2018 is a big model year for General Motors, which is bringing a trio of redesigned SUVs to market across several of its major brands. Perhaps the most important of these people movers is the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, a compact mainstay for Chevy adept at snagging the attentions of Canadian families, and the last member of its entry-level stable to cotton to the benefits of the fuel-efficient turbocharged engines that are slowly taking over the industry.
The new Equinox also happens to be uniquely positioned when compared against the cutthroat cast of characters currently populating the compact crossover SUV space. By making turbo power standard, and by simplifying its pricing and ordering structure, the Equinox finds itself smack in the middle of the major players when it comes to value, power and features, all while ceding bargain status to the smaller Chevrolet Trax.
Time for a road trip
Given a map of roadside treasures dotting North and South Carolina, an adventurous drive partner, and the keys to the new Chevrolet Equinox for 24 hours, I was able to exercise the sport utility vehicle in much the same manner as most of its buyers would: by taking a road trip. Although smaller and lighter than before, the Equinox still manages to pack nearly as much second-row passenger room and total cargo space as the model it replaces, which meant plenty of room for our collective luggage and our unreasonable amount of snacks, as well as any and all knick-knacks and souvenirs we might pick up on the way.
Our first stop: the Peachoid, a giant piece of fruit mounted on a pole in the town of Gaffney, South Carolina, made famous by its inclusion as a major plot point in the popular political TV drama House of Cards. This water tower happens to be located kitty-corner to Fatz Cafe, where we picked up a delectable southern delicacy—peach cobblers, of course—to fuel ourselves through the afternoon.
The extra weight of our cobbler-laden bellies was shrugged off by the Equinox's 1.5L, 4-cylinder engine, a turbocharged unit that generates 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque. This motor does a fine job of replacing the older SUV's entry-level engine, a 2.4-litre mill that at times rasped and complained at the task of accelerating the once-hefty Chevrolet. Matched with a six-speed automatic transmission, the 1.5L genuinely surprised me with its willingness to keep pace with the demands of my right foot, returning effective amounts of acceleration when prodded and offering only a minor aural disturbance in the process. Fuel efficiency, too, has improved, with a rating of 9.2L/100 km combined attached to front-wheel drive editions of the Equinox.
A straight highway shot up to North Carolina, and our final destination of Asheville had us making one more detour before settling in for the night. The Bennett Classics Antique Car Museum offers an ever-changing collection of nostalgic metal, and provided a strong contrast with the quiet and comfort of the Equinox's very modern charms. The wonder of a tiny 4-cylinder engine with less displacement than a carton of milk generating more grunt than some of the malaise-era V8s on display there would have blown more than a few slide rules off the desks of 1970s engineers.
Canadians will be able to order the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox in three distinct trim levels: LS, LT and Premier. If you skip the all-wheel drive option, you'll be looking at $25,195 to get behind the wheel of a base Equinox, with an additional $2,400 required to motivate both the rear and forward axles. Interestingly enough, the Premier model that my companion and I tilted around the Carolinas tops out at roughly $40k when fully loaded, which keeps it in line with the priciest versions of the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4.
The former largely matches the Chevrolet when it comes to infotainment and comfort features, but the RAV4 can't quite keep up on the active safety front when confronted with the vast array of driver's aides and advanced systems available with the Equinox - nor does it offer more than a single, naturally-aspirated engine, unless you decide to invest in the RAV4 Hybrid.
The Equinox Premier's well-appointed and comfortable cabin was appreciated the next morning as we carved through the chilly Blue Ridge Parkway, and it was easy to see where Chevrolet had made a concerted effort to rise above the more pedestrian roots of the solid, but task-focused previous-generation SUV.
More of a surprise, however, was just how composed the Equinox remained as I pitched it from decreasing radius corner to another. The hauler proved itself to be better behaved than a number of other compact SUVs I had recently put through similar paces, and while certainly not an enthusiast's pick there's something to be said for the Chevrolet's measured approach to handling.
Bright sky over the Equinox
With both a 252-hp, 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 1.6L turbodiesel engine that promises 6.9 L/100 km (combined) on the way later this summer, the best is likely yet to come for the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox in terms of efficiency and performance.
Still, for those who want to avoid paying extra for power or driving range they may not need, the 1.5L edition is worthy of inclusion on any compact SUV shopping list, even in a segment of the market where it seems like every few months every competitor gets bigger, faster or more frugal at the fuel pump.