2018 Chevrolet Equinox LT Diesel AWD review

Diesel is not dead, and Chevy's frugal 2018 Equinox wrings out every mile

The Equinox is smart, sensible, and good at just about everything you ask it to do.
The Equinox is smart, sensible, and good at just about everything you ask it to do.
The Equinox is smart, sensible, and good at just about everything you ask it to do.

Highs

  • Efficient and torquey diesel power
  • Commendable handling, driving dynamics
  • Smarter traction and stability systems
  • All-wheel drive when you need it
  • Comfortable, quality interior

Lows

  • Lethargic transmission
  • Noisy on cold starts
  • Pricey when you pile on the options

Crossovers continue to be white-hot sellers in the United States, and it’s easy to see the appeal. What’s not to like about an SUV that checks all the same boxes for practicality, but still drives like a car? They’re the Swiss Army Knives of the automotive world, and everyone wants one in their pocket.

But the segment is getting crowded. The compact 2018 Chevrolet Equinox competes with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but also the Jeep Compass and Cherokee, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Tiguan, and Kia Sportage.

So yes, you have plenty of options to choose from. But the Chevrolet Equinox offers a perk no other car in this class does: diesel power, which translates to 39 mpg on the highway. Not many crossovers can touch that. If you don’t opt for the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, Chevy also offers 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline four-cylinders.

Our tester came in middle-grade LT form, which is the second most expensive model, and naturally we opted for the diesel. To keep up with the current competitive set, our tester came well-equipped with lots of standard tech and safety, including blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross-traffic alert, all-wheel drive, and more. A $2,245 “Sun & Infotainment Package” added Chevy’s largest MyLink infotainment system, a panoramic sunroof, and a color display inside the gauge cluster. The final invoice: $35,340.

Interior and tech

For decades, GM cars always seemed to fall short of competitors on interior materials and build quality. With the all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, however, it seems the company has finally addressed the constant criticism. We might even call it one of GM’s best interiors yet.

The vinyl and plastics used feel sturdy yet pliable, and though it didn’t come with leather seats, the cloth on our tester seemed durable enough to withstand the daily grind, plus the usual coffee and soda spills.

The eight-inch infotainment screen for Chevrolet’s MyLink system lives in a responsive and vivid high-definition color LCD, offering easy access to features like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, sat-nav, and GM’s OnStar connectivity. You can also add a 4G LTE hotspot for Wi-Fi on the go, which none of its German, Japanese, or Korean competitors offer. With 29.9 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seat, it’s not as spacious as Toyota’s RAV4 (which boasts 38 cubic feet), but there’s plenty of room for everyday errands.

Driving experience

The third-generation Equinox rides on a completely new platform for 2018, which means it now shares its backbone with the likes of the second-generation Chevrolet Cruze and the Buick Envision. That comes with some perks. A four-way multi-link independent rear suspension and front MacPherson strut setup both translate to better body control, improved overall handling, and better road feel. It won’t excite driving enthusiasts, but the Equinox will make you feel confident, safe, and comfortable behind the wheel in almost any situation.

The Chevrolet Equinox offers a perk no other car in this class does: diesel power.

Part of that refinement comes from refined stability and traction control programming. Older systems are notably very intrusive, leaping in very quickly at the first sign of a loss in traction, which can actually worsen a driver’s loss of control. Counterintuitively, sometimes you want some wheel slip to keep the vehicle going the right direction. This year, engineers recalibrated the systems to have a softer touch, compensating less drastically when things get slick.

It works. When we charged the Equinox into a specially arranged snow course at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, it allowed for a lot more sideways action than most modern cars will permit, but kept us going where we wanted. It sounds scary, but it’s actually more predictable and reassuring than traction control abruptly cutting power to your wheels. That means more confidence behind the wheel, and better drivability in wintry conditions.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox Diesel review
Chris Chin/Digital Trends
Chris Chin/Digital Trends

With just 137 horsepower, the Equinox’s diesel option looks anemic besides its more powerful gasoline peers, but 240 pound-feet of torque mean it delivers surprising twist when you need it. It also delivers up to 39 mpg on the highway – much more than competitors like the 30-mpg Ford Escape and 34 mpg Honda CR-V.

Below freezing, the diesel does suffer from some clattery cold starts, but that’s for oil burners. We would love to see some active engine mounts to compensate in the future. The six-speed automatic transmission might feel lethargic, but once you get used to it, you realize it’s tuned well for smooth and uninterrupted acceleration to take full advantage of the diesel engine’s torque curve.

Warranty

All Equinoxes come with a three-year, 36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty, whichever comes first.

How DT would configure this car

Opt for the torquey, efficient diesel engine and all-wheel drive if you plan to weather winter’s worst. After optioning both, your real choice is between the Premier and cheaper LT trim packages. Go with the LT, then tack on the “Sun & Infotainment Package.” It adds a lot of the best upgrades from the Premier package, for roughly the same price, with the bonus of a panoramic moon roof that you’ll definitely want.

If you need to ritz it up even further, Premier trim with the $4,515 Confidence and Convenience II package adds a whole suite of passive and active safety gear, such as forward-collision and distance warning, the Equinox’s new Surround Vision 360-degree camera system, lane-keep assist, a premium Bose sound system, HID headlights, heated and vented seats, and more. But keep an eye on that price tag. As it creeps toward $40,000, you might get more for your money by instead opting for a mid-size or full-size crossover.

Our Take

It may not be the most spacious or versatile (Honda CR-V). And it might not be the best one to drive for enthusiasts (Mazda CX-5). Nor is it near luxury status (Volkswagen Tiguan). Instead, the all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox is smart, sensible, and good at just about everything you ask it to do. In the realm of crossovers, that makes it the Swiss Army Knife of Swiss Army Knives.

Chevy has stepped up its game on the inside, a well-sorted chassis and suspension give it better road manners than ever, and the unique diesel engine delivers outstanding fuel efficiency. The 2018 Equinox is a well-executed compact crossover that’s ready for whatever you can throw at it.

Should you get one?

If you are in the market for a compact crossover, yes! The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox should at least be on your short list for consideration, particularly if fuel efficiency and winter driving chops are priorities.

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