If you’re looking at this medium-small crossover SUV, there are two things to know before you pull the trigger.
First — in its favor — it offers the strongest V6 you can get in this price range. The same basic V6 that’s used in the sporty Camaro (and also the luxurious Cadillac ATS and CTS).
Several — most — of the Chevy’s rivals in this class don’t even offer a six.
They are four cylinder-only deals. Some, like the Ford Escape and the Hyundai Sante Fe Sport, offer turbocharged fours — but that adds complexity and potential down-the-road (and post-warranty) repair and maintenance costs. Plus, the turbo’d fours almost always require premium fuel — an additional cost to consider.
And — just so you know — the real-world mileage of those turbo’d fours is usually much less than advertised if you actually use the turbo (by pushing down on the gas pedal). So don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be saving much gas. And remember, it’ll be premium unleaded gas.
All right, so what’s the flip side … or rather, the downside, Equinox-wise?
The Chevy’s standard (and not turbocharged) four is torturously underpowered for the task it’s been assigned.
It’s not weak. This Chevy is just too heavy. Hundreds of pounds heavier than others in its class (details follow).
You will probably want the V6. Which means paying more.
That, as they say, am the catch.
But, the Equinox still has its charms — including much more cargo capacity than rivals like the Jeep Cherokee — and much more passenger space than rivals like the Ford Escape.
Plus, you can order AWD with the little engine — which you can’t in rivals like the Escape (you have to buy the stronger, next-available engine to get it).
The Chevy also costs less (to start, at least) than its rivals.
WHAT IT IS
The Equinox is a five passenger/two-row crossover SUV, similar to the Ford Escape, Jeep Cherokee and Hyundai Sante Fe Sport. Technically, they are all compacts, but the Chevy is several inches closer to being mid-sized than its rivals.
The Equinox is also one of a dwindling number of vehicles in this class that’s still available with a brawny V6 — and its V6 is brawnier than the sixes that are still available in rival models like the Jeep Cherokee.
Base price is $22,600 for a FWD LS with the 2.4 liter four cylinder engine. To get the V6, you have to move up to an LT or LTZ trim, which starts at $28,200 for the former and $31,490 for the latter.
The Ford Escape (which is four cylinder-only) starts at $23,590 and tops out at $31,745 for a Titanium trim with AWD and turbocharged four.
A FWD/four cylinder Jeep Cherokee Sport starts at $23,395; you can get into one with a V6 for $27,735 to start.
Another possible cross-shop, the Hyundai Sante Fe Sport, starts at $24,950. It is also four cylinder-only but like the Escape offers a turbocharged four cylinder in lieu of a big six. There is also the Honda CR-V, but though it’s roomy inside, it’s weak under the hood — with just a four cylinder (no turbo) and no optional engine available.
Equinox gets a nip n’ tuck for the 2016 model year. New front clip with more powerful projector beam headlights (all trims) and (LT and LTZ trims) LED daytime running lights.
Inside, there’s a new (and standard in all trims) seven-inch LCD touchscreen, Bluetooth and a 4G in-car WiFi hot spot. You can also get electronic safety features such as a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert (back-up warning) in the LT and LTZ trims.
Chevy has added technology (such as Bluetooth) that was missing in last year’s Equinox — and made it standard in all trims.
Optional V6 is king of small SUV hill.
You don’t have to buy the V6 to get AWD.
Lots of cargo room — without sacrificing people room.
Attractive, Camaro-esque cabin design with smooth blue-backlit/wraparound instrument cluster and center stack.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Standard Bluetooth is not Pandora/streaming audio capable. The base set-up is phone connectivity only.
Base trims with standard four are desperately under-engined (and still drink gas).
Escape/Sante Fe offer more cargo room in a smaller overall package.
Jeep offers much more off-road capability.
Cheesy (and out-of-place-looking) collision avoidance warning idiot light array on top of the center stack.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Chevy’s base engine is not a bad engine. It’s just not enough engine for this Chevy.
The 2.4 liter, 182 hp four cylinder puts out as much (or more) power than the standard engines in rivals like the Escape (2.5 liters, 168 hp) and Cherokee (2.4 liters, 184 hp). The problem is the Chevy’s so much heavier than they are: 3,764 lbs. vs. 3,598 for the Ford and 3,655 for the Jeep.
