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Equinox makes additions by subtraction

Lack of V-6 offering helps lighten the load

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<p>Chevrolet Canada</p><p>The all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox has an expressive exterior with a bold, athletic look. </p>

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JORDAN, Ont. — Equinox: in celestial terms, it’s a double-edged sword.

Days are either getting shorter or longer, depending on which equinox — that point when the sun is directly over the equator — you’re observing.

Chevrolet has been on both sides of that sword. When the first Equinox was launched in 2004 as a 2005 model, it was another in a line of vehicles leading General Motors into the darkness of the 2007 bailouts.

Today, the 2018 Equinox is another in a line of vehicles leading GM into the sunlight.

For 2018, the compact crossover gets a number of changes, including the deletion of any engine larger than four cylinders. There’s a 1.5-litre turbo, a 2.0-L turbo and a 1.6-L turbo diesel. (For launch, only the 1.5 is available: the 2.0 is expected in summer and the diesel in fall.)

One of the biggest benefactors of losing the V-6 is the vehicle’s weight. For 2018, the Equinox loses 181 kilograms, almost all of it due to a decision from the start to forgo any V-6 offering.

Product manager Bruce Young says that allowed engineers to design a lighter structure and shave 12 centimetres off the length. Economies of scale meant all Equinox chassis would have to be built to the same standard, which in the previous model meant even four-cylinder models had the same chassis as V-6 models.

"It was significant," Young says. "We have new technology, particularly hardened steel, but the big savings were from not having a V-6."

Of course, that means tiny motors moving larger vehicles than would have been thought possible a few short years ago. Pop the hood on the 2018 Equinox and just in front of the motor you’ll see the turbocharger, not much larger than a soup can.

Young says with the turbo, the 1.5 has more torque than the outgoing 2.4-L non-turbo four, and with significant fuel savings: it’s rated at 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres city, 7.3 highway and 8.3 combined. By comparison, the 2.4-L was 11.2 city, 7.6 highway and 9.4 combined.

He says while engineers have done everything they can to ensure reliability, whether a 1.5-L turbo engine is in over its head in a vehicle this size "is an irrelevant question. It’s what we have to do," to meet the government fuel-economy targets.

The big fuel-economy story will be the diesel, which Young says is expected to be the class leader, though he said only estimated fuel-economy numbers are now available.

Drivers who need the Equinox’s maximum 3,500-pound towing capacity will have to wait for the 2.0-litre: both the 1.5-litre and the diesel are limited to 1,500 pounds of capacity.

Price is also an interesting story for Equinox. Nicholas Longpre, brand manager for crossover vehicles for GM Canada, said packaging was kept deliberately simple, as well as competitive.

"What we found is you’re more likely to find the vehicle on the lot if we kept packaging simple," he said.

There are three trim levels, LS, LT and Premier. Each is available with all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive, and for LT and Premier, the two available packages are Confidence and Convenience and True North.

Yet the base model LS comes well-equipped, with keyless entry and push-button start, MyLink wireless audio streaming, seven-inch touchscreen, rear-vision camera, heated front seats and remote start, among others. LT adds satellite radio, eight-way power driver’s seat, HID headlamps, deeply tinted rear glass and additional colours. Premier adds rear-park assist, blind-zone alert with cross-traffic alert, colour driver-information centre, inductive charging, power liftgate, upgraded radio with eight-inch touchscreen, fog lamps, LED headlamps and tail lamps, leather seats and wireless cellphone charging.

Confidence and Convenience on the LT adds rear-parking assist, lane-change with blind-zone alert, cross-traffic alert, an upgraded rear-view mirror, universal home remote, dual-zone climate control, leather steering wheel and power liftgate. The LT True North package adds the eight-inch touchscreen, the driver information centre, dual rear USB ports and panoramic sunroof.

On the Premier, the Confidence and Convenience package adds forward collision alert with following distance indicator, surround vision, low-speed forward automatic braking, automatic high-beam select, safety alert seat (vibrates in the direction of a threat if the blind-zone or cross-traffic alert goes off) six-way power passenger seat, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel. To all that, the True North adds the sunroof, Bose premium audio, navigation, high-definition radio and 19-inch aluminum wheels.

Pricing starts at $26,995 for the LS front-wheel drive and tops out at $35,995 for the Premier all-wheel drive. In all cases, all-wheel drive is a $1,400 more than its front-drive equivalent. Confidence and Convenience adds $2,000 to LT and $2,500 to Premier, while True North, which includes Confidence and Convenience, is $3,000 on LT and $4,000 on Premier.

"For most of our customers, we think the True North package is an easy decision since it’s only $1,000 more than Confidence and Convenience," Longpre said.

He said the price structure represents as much as a $1,975 price decrease despite adding more than $1,100 in content. Moreover, he said the new Equinox provides greatly improved residual values as calculated by ALG, an independent rating firm whose estimates are used to set leasing costs.

"That is a key element if you want to be in leasing," Longpre said. "This means we are back in the game on leasing."

On previous models, leasing was limited to five to six per cent of sales, he said. For 2018 and beyond, he expects Equinox to be at or slightly above the industry average of 24 per cent.

Driving the Equinox showed it to be a competent companion on the road, with decent acceleration (0-60 mph is rated at nine seconds for the 1.5) and excellent fuel economy, with our combined economy coming in slightly less than the official numbers.

The interior is attractive but somewhat plain in areas: up-market models have a bit more bling, including contrasting stitching on dash pieces. Soft-touch vinyl is in all the right areas, including the door armrests. Seats were comfortable and offered lots of legroom, including sliding back so much the tallest journalist here, at about 6-6, found the seat went too far back at its rear-most setting.

Cargo space is down a bit, but gains a large three-inch compartment under the rear floor that’s not counted in the cargo numbers.

With its space, power, sharp styling and fuel economy, Equinox takes dead aim at its main rivals Toyota RAV-4, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue and Honda CR-V. In almost every respect, it scores a direct hit.

kelly.taylor@freepress.mb.ca

 

The specs

Engine: 1.5-litre turbo, 2.0-litre turbo, 1.6-litre turbo diesel

Power: 170 hp (1.5); 252 hp (2.0); 136 hp (diesel)

Torque: 203 lb-ft. (1.5); 260 lb-ft. (2.0); 236 lb-ft. (diesel)

Transmission: six-speed auto. (1.5); nine-speed auto. (2.0, diesel)

Steering: electric power assist rack-and-pinion with rack-mounted assist motor

Suspension: MacPherson strut, direct-acting stabilizer bar (front); four-link independent, stabilizer bar (rear)

Brakes: four-wheel discs

Fuel economy (l/100 km, city/highway/combined): 9.2/7.3/8.3 (1.5, FWD); 9.8/7.9/8.9 (1.5 AWD); 9.8/7.8/8.7 (2.0, FWD, estimate); 10.2/8.4/9.4 (2.0, AWD, estimate); 7.4/5.7/6.9 (diesel, FWD, estimate); 7.6/6.4/7.4 (diesel, AWD, estimate)

Price: $26,995-$35,995, base MSRP (incl. freight, PDI and air-conditioning tax).

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