- What’s Good: Styling, fuel economy
- What’s Bad: Diesel rattle, lo-fi AWD system
It’s well known by now that the diesel engine has come under a bit of fire lately. There was the whole VW dieselgate thing, then the more recent issues with FCA’s diesel powertrains – been a tough few years for the good ol’ oil burner.
Which is why I was surprised when I got the keys to my Chevrolet Equinox tester and fired it up, only to hear that telltale diesel rattle. Obviously, GM is not letting a few bad apples spoil the diesel’s good name. Indeed, when you’ve invested in it as they have, and for vehicles in very popular segments such as light trucks and crossovers, you want to stand behind your investment.
One of the reasons I missed that my Storm Blue Metallic Equinox tester was the diesel is because the only real defining exterior detail is a subtle badge on the rear tailgate. Everything else, though, is standard Equinox. Which is no bad thing because this is a handsome little crossover. You won’t find much in the way of big body panel creases or cuts as you would in a Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5, but the detailing is on-point; the chrome strip ‘round two quarters of the side window assembly is a neat take on the concept, and the two-tone five-spoke wheels look good even when wrapped in blocky winter rubber. The chrome door pull surrounds, meanwhile, provide a nice touch of luxury to the proceedings. The final touch that I really, really like can be found up front, with the black Chevy bowtie logo acting as a handsome crown atop the chrome and black grille. Wrap it all up in that great paint hue, and you have an Equinox that stands out more than it ever has before.
That’s the case for the exterior, anyway; the interior isn’t quite so distinctive but it is made up of nice, broad panels that provide an air of simple no muss, no fuss-ness. It’s airy enough, and nicely roomy up-front; the second-row of seating is a little more snug, but that’s not to say that you’d have to feel guilty for dropping a pair of adult passengers back there. Do wish the seats were a little more supportive all ‘round, however. They’re a little flat and when covered in leather – as my Premier-trimmed tester was – they’re a little slippery. Which would become a little more problematic once on the road, as we’d soon find out.
Infotainment-wise, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all Equinoxes, which is good. The way it hooked up to my iPhone during my trip, somewhat less so. Connecting didn’t tend to be an issue, but certain apps – Google Play Music, namely – didn’t work properly for the duration. Everything from not loading entire playlists or artist lists, to freezing, to crashing completely were regular occurrences. You can blame the app, but it’s worked in other vehicles I’ve tried, and a frustration is a frustration.
Otherwise, the 8-inch screen is big and clear (it’s the only screen you get; there’s no digital gauge cluster option, just a standard – and very plain – twin analogue gauge set-up), the buttons contained therein are well laid-out and large enough to avoid regularly pressing the wrong button. The Bose sound system, meanwhile, is clear enough but you have to think that a few additional speakers – seven are the most you can get in an Equinox – would be welcome.
Power from said diesel is rated at 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque; not bad, and more than you’ll get from the likes of the Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5 – until you add the latter’s optional turbo motor, at which point it takes the Equinox – and pretty much everything else in the segment, mind – to the cleaners in the power department.
Of course, being a diesel, it’s not all about how much power there is, but also how it’s deployed. With the Equinox, peak torque arrives at 2,000 rpm; not the lowest peak you’ll find in the diesel world, but still enough to ensure that you’ll always have the requisite power on tap. That’s even with the six-speed auto transmission; gas engines get an optional 9-speed auto. It would appear that considering the diesel’s powerband, the extra ratios aren’t a necessity.
You do get the sense that it’s a diesel when you’re really accelerating, though. That diesel rattle is very present in those circumstances, and I often found myself wondering if maybe the 2.0L petrol turbo that’s also offered may be the way I’d go. I’ve sampled said engine in the Equinox’s GMC Terrain twin, and I quite enjoyed it there; the zippiness provided by the 252 hp it gets (compared to the measly 137 hp in the diesel) is perhaps more becoming of a vehicle in this segment. I did like the 7.3L/100 km of combined fuel economy I saw from the Equinox, however.
While my tester did have AWD (FWD is also available), it doesn’t operate as such unless you press a button marked “AWD” mounted ahead of the shift lever. That activates the system, and it’s the only way it will; no matter how much you’re slipping, the rear wheels will never get activated unless you’ve pressed that button. That’s unlike much of the competition, which will bring power to whichever axles – or wheels – need it. There’s no torque vectoring, either, so needless to say, the Equinox has a bit of catching up to do in this department.
The lack of torque vectoring actually made its presence felt more than I though it would; since you don’t have the help from the brakes and power deployment here like you do in other segment leaders, you may find yourself correcting more than you’re used to. I did this, and on windier roads what tends to happen is you get more body roll because of having to make late-stage corrections. It’s here that those flat, slippery seats added to the discomfort. With the body rolling like it does, you’d like your seats to have just a little more bolstering and support. I envision that those susceptible to motion sickness may have a tough time here. The flatter seats do make installing a child seat that much easier, though.
Of course, the Equinox is not the only vehicle in the segment that doesn’t get torque vectoring, and it just so happens that I’m in many vehicles and so the differences become more marked from one to another. I’m sure that if you spent more time with the Chevy – and by looking at its sales, you have to think that many will be spending lots of time in theirs – you’d learn to work with its foibles, to subconsciously know how much steering lock or braking is required for any given turn. Get past that, and what you’re left with is a good-looking, well-priced and altogether capable CUV from The General. And that, dear readers, is often what this segment’s all about.