To get a handle on how heavy this Chevy is, my old muscle car — a ’70s Pontiac Trans-Am — weighs about the same. But instead of 2.4 liters and four cylinders, the Pontiac has 7.4 liters and eight cylinders of engine under its hood.
The engine in the TA makes light of all that weight. In the Equinox, all that weight is all too obvious.
Floor it and the poor thing struggles to get to 60 in less than 10 seconds, about two seconds behind the pace of current economy sedans and slower than others in this segment. The AWD-equipped version lags even farther behind.
But you get good gas mileage, at least… right?
The EPA rates this combo (2.4 liter engine, the standard six-speed automatic and front-wheel-drive) at 22 city, 32 highway; with the optional AWD, this slips to 20 city, 29 highway. That sounds great, but don’t be fooled. I’ll tell you straight up that in real world driving, you will be hard-pressed to average better than 23 MPG — with city mileage in the mid-high teens.
Unless you do not press down on the accelerator
It’s probably possible to realize (or at least get close to realizing) the EPA’s numbers, but it will be a challenge. You’ll either have to drive as if you had an eggshell under the accelerator — or smash the thing and feel and hear the sounds of despair emanating from under the hood (while still going slow and sucking fuel).
The good news is there’s a way out.
Well, a way up.
The foodchain, I mean.
Buy the optional 3.6 liter V6.
You will be very glad you did.
301 hp, dual exhaust and a full three second reduction in the 0-60 time, which is now in the high sixes vs. the high nines (low tens, if you bought AWD).
This is Duke of New York, A Number One.
Next closest — and it’s not even close — is the Jeep Cherokee’s optional 3.2 liter V6, which makes 271 hp and gets the Cherokee to 60 in about 7.4 seconds, or about half a second behind the Chevy.
The Escape and Sante Fe don’t offer V6s, no matter how much you’re willing to pay for them. The Ford’s biggest gun is a turbo 2.0 that makes 240 hp, the equivalent (in naval artillery terms) of a cruiser’s eight-inchers vs. a battleship’s elevens.
The Sante Fe Sport is also a comparative lightweight, guns-wise. Its optional 264 hp 2.0 turbo four is stronger than the Ford’s — but much less impressive than the Chevy’s heavy artillery.
There isn’t even that much of a gas mileage penalty to pay. The six rates 17 city, 24 highway with FWD (16/23 with AWD) but here’s the thing. In real-world driving, the six-cylinder Equinox will give you close to the EPA numbers, while the four won’t. Because the six doesn’t struggle to move the Equinox. It’s not necessary to constantly floor the thing to get some action.
The only inescapable downside is you do have to buy into the more expensive LT and LTZ trims to get the six. The lower trims only come with the four.
Max tow rating (with the V6) is 3,500 pounds; 1,500 with the four.
Incidentally: Both of the Chevy’s engines — notwithstanding that they are high-compression engines — are designed to burn regular unleaded. Be aware that the turbocharged fours in other crossovers often require premium unleaded to deliver on their performance and mileage promises — and if you feed them regular, they won’t deliver.
ON THE ROAD
The Chevy is bigger (and heavier) than other crossovers in its class, which has its upsides — and downsides.
On the upside, it feels as solid as a gold brick… probably because it is.
Almost 3,800 pounds empty for the FWD/four cylinder model, 3,926 with AWD) and 4,007 with the V6 and AWD.
That’s a lot of mozzarella.
As a result, when the road dips, the Chevy doesn’t bounce. Probably all the beef will be an assist in the snow, too. Instead of riding up on the white stuff, it will crush through to the pavement, where there is grip. It can probably also take a hit better than its smaller, less beefy rivals.
On the downside — well, we’ve discussed this already. The optional V6 is almost a necessary upgrade. Two tons is just too much for 2.4 liters and 182 hp. You may not notice this ambling around in city-style traffic, but it will be impossible not to notice once you’re out on the road — once you decide to try to pass another car, or need to build speed quickly (as when trying to merge with highway traffic).
The four-pot Equinox accelerates (if you want to use that word) like a 1980 Trans-Am with the COPD 301 V8 (for those of you who remember).
