shift lever to the ‘M’ position and then pressing the + and - buttons on the shift handle, but it’s probably the most fiddly shifting mechanism on the market.

All Equinox trim levels except the AWD-only LTZ are available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($2,200-$2,600 option depending on trim level). The AWD is a hands-off, on-demand system that automatically sends more power to the rear wheels when necessary to improve both traction and stability on wet or slippery roads. It’s an option well worth having for Canadian winters. The AWD system works in combination with standard electronic stability control, rollover mitigation technology, traction control, hill-start assist (to keep it rolling back when starting off on a hill), and anti-sway technology for trailering. Unlike some SUVs, there is no driver-selectable differential lock.

With a fully independent suspension, long 2,858-mm wheelbase and standard 17 or 18-inch tires, the Equinox has a comfortable and quiet highway ride, thanks in part to a standard noise cancellation system that counteracts the buzzing of the four-cylinder engine, generous sound insulation, and a tall top gear ratio that allows the engine to spin at just 2,000 rpm at a steady 100 km/h.

Under hard acceleration, the four-cylinder engine lets out a spirited roar, but otherwise you’ll be surprised at how quiet the Equinox is. However, I did notice some rattles coming from the rear of the Equinox which I suspect originated with the optional ‘close-out’ panels that cover the gaps between the rear seats and the cargo floor. Unfortunately, it’s one of those annoying things that can spoil the new car buying experience.

With standard electric power steering, the Equinox is easy to maneuver at slow speeds but its wide 12.2 metre turning diameter makes tight turns a two- or three-step process. With the optional 19-inch tires, it’s even worse: the turning diameter increases to 13 metres.

Rear visibility is another issue: the Equinox’s big rear side pillars impede visibility when lane-changing or parallel parking. Thank goodness for the warning tones from the rear parking sensors and the visual warnings shown in the touchscreen via the back-up camera. These are options you must have in the Equinox.

A bright spot in the Equinox’s driving experience is its headlights: top marks go to the projector beam headlights in the LTZ which light up the road like it was daytime. The fog lights expand the coverage even further. For 2016, projector beams will be standard on all Equinox trim levels.

Upper trim levels of the 2015 Equinox are available with a Lane Departure Warning system that sounds a warning tone and flashes a dash light if the vehicle wanders across the line; a Forward Collision Alert system that beeps and flashes if the Equinox approaches a vehicle in front too quickly; and a Rear Park Assist that issues warnings about obstacles when reversing. For 2016, the Equinox LT and LTZ add a Side Blind Zone Alert system and a rear Cross Traffic Alert system.

The Equinox’s long wheelbase and tall roof help create a roomy cabin with plenty of headroom, hip room, and legroom for front and rear passengers. In particular, it has the most rear legroom in its class because the entire rear seat cushion slides forward and back up to 18 cm, while the 60/40 split rear setbacks recline separately for comfort.

The door openings are big and the step-in height is not too high. The bottom of the doors close over the lower side sills thereby preventing dirt from accumulating there where it can soil pants and stockings when getting in and out.

Cloth seats are standard in the Equinox LS and LT but the LTZ has leather seats with a smooth, shiny surface that makes the seats easy to slide in and out of. In the LTZ, both driver and front passenger seats have power height, recline and lumbar adjustments but only the driver's seat has a two-position memory. I found the driver’s seat quite comfortable during the week that I had it. One observation from my summer drive: passengers wearing sunscreen on their arms leave white smudges on the black leather armrests and seats.

Behind the thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel is a bright instrument cluster with a round tachometer and speedometer flanking a central digital display that provides useful vehicle info such as average fuel economy, range, average speed, tire pressure and compass. You can scroll through it using the Menu button in the centre stack. Thanks to buttons and dials on the steering wheel spokes, you can adjust radio volume, station select, cruise functions, and telephone without having to reach for the centre stack. On/off buttons for the Lane Departure Warning and Collision Warnings are also on the steering wheel.

Equinox models equipped with the MyLink navigation system include a bright easy to see touch-screen with a protruding hood to reduce glare. The Home screen includes eight buttons or ‘tiles’ for major functions such as navigation, audio, telephone, and vehicle settings, however climate control is not included. The touchscreen is easy to use and straightforward for first-time users but just in case, there are redundant push-buttons below the screen for basic audio, phone and navigation commands. Volume, Tune and Select are operated by simple round dials.

Though you can’t adjust fan speed and temperature using the touchscreen, you can use the traditional buttons below the audio controls. Those actions then appear temporarily on the screen.

