2016 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ AWD Review
Good news, Equinox fans. No, don’t get too excited, you’ll still have to wait about a year or so for a completely redesigned version, but Chevy has given the current model a nice mid-cycle makeover.
The design team didn’t stray too far from the second-generation model that’s sold very well for the bowtie brand. I liked the styling of the first-gen version too, all 12 years of Equinox sales adding up to 1,929,897 as of February. Despite its age sales grew by 14.6 percent last year, following a general upward trend in the compact SUV segment. Still, I’m sure those inside the hallowed halls of GM’s downtown Detroit HQ, the many more working across the nation in the General’s umpteen independent dealerships and you, a potential Equinox buyer, are looking forward to the aforementioned redesign. Just the same there are plenty of reasons to buck up for this refreshed 2016.
First off, it still looks quite nice. The reworked grille and front fascia combination falls into the category of not necessarily better, just new, but that should suffice for many of the model’s faithful who are looking for a good excuse to upgrade. That familiar bisected grille gets a couple of untraveled twists and turns, as do the headlights that come standard with halogen projector innards. A new set of restyled DRLs enhance the Equinox’ modified lower front corners, upgraded to LEDs in top trims, while my LTZ’s halogen fog lamps are new too, but anyone catching the SUV’s profile passing by won’t likely see any changes unless they catch sight of the revised taillights that get stylish new lenses. It will need to be standing still to appreciate its new range of wheels, the machine-finished twinned five-spoke 18-inch alloys on my top-line tester managing to look both sporty and elegant simultaneously.
To Chevy’s credit the Equinox came with a stylish interior featuring advanced electronics when it debuted in the summer of 2009 as a 2010 model. I was on the initial press launch and was very impressed, even lauding on accolades like, “The new Equinox comes pretty close to replicating premium levels of interior quality, with attractive aluminum-like accents, soft-touch materials on the armrests, door inserts and really nicely finished harder touch plastics everywhere else.” OK, maybe I was somewhat overenthusiastic in referencing premium quality, but we need to remember that this was almost seven years ago and both the mainstream and premium markets have changed dramatically since then. Now, volume brands are vying for premium buyers with luxuriously equipped and richly finished compact SUVs, whereas premium brands are trying to attract lower end buyers with ever smaller, more approachable models.
Also notable, compact crossover SUV sales are encroaching on our once seemingly impenetrable mid-size car segment and the 13 models on offer are extremely competitive, some, as mentioned, more luxuriously appointed than many premium branded alternatives. Somehow GM missed a beat when it came time to upgrade its once class-leading Equinox and GMC Terrain cousin, and therefore it’s now a step or two behind in some respects. I prefer to be kind and call its rugged plastic interior utilitarian, seemingly capable of taking on the most destructive of little league teams and coming out unscathed. In truth hard plastic marks as easily as softer surfaces, but it doesn’t get pulled out of shape from sharp objects or worse, rip and tear, which means a tough and rigid interior like the Equinox’ may look better over time. Of course, the next-gen Equinox will no doubt soften up much of its cabin and therefore GM’s argument will change in favor of premium surfaces, but at least this is an alternative take on the current entry-level luxury trend of softening as many contact areas as possible.
As it is you’ll be hard pressed to find any soft touch plastics inside the Equinox, with the only pampering being door-mounted armrests that get a harder rubberized treatment with faux side stitching, plus a much more padded center armrest that’s covered in nicer leatherette stitched together with real thread in the French style. It’s not contrast stitched like the LTZ’s perforated leather upholstery that gets sporty red thread around the inside of the seat bolsters and across the headrests, but rather more like those seats’ outer stitching and that on the leather-clad steering wheel. Chevy also dressed up my weeklong loaner with some metallic plastic trim around the gauges, steering wheel spokes, center stack interface panel, outer dash vents and power lock and door handle surrounds, plus chrome on those inner door handles, around the shifter gate and adorning the dual cupholders on the lower console, but other than that this is a pretty stark cabin.