One other issue is the Chevy’s startlingly (for the class) wide-load turning radius — 40 feet. The Sante Fe Sport’s is 35.8 feet. A difference of more than four feet. To get a handle on the difference, take both to a crowded Starbuck’s parking lot and you’ll see what I mean.
The Ford Escape and Jeep Cherokee also have lither turning circles (38.8 and 37.6 feet, respectively).
That plus their being several inches shorter, end to end (the Equinox is 187.8 inches vs. 178.1 for the Ford, 182 for the Jeep and 184.6 for the Hyundai) makes the Chevy feel bigger.
Because it is.
But, the E’s six-speed automatic is much better-behaved than the Jeep’s not-yet-sorted-out nine-speed box, which sometimes jumps forward several gears when you’re driving downhill, causing the Cherokee to feel like its surging forward without your having touched the gas pedal. The Escape’s six-speed automatic is a fine performer (as is the Hyundai’s) and their turbocharged four cylinder engines do a fine job of mimicking larger engines when called up. But turbos add a layer of complexity — and so, potential cost — to the vehicle.
Something to consider.
AT THE CURB
The Equinox looks hunky, more like an SUV than a crossover SUV. This was a smart move on Chevy’s part since the crossover segment is packed with models that look so much alike it’s hard to tell who’s who without looking at the badge.
The interior, too, is different drummer — only in this case, the styling inspiration came from Camaro rather than Tahoe. The main gauges are very similar in appearance to those you’d find in Chevy’s popular pony car, including the canted shape of the “surrounds” (the trim facings).
The new — and standard — LCD touchscreen in the center stack upscales the joint and the ice-blue backlighting at night adds to the effect.
There is just one thing out of place, an incongruous piece of cheesiness that looks like it came right out of the circa 1985 JC Whitney parts catalog — or maybe was pirated from a same-era Chrysler K Car.
Sitting above the new, modern-looking seven-inch LCD touchscreen is a rectangular plastic idiot light. This is the collision warning indicator. As you get close to a car ahead, a lightbulb behind the plastic comes on and illuminates a green colored and nursery school-looking “car” icon. Get too close for the system’s comfort and an even hokier-looking red idiot light comes on to its right, depicting, in the same pre-digital-era way — with a ’60s Adam West Batman-style ka-pow! idiot light — that it thinks you should brake.
It’s so tacky — especially in the context of the rest of the Chevy’s interior — that you do a double take the first time you see it.
One other — and not visually apparent — Equinox oddity is that the now-standard Bluetooth’ed LCD infotainment system doesn’t include audio connectivity. This is going to turn off some buyers who expect to be able to Pandora it up in any new car — because almost all new cars (and crossovers) have that capability.
Weirdly, Chevy does include something only a few other manufacturers even offer — in-car WiFi.
One other thing to consider is the Chevy’s passenger vs. cargo capacity balance. It is better than the Ford’s Escape’s and the Jeep Cherokee’s. The Equinox has noticeably more space for stuff behind its second row (31.5 cubic feet) and with its second row folded down (63.7 cubic feet) than the Jeep (24.6 cubic feet and 54.9 cubic feet) while also not scrimping on second row people space (39.9 inches of legroom and 39.2 inches of headroom). The Cherokee — despite its lesser cargo capacity — only has marginally more second row legroom (40.3 inches) and less headroom (38.5 inches).
The Escape has more cargo capacity in both categories (34.3 inches behind its second row and and 67.8 total with them folded) but it sacrifices second row roominess to do that. The Ford’s 36.8 inches of backseat legroom is noticeably less than in either the Chevy or the Jeep.
The Hyundai Sante Fe Sport beats them all, both cargo space-wise and people-space wise (71.5 cubic feet of total cargo capacity; 35.4 with the second row up and 39.4 inches of second row legroom). However, it’s also the most expensive of the bunch, at least base price-wise.
The Equinox, like all the others in this segment — with one exception — is a light-duty deal. Even with the optional AWD, this is not an off-roader. It is a good snow-day ride; maybe take it onto a grassy field. But don’t go farther.
If you want to do that, get a Cherokee.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If the base four-cylinder version had another 30 hp (or lost 300 pounds) we’d have a clear class leader, given you can get AWD (and more room inside) for less money than rivals cost. Or, just move on up to the V6.
It’s already the class leader.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos