2018 Chevrolet Equinox 2.0T first drive: More power, more gears

June 14, 2017

Like playing blackjack at a casino, redesigning a mid-size crossover SUV is a huge gamble for an automaker. Mess it up, and you lose big time. Get it right and you may clean out the house and dominate the competition.

It’s Chevrolet’s turn to take the gamble with its redesigned 2018 Equinox. With a hot new Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5, plus Toyota's incrementally updated RAV4 offering stiff competition, the question on our minds is: Does Chevy have the right cards to take the house and win it all with the 2018 Equinox?

The first time we drove the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, we could only sample its base engine: a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-4. We liked the Equinox, but were left wanting for a little more. Now we’ve had a stint behind the wheel of the larger, more powerful, 2.0-liter turbo inline-4 with a 9-speed automatic transmission. Does more power and gears improve the situation?

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Someone finally nailed the 9-speed transmission

First, some inside baseball. For whatever reason, the 9-speed automatic transmission has been a challenge for automakers to master. We've called it perfectly acceptable in the Chrysler Pacifica and just fine in the Honda Pilot, but we've not yet raved.

The uprated 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 is paired with a 9-speed automatic instead of the base engine’s 6-speed. Uh-oh, this doesn't look promising. Actually, it’s really good, mostly because of how little it intrudes. It executes 1-2 and 2-3 upshifts smoothly and, in our first sample, we found that it will drop three gears for more passing power with minimal fuss. This is a big deal.

All that said, in the taller, upper gears with the turbocharged engine, the turbo tends to lug and drone into the cabin.

We were already pleased with the standard 1.5-liter turbo-4 thanks to its abundance of torque and just enough power at 170 horsepower. The 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 252 hp? It provides more punch than you really need—to the point of easily spinning the tires from a stop when power is only going to the front wheels. It's more than enough to take the place of the last Equinox's optional V-6.

In mostly highway driving we witnessed an average of 28 mpg according to the Equinox's trip computer, which aligns with the EPA fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway with all-wheel drive. Those aren't bad figures given the power underhood, but miserly drivers will want to stick with the front-wheel drive, 1.5-liter, which nets 32 mpg on the highway.

When auto start/stop impresses

Auto start/stop systems that turn off the engine when the vehicle isn't moving have come under a lot of fire from consumers because of their jarring, unpredictable nature. That's not the case with the 2018 Equinox.

With both engines in the Equinox the start/stop system is nearly transparent to the point where we didn't even realize the engine was off in several instances. For those that still hate the idea, the Equinox doesn’t have a button to turn the system off, however.

That all-wheel-drive system

Like most crossover SUVs the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox comes standard with the power going to the front wheels, but all-wheel drive is on the options list.

The system is different than those you’ll find in pretty much all the competition. While most systems automatically distribute power when slip is detected, and some might have a button to lock the power flow, the Equinox’s system is either on or off.

Opt for the all-wheel drive and you’ll find a button labeled AWD in front of the shifter on the center console. If the light is off, power is only going to the front wheels, whether they are are slipping or not. Want power going to all four? You’ll need to push the button for the all-wheel-drive system to engage, and from then on it’ll stay on until you turn it off. Yes, even if you turn the car off, restart, the system will remember whichever mode it was in when the car was shut down.

Not only is this an extra step for owners to have to remember, but it’s rare these days to have to engage the all-wheel-drive system manually if you want it to distribute power if the drive wheels slip.

Keeping it in the family

If you’ve seen the latest Malibu, Impala, Cruze, or the upcoming 2018 Chevrolet Traverse, you can see how the new Equinox fits into the lineup.

It’s a sharp-looking crossover with nice details inside the headlights. The body stamping gives it some curves, and inside it looks more upscale than the aging Ford Escape and the bland Nissan Rogue. Fit and finish is terrific, and the material choices inside feel and look great.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox 2.0T, first drive

2018 Chevrolet Equinox 2.0T, first drive

There’s a pricing problem

The Equinox’s largest issue isn’t the vehicle, it’s the pricing and packaging of features.

A base Equinox with the standard 1.5-liter turbo-4 starts from $24,545 including a mandatory $945 destination charge. Want that uprated 2.0-liter turbo-4? The price instantly jumps up to $30,090. Adding all-wheel drive to the mix adds another $4,340, but also nets you the Confidence and Convenience package which includes rear-park assist, blind-spot monitoring, a power liftgate, remote start, and heated seats.

If you want all the latest safety kit including automatic emergency braking to active lane control, you’ll have to step up to the top trim Premier model. With the 2.0-liter turbo-4 and all-wheel drive it’ll set you back $40,725, and that still doesn’t include adaptive cruise control, which isn't even available.

That’s nearly $5,000 more than a comparable Subaru Forester XT.

The bottom line

Chevrolet’s shown its cards with the redesigned 2018 Equinox, and while it’s walking away from the table up, weird packaging and pricing plus an odd all-wheel-drive system setup keep it from cleaning out the house.

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