Of note, the overhead console continues to be particularly nice. It includes a large wraparound reading light plus controls for the center dome light, and specific to my upgraded tester, buttons for the universal garage door opener, a rotating knob for the powered rear tailgate, which is programmable for height, and toggles for the powered glass sunroof. GM doesn’t offer a panoramic sunroof like some others in the class, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that this popular moneymaker gets added to the upcoming redesign.
Ahead of the driver, the primary gauges are traditional white numerals on a black background, which makes them easy to read day or night, while the multi-information display at center is a light emitting diode throwback seemingly inspired by ’70s-era calculators (remember the ones you could type 710 77345 into and then turn upside down to spell SHELL OIL?). It’s aqua blue on a blackish background, and quite rudimentary as far as such systems go, but again it’ll likely do the job for most until that new Equinox arrives.
Over on the center stack the infotainment system isn’t the largest in the class at 7.0 inches, but the graphics are reasonably good with fairly high resolution and a nice color combination of deep blue and lighter aqua blue. The optional navigation system worked well, but the backup camera could have provided better clarity, yet even in the rain I could make out the general shape of things to avoid so no harm was done to paint, bodywork or worse, passersby. All of the switchgear is higher than average quality, with good damping and little side-to-side wiggle, plus it’s easy to figure out. I like the silver-tone HVAC interface and its rubberized dials that add a little extra grip, especially useful while wearing winter gloves, but was a bit dismayed that it only can be had in single-zone automatic guise. Chevy includes a very small tray underneath for holding a much smaller cell phone than my Samsung Note 4 beast, although the larger tray below was ideal for mega-phones so I was set. That said I could appreciate that some might be looking for wireless charging in this top-line model, but once again you’ll need to wait for that next-gen model. GM does include a USB port for charging, and my tester’s Bluetooth audio streaming worked flawlessly.
On that note the optional eight-speaker Pioneer audio system is quite good no matter the genre of music it’s playing, while the inclusion of satellite radio is always a bonus as there’s no end to those genres or talk programs.
That stereo sounds good front and back, the second row a good place to take it in thanks to excellent legroom, while the seats slide back and forth to provide limo-like space for passengers or alternatively more room for cargo in behind. That’s where the Equinox comes up a bit short, however, unexpected because the vehicle is longer than the class average. Part of the problem are seatbacks that don’t allow an optimally flat loading floor when folded, but on the positive Chevy provides an optional flap that automatically drops overtop the gap between seats and loading floor that might otherwise entrap small rolling groceries that escape their bags. On the negative, Chevy follows the status quo when it comes to folding those rear seatbacks down. You’ll need to walk around to both side doors to do so unless you’re very tall and can reach the seat top-mounted handles, whereas a handful of others in the class let you lower their rear seats via cargo wall-mounted levers. What’s more, raising them back up again requires you to keep holding the seat levers until you reach the desired rake, as no seat return memory is built in.
As for performance, there’s no nicer way to say that the Equinox is a bit on the gutless side when infused with its base 2.4-liter EcoTec four-cylinder engine. This is due to just 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque attempting to motivate 3,926 lbs of SUV, the General’s efficient and smooth six-speed automatic and optional AWD doing their best to mitigate the situation, albeit with little effect. Making matters worse, while the 2.4 idles smoothly and quietly enough it’s quite noisy when trying to get the most out of it, despite the sluggish takeoff. Nevertheless, when up to highway speeds it goes well enough, even providing decent passing performance, while the Equinox pampers with one of the better rides in the class as well as reasonably good handling.
I took it to a local farming community with some nice switchback roads that really test a vehicle’s mettle and it proved better than expected, with nice controlled stability despite pushing past speeds I’d rather not mention. All the while the ride was smooth and comfortable, just as you’d expect a Chevy to be.
I should mention that GM is one of few automakers to still offer a powerful V6 in the compact class, the Equinox available with an energetic 301 horsepower 3.6-liter mill. It should come as no surprise that this engine pulls much better than the 2.4, while the sound emanating from ahead of the firewall and exiting the exhaust is downright sports car-like, but as you can probably guess fuel economy is impacted. My 2.4 AWD tester actually fares pretty well with an EPA rating of 20 mpg city, 29 highway and 23 combined (the base FWD model gets a claimed 22 city, 32 highway and 26 combined rating), but the V6 consumes 17 mpg in the city, 24 on the highway and 20 combined in FWD guise and 16 mpg city, 23 highway and 18 combined with AWD, which is more in line with mid-size crossover SUVs that provide a great deal more interior space, so you may want to consider how this might affect your budget.
