Asheville, North Carolina- How have five-passenger crossovers altered the automotive landscape of late? For the first time, compact crossovers outsold bread-and-butter mid-size sedans in the U.S during the 2016 calendar year. Don't expect this trend to slow in the foreseeable future.
Another way to frame its fame; one out of every four vehicles sold in the U.S. is a crossover of mid-size or smaller stature.
Within the walls of GM's Chevrolet division, this dynamic plays out in plain sight. In 2016, the Equinox crossover ranked as the second-best-selling vehicle within the Bow-Tie network at 242,195 units, behind only the full-size Silverado pickup truck with double the number of Equinox sales.
Equinox joined Chevy's team back in the 2005 model year along with its automotive twin at the time, the Pontiac Torrent. A second-generation followed in 2010. Despite solid sales numbers, Equinox still trails rivals including Honda's CR-V, Toyota's RAV4 and Ford's Escape. The 2018 effort incorporates all the necessary ingredients to narrow the gap.
This Gen Three 2018 edition takes a Jenny Craig approach, shedding 400 pounds from the previous generation and nip-tucking exterior dimensions. Wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle) sheds 5.2 inches while overall length squeezes down 4.7 inches.
However, overall cargo-capacity remains virtually unchanged thanks to a new second-row seat design (63.5 cubic feet of cargo room awaits behind first row bucket seats). Trims include base L, LS, LT and top-echelon Premier. Front-wheel drive comes standard with all-wheel drive optional in all but base L.
While the outgoing Gen Two qualified as a 'tweener,' falling between compact and mid-size, Gen Three remains committed to compact specs.
"In the last two years, Chevrolet's been the fastest growing full-line brand picking up almost a full share (.08 in the U.S. market) and we certainly have goals to keep that streak alive here for 2017," commented Steve Majoros, Director of Marketing for Chevrolet Cars and Crossovers during a gathered breakfast briefing.
Under hood, Equinox retired an aging, naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter four cylinder and ho-hum V-6. In their stead, a trio of turbocharged four cylinders, including a segment-exclusive turbo diesel and a peppy 1.5-liter gasoline turbo.
In Chevrolet's eye, Equinox could tap into an underserved market of potential customers seeking a domestic diesel crossover. Most diesel car choices now come from European nameplates.
"There are 33,000 people that own a Chevrolet diesel truck that also own a VW diesel (car). We certainly feel we could get some diesel people with a diesel mind set moving in," Majoros added. Chevrolet began offering a turbo-diesel in the compact Cruze sedan in 2014.
t's the new 1.5-liter turbo cranking out 170 horsepower and teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission that's first out of the availability gate (now arriving at dealers) and tested through the twisty Blue Ridge Mountains.
Later in the calendar year (near August), a 2.0-liter turbo (252 horsepower) teamed with a nine-speed automatic transmission launches. The higher-mileage 1.6-liter diesel edition (136 horses) is scheduled to arrive a month or so later. Current estimates project Equinox diesel to tickle 40 miles per gallon highway. The 2.0-liter turbo and 1.6-liter turbo diesel availability are tied to the top two trims.
The 1.5-liter turbo worked diligently and performed well during steep, twisty roads through Pisgah National Forest outside Asheville with the six-speed transmission up-and-down shifting with authority and keeping pace with topography. Equinox felt balanced during cornering with a firm, sure road grip. A boost in low-end torque (compared to the outgoing four cylinder) also helped climbing performance. In the flat plains of Chicagoland, this torque accentuates low-speed, zero-to-30 times.
All three turbos feature start-stop technology, conserving fuel during prolonged stops (at intersection lights) by temporarily quieting the engine. Once the right foot lifts from the brake pedal, the engine starts again. It's relatively unobtrusive, and smoother than a Volvo currently being tested with the same technology.
The revamped exterior remains bold, yet stylish, borrowing styling echoes from fellow Bow-Tie sedan mates Cruze and Malibu. Wind resistance gets reduced by 10 percent compared with the out-going model. Also contributing to aerodynamic nuances are upper and lower grille shutters, closing during certain highway situations when engine cooling needs are reduced, pushing more air around the vehicle to reduce drag.
This adds up to 26 miles per gallon city and 32 highway for our front-drive 1.5-liter tester. Subtract two miles if opting for all-wheel drive. By comparison, the outgoing 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four cylinder provided 21 city/31 highway with front-wheel drive.
Equinox for 2018 now offers an array of radar and camera-based technologies. Toyota loaded up its RAV4 with similar nuances during its 2016 model year redesign.
Our tester for the day, a white front-drive Premier Edition with 1.5-liter turbo checked in at $30,790. A $1,895 convenience package and a-la-carte options ($995 iridescent paint upgrade, $40 front license plate bracket) brought the total to $34,615 after $895 destination charge. An entry L checks in at $24,475.
Convenience packages add heated steering wheel, heated outboard rear seats and heated and ventilated front seats. Also included are high-tech safety nuances including lane assist with lane departure warning, forward collision alert and low-speed auto braking.
General Motors vehicles, including Equinox, arrive with OnStar subscription-based telematics, allowing occupants to connect with and ask pointed questions to a real live flesh-and-blood individual (no computer tutorial) with the push of a designated button. My drive partner and I put the system to the test, requesting directions to a national forest waterfall landmark, which the concierge immediately sent to the vehicle's in-dash navigation system. No address inputting needed by the lazy in-car occupants.
Premier's eight-inch, large-iconed color touch screen centered the attractive dash. Popular Smart Phones can interact with the screen through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Second-row seat backs fold down with a 60/40 split. A top-side red button, when pushed, folds down the headrest. An adjacent release lever unlocks seatbacks for gentle manual fold onto cushions. Our tester could fit three average-sized adults in row two thanks to decent leg room. Expect generous head room no matter what seat is inhabited.
Extra storage opportunities abound. Lift tabs help elevate a rear cargo floor cover revealing enough underfloor storage for a couple of back packs. During wet Chicago springs, both front doors feature upper tier molded grooves accommodating retracting umbrellas.
During the 2017 Chicago Auto Show, Chevrolet announced the availability of an all-new 'Redline' appearance package on nine of its vehicles, including 2018 Equinox LT trims. Redline includes black wheels with red hash marks along with blacked out name plates and Chevy Bow Ties. Expect Equinox Redline arrival by the fall of 2017.
Price as tested: $34,615
Engine: 1.5-liter turbo
Wheelbase: 107.3 inches
Overall Length: 183.1 inches
Overall Width: 72.6 inches
Overall Height: 65.4 inches
Curb Weight: 3,375 pounds
Fuel Economy: 26 mpg city/32 mpg highway
Assembly: Ingersoll, Canada