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2018 Chevrolet Equinox First Drive

The 2018 Chevy Equinox isn’t fast, but its Wi-Fi hot spot will keep you connected

The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox is a much-improved compact crossover contender.

The Equinox is new from the ground up for 2018. It replaces a previous generation that was on sale for nearly 10 years, meaning the new version arrives not a moment too soon. The 2018 Equinox is roughly the same size as before, but is lighter and features more fuel-efficient powertrains.It also gets a larger array of tech features.

Chevy didn’t really need to make a new Equinox. Despite being positively ancient by industry standards, the outgoing generation was actually selling quite well. That’s a testament to the insane popularity of SUVs at the moment.

Thankfully for car buyers everywhere, Chevy decided not to just milk that trend.

The 2018 Equinox shows just how far the compact crossover segment has come in the past decade. It features a greater emphasis on design and fuel efficiency—two mandatory strong points for any competitive compact crossover these days. It’s much more lavish suite of tech is also a sign of the times.

While Chevy’s big SUVs are competitive products, The Bowtie brigade hasn’t been as successful in matching the competition when it comes to crossovers. The 2018 Equinox takes on segment standard bearers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, and Mazda CX-5. It’s a tough crowd the old Equinox never really measured up to objectively. So can the new model earn its sales by being a genuinely good car, and not just a placeholder in a popular segment?

Trim Levels & Features

The 2018 Chevy Equinox is available in four trim levels—L, LS, LT, and Premier—priced starting from $24,475. The base price buys a front-wheel drive L model with a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Standard features on that version include 17-inch aluminum wheels, LED daytime running lights, review camera, MyLink infotainment system with 7.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot (separate data plan required).

For our drive through North and South Carolina, Chevy only had top-level Premier models on hand. Our tester still had the base 1.5-liter engine and front-wheel drive, but included niceties like leather seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, 18-inch, and a power foot-activated tailgate as standard equipment. Options like a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated seats, and additional safety features swelled the price to $33,620.

But our tester wasn’t fully loaded. It lacked options like all-wheel drive, navigation, and a panoramic glass roof, which push the price of an Equinox to about $39,000. It’s not hard to imagine an Equinox with one of the two optional engines Chevy plans to launch later this year—a 2.0-liter turbo gasoline four-cylinder and a 1.6-liter diesel four-cylinder—pushing the price over $40k. That’s a lot for what’s supposed to be a sensible, mainstream family car.

The front seats proved very comfortable over two days of driving around the Carolinas.

The exterior styling is a big improvement over the old Equinox, which looked like it was designed during a coffee break. The new Equinox incorporates styling features from other recent Chevys like the Malibu and Cruze, and wears them well. This modern-looking SUV certainly looked out of place amid the industrial ruins that seem to pepper western North Carolina.

The front end looks fairly handsome, with its grinning grille and stretched-out headlights, and designers applied some strategic creases and black lower trim to the side bodywork, helping to hide some of the car’s bulk. However, the rear end is fairly generic looking, and the Equinox doesn’t quite avoid the blobby silhouette of many current crossovers.

Technology Overview

In terms of technology, the Equinox is playing catch up. The new model adds features that have come along since its predecessor was first launched, bringing Chevy up to speed in this segment.

The Chevy MyLink infotainment system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and features 7.0 or 8.0-inch touchscreens, depending on the trim level. Like most current General Motors products, the Equinox also comes standard with a 4G LTE connection for GM’s OnStar telematics system, and a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot. However, this requires a separate data plan, purchased through AT&T.

Chevrolet

The touchscreen is pretty well positioned at the top of the center stack, within easy reach for both driver and passenger. Chevy also managed to fit a helpful array of analog controls into a fairly compact area beneath the screen, providing an intuitive backup without creating excessive clutter.

Befitting a family car that will likely spend many days stuffed with parents and children, the 2018 Equinox has plenty of places to plug in devices. Our test car sported 12-volt power outlets in the cargo area, the back of the center console, and underneath the center stack. Two USB ports are located on the back of the console, two in the console, and two underneath the center stack. That little center-stack nook also features an auxiliary audio port and wireless-charging pad.

The Equinox comes standard with a rearview camera, and surround-view camera system that displays a bird’s eye view is optional. It works well enough, but seems a bit unnecessary in a vehicle of this size. The front camera is also mounted in what looks like a vulnerable position on one of the grille’s horizontal bars.