When I found myself wandering too close to the center line my LTZ’s optional lane departure warning made itself known quickly via visual flashes and audible beeps, but I like this system more than many others as it wasn’t too sensitive or intrusive. My tester also included forward collision alert, blind zone monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking sonar, these part of two Driver Confidence packages that added $890 to the LTZ AWD’s already near-premium $31,690 price, although earning it an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating to go along with the standard model’s 4 Star NHTSA crash test rating.
Additionally, the aforementioned Pioneer audio upgrade and navigation system comprised the $890 Technology package, the choice making the $950 Enhanced Convenience package necessary along with its powered front passenger seat, powered rear liftgate and universal home remote. My tester also included a $995 glass sunroof overhead and a set of $205 universal tablet holders fastened to the backsides of the front seats, which is certainly a more cost effective way of providing individual rear entertainment for the kids if you already own a set of tablets. A $200 interior protection package included all-weather rubber floor mats to ward off muddy boots and a thick all-weather cargo mat, while the close out panel flap in the cargo compartment added $135 and a trailering package tacked on another $365. Altogether my Equinox LTZ AWD tester’s price eclipsed $37k with freight included, which is a lot to pay for any compact CUV, let alone one on the low end of the premium scale. Keep adding options and that price can balloon pretty close to $40k including freight. Of course, it would be your choice to keep adding features, the base Equinox LS FWD much more affordable at $23,495 including freight.
I’ve mentioned a number of LTZ features throughout this review and noted when they’re standard or optional, but should add a few others that made my weeklong test more enjoyable. First, the Equinox’ optional three-way front seat heaters are some of the better in the business as they warm both backside and buttocks plus do so with extreme vigilance in their topmost setting, while other features I appreciated include remote start, ambient interior lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an eight-way powered front driver’s seat with two-way driver-side memory, etcetera. As complete as this list might sound the top-line Equinox was still missing HID or LED headlights with auto high beams, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton start, dual-zone auto HVAC, front parking sensors, rear seat heaters, and the list goes on, so keep this in mind when comparison shopping.
This in mind it’s always a good idea to ask the audience if you’re still unsure about what to buy. In this class most choose Hondas CR-V with last year’s total being 345,647 units, followed by the Toyota RAV4 at 315,412, Ford Escape at 306,492, Nissan Rogue at 287,190 and the Equinox finding 277,589 new buyers last year and handily beating the new Cherokee in the process. Fifth out of 13 isn’t too bad, but it’s not exactly sales leadership either. I expect the redesigned Equinox to blast past the Rogue when it debuts, that is unless Nissan comes out with something really eye-popping.
On the positive, the Equinox is rated highest in J.D. Power’s latest Initial Quality Study, tied with the Escape for first, with the GMC Terrain taking third, while Chevrolet is one of the highest rated mainstream volume brands in third place behind Kia and Hyundai. It doesn’t rate as highly in the same third-party analytical firm’s Vehicle Dependability Study, although strangely the near identical Terrain takes first while Chevy manages a respectable third amongst brands once again, but behind Toyota and Honda this time (fourth if you consider second-place Buick a mainstream brand). Consumer Reports wasn’t as kind with Chevrolet, however, placing it below average in their latest 2016 report card on reliability and road test performance at 20th out of the 29 brands represented.
All in all the mildly updated Equinox offers some styling improvements yet it’s been a few years since I’ve been able to say its interior is aging gracefully. Its base engine performance shortfall is underwhelming too, and fuel economy a bit harsh when opting for the V6, but its ride and handling are above par. Still, if you’ve got your heart set on a new Equinox I’m willing to guess its higher than average pricing can be remedied through generous discounts, something GM is noted for, so it may still be a reasonably good buy if you push for a deal, especially considering the model’s better than average expected reliability and top safety.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann and Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.