2018 Chevrolet Equinox Review: The American Dream of Compact Crossovers

The promise—and the disappointment—of one of GM's newest small SUVs.

Kyle Cheromcha

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox Premier.

The modern crossover offers a tantalizing promise to buyers, like golden California to the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath: You can have it all. You can have a vehicle that combines utility, size, and ease of operation in a do-it-all package that doesn't bore you to death or drive like a lump. Consumers have responded by swarming the segment over the last decade, inverting sales charts by making crossovers the top selling model for most major brands. 

That includes the subject of today's review, the humble 2018 Chevrolet Equinox. The compact crossover has become the Golden Bowtie's best-selling model outside pickup trucks, so even if you'd rather set yourself on fire than drive a CUV, there's no denying the health of America's second-largest manufacturer—and maker of unquestionably good things like the Corvette ZR1—depends in no small part on the quality of this trucklet.

Recognizing this, General Motors once again went to Europe and returned with some plunder from the Opel parts bin to craft the all-new, third-generation Equinox. It's shorter, lighter, and safer than the seven-year-old model it replaced, but is it good enough to lift the little crossover over its rivals from Ford, Nissan, Honda, and Toyota? The Drive borrowed a 2018 Chevrolet Equinox Premier in fetching Orange Burst Metallic from GM for an autumn road trip from New York City to Cape Cod to find out. 

Kyle Cheromcha

The Pros

  • It's not a high bar, but the Equinox is a nimble handler that offers a more engaging driving experience than most in its class. Losing almost 400 pounds, 4.7 inches of length, and 5.2 inches between the axles compared with the old model definitely sharpens things up, as does the new D2XX global platform shared with the Chevrolet Cruze. Buyers can pick from a range of punchy, turbocharged inline-four engines; my front-wheel-drive tester was equipped with the standard 1.5 liter unit putting out 170 horsepower and 203 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers fall short of much of the competition—but it pulls strong, turbo lag is minimal, and a 252 horsepower, 2.0-liter option is available. Oh, and don't forget about the diesel.
  •  Chevrolet also managed the neat trick of shrinking nearly every exterior dimension on the Equinox while maintaining almost the same amount of interior space for passengers and cargo. That means nearly 40 inches of legroom for rear passengers, 30 cubic feet for groceries with the back seat up, and 63.5 cubes with the seat down. (Which turned out to be plenty of room for two intrepid video producers filming the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk rip around Monticello Motor Club, but that's neither here nor there.)
  • Inside and out, the company's updated design language translates well on the new CUV. Its sleek, crisp lines are a welcome departure from the second-gen model, which looked every bit like a seven-year-old car despite benefiting from a facelift in 2015. And even though black-on-black never brings out the best in an interior, the Equinox has a comfortable, functional, and recognizable layout. Storage spaces and charging ports abound, and a full-length panoramic sunroof is available as part of a $3,320 Sun, Sound, and Navigation Package. I highly recommend that one. 
  • The Premier trim, starting at just $31,795 in front-wheel-drive flavor, comes with a bunch of options, features, and driver safety aides at a cheaper price point compared with similar CUVs. Everything from heated leather front chairs to a hands-free power liftgate to rear parking and cross-traffic alert is standard, and the $1,895 Confidence & Convenience II Package adds more goodies like rear heated seats and a 360-degree surround view camera. Equip it right and the Chevrolet Equinox can be something of a bargain for someone cross-shopping it with its better-selling rivals.
Kyle Cheromcha

The Cons

  • The aging six-speed transmission was the weak point in the Chevy Suburban I reviewed last year, and the problem rears its head again in the Burb's baby brother. The old unit is maddeningly slow to downshift when you step on it at higher speeds, and just as unhappy to hold onto gears as long as you want it to in any given situation. The upgraded 2.0-liter engine comes with the 9T50 nine-speed automatic the company co-developed with Ford, which seems as though it should help the Equinox meet its stated 24 mpg city/30 highway/26 combined fuel economy figures.
  • But like other reviewers, my real-world use saw mileage numbers fall below what the company promises. On a hellish, traffic-choked, seven-hour slog from Brooklyn to Wellfleet, Massachusetts, I averaged 20 mpg combined. In other words, that's hardly more efficient than my one-person trip to L.A. to Las Vegas in a full-size Suburban. And here's another complaint: the gas gauge in my tester was horribly mis-calibrated, with the needle sitting below E while there was still about three gallons in the tank. Of course, I didn't realize this until the second time it seemed like I was running out of gas too soon and dug through the owner's manual to check the tank capacity.
  • The interior looks the part, but its premium edges start to fray on closer inspection. There are too many hard plastic surfaces, the knobs and buttons feel a little flabby, and the leather seats are stiff. And while my tester had almost 10,000 hard miles from automotive journalists—the equivalent of a long-term rental by giant toddlers—the interior trim on the driver's side A-pillar had already developed a rattle that even the squarest punch wouldn't fix. My passenger and I also found Apple CarPlay connectivity spotty and sluggish. 
  • As Al Pacino once said, life is just a game of inches, and the Equinox falls just a little short. What reason does a buyer have to plunk down similar amounts of cash for a crossover with similar feature sets and less cargo space than the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Nissan Rogue? You could make an argument for the other two engine choices as interesting standouts in the class, though I can't speak firsthand to that. And the handling is slightly better than most, on par with Honda...but I'm not sure buyers in this segment care about the hunt for feeling at the edges of the wheel.
Kyle Cheromcha

The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, Ranked

Performance: 2/5

Comfort: 2/5

Luxury: 2/5

Hauling people: 4/5

Hauling stuff: 4/5

Curb appeal: 2/5

“Wow” factor: 1/5

Overall: 3/5

Kyle Cheromcha

The Bottom Line

After a long, arduous journey, consumers have arrived at a promised land where nearly every brand has an entry-level small crossover that claims to do it all. But even if they all look the same on the surface, minute differences in the design philosophies and mechanical offerings have broken up the segment into clear winners and losers. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Ford continue to lead the pack, while Chevrolet and others have been left to divide the rest of the market for themselves. Why? Style clearly matters, as does refinement—which extends to what's under the hood as well. Look at the Nissan Rogue, the second-most popular crossover in the country. It has a CVT and driving dynamics that are best described as "invisible," but it's ridiculously comfortable, and feels like a more expensive vehicle than it is.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox Surround Vision
Chevrolet

That's why, impressive as it is, I'm not sure the 2018 Equinox's strengths will be enough to catapult this Chevy above its rivals. Fifth place is not a bad place to be, and with 2 million sold since 2004, the Equinox name is stronger than ever—but it's not breaking any barriers here. The third generation feels a year too late, a step behind...but the bones are there for a mid-cycle refresh that just might do the trick.

Kyle Cheromcha

The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, By the Numbers

Price (as tested): $31,795 ($36,905)

Powertrain: 1.5-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, 170 horsepower, 203 lb-ft of torque; six-speed automatic transmission; front-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 24 mpg city/30 highway/26 combined

Cargo Capacity: 29.9 cubic feet behind second row seats, 63.5 cubic feet with the seats folded

Top Speed: 124 mph

Kyle Cheromcha