Interior Fit & Finish

The interior is a big improvement over the old Equinox, but you’re still aware that you are in a mass-market product. The design is fairly simple, but a pair of wing-like trim panels on the dashboard do help jazz things up a bit. These were covered with stitched leatherette material on our Premier-trim test car, and are available in contrasting colors for a vaguely retro two-tone look.

The design is fairly simple, but a pair of wing-like trim panels on the dashboard do help jazz things up a bit.

The front seats proved very comfortable over two days of driving around the Carolinas, and have a decent amount of side bolstering for a vehicle that is in no way billed as a performance car. They kept driver and passenger firmly in place while bombing along some twisty roads in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. The seating position also strikes a nice compromise between the traditional high-and-mighty SUV driving position and a more car-like feel.

The rear seats were fairly comfortable as well, although the bottom cushion is flat and felt a bit hard. Headroom and rear-seat legroom are generous, thanks to some strategic packaging decisions on the part of Chevy’s engineers. The 2018 Equinox is actually a bit shorter than its predecessor, but alterations were made outside the wheelbase. That helped create a better-looking car, by cutting front and rear overhangs, without impacting interior space.

Driving Performance & MPG

Two of the biggest changes for the redesigned Equinox are a new, lighter body structure and a slate of smaller, turbocharged engines. The aim was to create a more fuel-efficient vehicle that is also more fun to drive, but it seems Chevy only partially succeeded.

The 2018 Equinox is up to 400 pounds lighter than its predecessor, thanks to increased use of high-strength steel, and a greater emphasis on weight savings across all components used. That reduction can definitely be felt from behind the wheel, as the Equinox felt pretty light on its wheels in the corners. The suspension kept body roll in check, and measures taken to increase structural stiffness seem to have had their intended effect, without compromising ride quality.

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On fractured pavement, the Equinox won’t be mistaken for a luxury car, but it provides a very smooth ride. In fact, the Equinox felt remarkably refined. Thanks in part to an active noise cancellation system, the cabin was very quiet, even at relatively high speeds on the freeway.

But while the Equinox is pleasant to drive, it isn’t fun. That’s largely down to the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is standard across the model line. The little four-banger produces 170 horsepower and 203 pound-feet of torque, and is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The engine’s power output is adequate for a vehicle in this segment, and our Equinox test car had no problem climbing hills (of which there are plenty in the area where this test drive was conducted), or passing big trucks on the highway. But whenever you put your foot down, the engine responds with a decidedly unpleasant noise that actually sounds like moaning and groaning. Power delivery is, shall we say, leisurely.

Our front-wheel drive test car is rated at 28 mpg combined (26 mpg city, 32 mpg highway) by the EPA. All-wheel drive models are rated at 26 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway). Those relatively high numbers are the real reason why Chevy fitted such a small engine. But the lackluster performance still makes it a questionable choice.

Buyers seeking more power will be able to choose a 2.0-liter turbo four beginning later this year. The larger engine produces 252 hp, and is paired with GM’s new nine-speed automatic. A 1.6-liter diesel is on the way as well, and will likely trump the 1.5-liter in fuel economy. We’re eager to see if these engines can make a more positive impression.

Safety

Along with six airbags, the Equinox comes standard with Chevy’s Teen Driver system, which allows parents to monitor their teens and set restrictions on speed limits and the volume of the audio system. Even if you’re not a teen with a paranoid parent, though, the Equinox has plenty of tech to monitor and augment your driving.

Optional features include forward collision alert with following distance indicator, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, lane change alert, and rear cross traffic alert. Like many modern cars, the Equinox is also available with forward automatic braking. This version features red lights on the dashboard and a vibrating seat to warn the driver, as if the sudden deceleration wasn’t jarring enough. The system in our Equinox seemed particularly sensitive, triggering hard braking even when it seemed unnecessary.

One more electronic nanny is the rear-seat reminder, which flashes a message on the dashboard every time you get out of the car. It’s meant to prevent people from leaving children or pets unattended. But anyone inattentive to not notice a live human or animal sitting in the backseat probably won’t notice the reminder either.

Conclusion

The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox addresses most of the major issues with the previous generation, particularly in the areas of styling and packaging. It also features up-to-date tech, and a modicum of refinement. However, it’s let down by the coarse and uninspiring 1.5-liter base engine, and does not break any new ground. Overall, the Equinox is a solid entry into a competitive segment that won’t leave buyers disappointed, but might still leave them wanting more.

Highs

  • Slicker styling
  • Spacious interior
  • Lots of tech

Lows

  • Disappointing 1.5-liter engine
  • Driving experience doesn’t get the blood pumping
  • Price climbs quickly with options