The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox compact SUV is an all-new model with more technology, a better engine, 400 pounds less weight, and several class-leading offerings. If you want six USB jacks, air-cooled front seats, and separately controlled seat heaters on your back and butt, the Equinox is your car.
To get all the tech the Equinox offers, you’ll have to buy the top trim line, Premier. Even then, you can’t get adaptive cruise control at a time when the rest of the mainstream compact SUV market has discovered it.
2018 Equinox Trim Lines
General Motors has a lot riding on the Equinox, its second best-selling vehicle (after Chevy Silverado pickup) and the fifth best-selling SUV in the US. The third generation Equinox arrived in late spring as a 2018 model. It’s again offered in five trim levels: entry-level Equinox L (special order, not at dealers), LS, LT, and Premier. It’s four inches shorter, now 183 inches long. Passenger space is very good front and back (no third row), while rear cargo space space takes a 10-percent hit, down to 29.9 cubic feet. The interior is upscale with a few pieces of hard plastic remaining.
Skip the base engine, a 1.5-lter, 170-hp turbo mated to a six-speed automatic. Instead, get the noticeably zippier 2.0-liter turbo, which is coupled to a nine-speed automatic. This drivetrain is good for 0-60 mph times around 7 seconds and a EPA rating of 22 mpg city, 29 mph highway, 25 mpg combined for the front-drive version, and 1 mpg less for all-wheel drive. Chevy says a 1.6-liter turbo diesel engine is due later this year that delivers 40 mpg highway. The 2.0-liter engine wants premium fuel, and it’s the only engine rated for trailer towing, up to 3,500 pounds.
The Equinox LS, the cheapest model you’ll reguarly find on dealer lots, comes with stop-start, a rear camera, keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth, 4GLTE OnStar and Wi-Fi, a 7-inch color touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, six-speaker audio, and one USB port. This gives you decent navigation without paying for navi. The base LS is $26,455 list.
Sweet Spot: Equinox LT. All the Tech: Premier.
The Equinox LT adds xenon headlamps, a power driver’s seat, rear privacy glass, and satellite radio. Two packages, Sun and Infotainment, and Confidence and Convenience, give you most of the bells and whistles that are standard on the top-line Premier. Sun and Infotainment comprises a panoramic sunroof, improved driver multi-information display, an 8-inch touch screen, and five more USB jacks (for a total of six). Confidence and Convenience offers rear parking sonar, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, a power liftgate, remote start, a leather steering wheel, dual-zone HVAC, and heated front seats. Base price is $27,695. This may be the right trim line for those who don’t want every last piece of technology.
The top-line Equinox Premier makes standard most of the two LT packages (minus the sunroof) plus some extras, including heated leather seats, blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, LED headlamps and taillamps, auto-dimming mirrors, roof rails, hands-free liftgate, ambient cockpit lighting, driver-seat memory settings, perforated leather, and wireless device charging. The front-drive Equinox offers and the AWD Premier makes standard a Confidence and Convenience Package II: 360-degree surround view cameras, heated steering wheel, heated outboard rear seats, power passenger seat, ventilated front seats, lane keep assist, driver warnings via the vibrating Safety Alert Seat (it works well), forward collision warning and low-speed emergency braking. The Sun, Sound and Navigation package goes atop CC II with 19-inch wheels, the panoramic sunroof, navigation, seven-speaker Bose audio, and HD radio.
My test car was a fully-optioned front-drive Premier that rang in at $39,660, including $895 freight and $395 for striking Orange Burst Metallic paint. The comparably equipped all-wheel-drive Equinox Premier would add $1,750.
How Well Equinox Technology Works on the Road
There aren’t many 30 mpg SUVs that will spin the wheels on launch. Equinox chirped the tires a couple times when I tromped the throttle too hard, before traction control took over.
All the driver assists were helpful in testing, including lane keep assist that pulled away from the lane edge when I drifted over, and blind spot detection alerting of cars coming up quickly in adjacent lanes. Forward collision warning sounded several times on an interstate trip when cars in front slowed quickly. The safety seat vibrating alert worked well.
I had to make do without adaptive cruise control. Bummer. My summer test route is a run from metro New York into the Adirondacks, 300 miles each way. Leaving on a Friday evening and returning Sunday night, traffic can be stop-and-go for as much as 100 miles outside NYC. This is what stop-and-go adaptive cruise control is meant for. It was disappointing Chevy could not get ACC into the Equinox at product launch. It also won’t initially be on the corporate sibling GMC Terrain that launches shortly, either, but ACC is on the related Buick Envision. The issue apparently involves supporting electronics that weren’t ready, and it sounds as if Chevy and Buick will remedy this as soon as possible.
The MyLink infotainment system continues to shine. It’s simple to use, it employs some buttons as well as the screen, and system response is reasonable, but not lightning-quick. Paired with OnStar, this is a solid offering, especially when GM offers unlimited Wi-Fi for as little as $20 a month.
Equinox as Daily Driver and Vacation Hauler
The Equinox is well-suited for daily driving, commuting, chauffeuring kids, and hauling groceries. For longer trips, the smallish cargo area calls for thoughtful packing, and you’ll probably want to make use of the roof rack. Adults fit comfortably in the second row, the rear seatbacks offer a modest recline (think of coach class angles), and the ability to heat only the seatback is pretty nice if you’ve got aching muscles.
The Equinox is no sports car, but the 2018’s suspension is compliant and makes you think somewhat of a BMW X3 or Audi Q5. Neither of which have six USB ports.
A Teen Driver mode lets you track what your kids are doing in the car. One weakness, not solved by any automaker yet, is being unable to compare the car’s actual speed with a road’s speed limits. Setting a telltale for 55 is too high for city streets and too slow for most highways.
Should You Buy One?
The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox is a substantial improvement over the previous generation, especially in ride, sound insulation, and passenger room. There’s more safety technology and driver assists offered, but many of them make you move up to a higher trim line to get them. The Equinox LT with the Confidence and Convenience gets you most of the way there. You need the costliest Equinox with all the options packages to be fully advised, warned, and protected. You’ll want the 2-liter engine, not the 1.5-liter, unless mpg is uppermost in mind.
Compare the Equinox to competitors that roll in a safety suite standard on all trim lines (Toyota RAV4) or all but the entry trim line (Honda CR-V) — a safety suite that includes the adaptive cruise control Equinox doesn’t offer. Here, Chevy suffers.
If you’re cross-shopping, be sure to look at all of the top five (in sales): Honda CR-V (arguably the strongest competitor), Toyota RAV4 (reliable and with a solid hybrid offering), Nissan Rogue Sport and Rogue (three rows available, good bang for the buck), and Ford Escape (fun to drive, Sync infotainment now works well). Also check out the Subaru Forester (more of a tall wagon), Hyundai Tucson (solid), and Mazda CX-5 (the most fun to drive, great all-wheel-drive).
If you find a year-old, 2017 Equinox on the dealer lot, expect a significant discount. There is a lot of distance between old and new Equinox. If you’re shopping for the 2018 Equinox, check for factory incentives. As of late summer, this brand new model was carrying a $750 factory incentive, which helps, because the base price (before dickering and rebates) is higher than some competitors. Configuring an Equinox online at chevrolet.com may be frustrating; some options were missing (the 2-liter gas engine and the not-yet-shipping 1.6-liter diesel) when I checked over a several-day period.
The Equinox has improved so much that it’s likely to remain a solid top-five seller among all SUVs. The Equinox is one of the crown jewels of the GM sales empire. Alone, it outsells the entire Buick brand. The diesel can only help the Equinox. Overall, it’s worth a close look.