MyLink also includes hands-free voice-activated telephone and audio operation and is capable of reading text messages aloud.

All Equinox trim levels come standard with OnStar Directions and Connections for six months, standard Sirius satellite radio with a free three-month subscription, and 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot that allows up to seven occupants to have internet access while on the go. This is a great feature but is limited to three months or three GB before you have to start paying for your own data. As well, it’s not compatible with all devices. Using my iPhone6, I attempted to log on to the Wi-Fi hotspot using a password supplied to me by GM, but the system wouldn’t allow me to join.

Curiously, the Menu buttons for the information display in the instrument cluster are located in the centre stack under the climate controls. These are more typically located on the steering wheel or turn signal stalk.

The 2015 Equinox gets an 'A' for storage options. An open storage bin in front of the shift lever is ideal for phones or cameras and includes a 12-volt charging outlet. Under the padded armrest between the front seats is a storage bin big enough for a laptop (32cm (12.5 in.) D X 26 cm (10 in.) L X 9 cm (3.5 in.) W. You can hook up your music player or iPod to the USB and auxiliary outlets inside the bin. There’s also a small (removable) storage tray for coins and the like. Other storage areas include front and rear door pockets, change pockets in the front doors, a glovebox, a small slot in front of the centre armrest, and two open bins in the rear wheelhousings. The centre console has two cup holders while the rear centre folding armrest has two more.

Despite the Equinox’s relatively large size in the compact SUV class, it has less cargo room than popular SUVs like the Escape, RAV4 and CR-V. Still, there’s up to 892 litres behind the rear seatbacks with the rear seat pushed all the way forwards and up to 1,804 litres with both rear setbacks folded down.

With the rear seat in its most rearward position, the cargo floor length is 86 cm and the width between the rear wheel housings is 94 cm. Slide the rear seat all the way forwards, and the cargo floor length increases to 104 cm however there isn’t enough legroom for rear passengers if the rear seat is pushed all the way forwards. Still, there’s plenty of cargo and passenger carrying versatility by folding down one of the rear seatbacks. Note that while GM says the rear seat slides up to 8 inches, I measured only 7 inches.

With one or both of the split rear seat backs folded down, cargo floor length behind the front seats increases to 175 cm, however the rear seat backs don't lie perfectly flat.

Opening the rear lift gate reveals a large cargo opening with a low liftover height of 74 cm which makes loading heavy items into the trunk easier. As well, the sliding rear privacy cover can be removed from the vehicle to make room for tall, bulky items like furniture or bikes.

The Equinox’s cargo area includes a 12-volt power outlet, a cargo net, two small storage bins and a temporary spare tire under the floor. One criticism: although the cargo floor and rear seat backs are carpeted, the side walls and floor panel that covers the gap between the rear seat and cargo floor are made of a plastic that scratches easily and is likely to look well-worn in the first year of ownership.

Comparably equipped, the 2015 Equinox is pricier than many of its competitors without offering any major advantages. That may be one reason GM is offering such big discounts right now.

One thing the Equinox has in its favour is its powertrain warranty: though its basic 3-year/60,000 km warranty is similar to its competitors’, the Equinox comes with a 5-year/160,000 km powertrain warranty while most of its competitors offer 5-year/100,000 km. As well, the Equinox comes with free oil changes for the first two years or 40,000 km.

Chevrolet Equinox’s are assembled in Ingersoll and Oshawa Ontario, and Spring Hill, Tennessee.

2015 Chevrolet Equinox MSRP:
Equinox LS: FWD $26,405, AWD $30,255
Equinox LT 1LT: FWD $29,670, AWD $33,520
Equinox LT 2LT: FWD $30,560, AWD $34,410
Equinox LTZ: AWD $39,020

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/160,000 km powertrain; 6 years/160,000 km corrosion perforation; 5 years/160,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Dodge Journey
Ford Escape
GMC Terrain
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Santa Fe
Jeep Cherokee
Mazda CX-5
Mitsubishi Outlander
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4

 

2015 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ AWD
articles_PricingType 2015 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ AWD
Base Price $37,370
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,650
Price as Tested $41,260
Optional Equipment $2,140 (power tilt/slide glass moonroof $1,095, MyLink touch-screen with navigation $795, Cargo-area close-out panel $150, engine block heater $100)
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.2
7 Comfort
6 Fuel Economy
6 Performance
6 Interior
6 Exterior Styling