It’s easy to point the finger at Volkswagen for ridding us of the diesel, but they weren’t the only German automaker to cheat environmental regulations in order to legitimize their oil burners. Now we can thank General Motors for staying the diesel engine’s execution, at least temporarily.
Yes, no sooner am I reporting on the General’s wonderful 1.6-litre turbo-diesel powerplant and it’s already being discontinued from the 2020 Equinox lineup, relegated back to mid-size pickup truck duty. This means you’d better act fast if you want to own a new 2019 Equinox Diesel.
You may not know that Hyundai and Mazda promised diesel powertrains of their own for this very 2019 model year, but they’ve probably seen the fading light of diesel’s demise in this new “woke” era, with Hyundai recently introducing a number of all-electric SUVs, one even fueled with hydrogen. Trying to refuel that fuel cell model at Vancouver’s only hydrogen station might pose a problem unless you happen to live five minutes away like I do, but I’d still rather have the go-anywhere efficiency of a diesel.
Recently I spent a week with 1.5-litre turbo-four gasoline-powered Equinox Premium (the white one in the photos), and after that another week with the same trim with the turbo-diesel I’ve been blabbing on about (the blue version), while I’ve yet to spend a minute with the most compact crossover SUV’s most potent 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder.
The entry-level engine might initially appear a bit on the weak side thanks to only 170 horsepower and 203 lb-ft of torque available, at least on paper, but it was more than sufficient for this fairly lightweight compact crossover, plus it’s ultra friendly to those keeping tabs on their budgets due to a claimed Transport Canada fuel economy rating of 9.2 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.3 combined in FWD trim, or 9.3 city, 7.8 highway and 8.6 combined with its optional AWD.
The available 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which features AWD as standard equipment, should provide those looking for excitement with thrills aplenty thanks to 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, but despite the impressive nine-speed automatic it comes mated to, which adds up to three extra gears over the two less potent engines’ six-speed automatic transmissions, the more advanced drivetrain manages only 10.9 L/100km in the city, 8.3 on the highway and 9.7 combined.
Incidentally, all models come standard with auto stop/start, which instantly turns off the engine when the Equinox comes to a full stop, and then automatically restarts it when lifting off the brake pedal, the process helping reduce emissions and fuel usage.
All in all, the above numbers are really quite decent when comparing them to competitors with similar performance, but both gasoline-fueled models don’t come close to matching the fuel economy of the Equinox Diesel, that gets an 8.5 L/100km city, 6.0 highway (6.1 with AWD) and 7.4 combined claimed rating. Then again, line those numbers up next to the new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s figures and the Chevy almost looks gluttonous, what with a mere 5.8 L/100km of city consumption, plus 6.3 on the highway and 6.0 combined, plus the Japanese model’s $32,090 entry price is about a thousand cheaper than the least expensive Equinox LT FWD model, which starts at $33,100. It’s $6,400 more than the $26,700 base Equinox LS as well, and $5,300 less than the $38,400 Equinox AWD Premier Diesel shown on this page. All-wheel drive adds $2,400 to the base LS price, incidentally, while the sportier Equinox AWD 2.0 Premier is available from $37,900.
I should mention that all the quoted prices above don’t include the destination charge or any other fees, but you can check such details plus all the prices of trims, packages and individual options right here on CarCostCanada, where we also provide you the latest manufacturer rebates (especially helpful during year-end clear-outs) as well as dealer invoice pricing that could easily save you thousands.
Now that we’re talking savings, Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV is the compact SUV class’s most efficient model by a long shot, but with a base price of $43,498 (before government rebates) it’s a lot more expensive, which makes GM’s duo of diesels the most efficient non-electrified crossover pairing in the compact crowd. Combine that with diesel pump pricing that’s usually a lot lower than regular unleaded, and it should save you money if you drive enough. It should be noted the 2.0-litre turbo is thriftier than a number of similarly powerful compact crossovers too, so big marks to GM for offering so many engine and transmission options, plus making them all better than average when it comes to fuel economy.
I have to admit to preferring the diesel-turbo to the base gasoline-powered turbo-four, both from a performance and efficiency perspective. The diesel might only put out 137 horsepower, but it delivers a much stronger 240 lb-ft of torque down, and like the base engine it’s all available from just 2,000 rpm.
Also impressive, the Equinox’ AWD system aids fuel economy even more. Unlike the majority of SUVs in this class that use full-time AWD systems, or employ a viscous-type coupling that causes the rear wheels to engage automatically, GM’s SUVs use the front wheels to drive until traction becomes a problem, at which point a warning appears within the instrument cluster and you’re recommended to switch over to AWD by pressing a button on the lower centre console. I first questioned whether or not my Equinox was fitted with AWD when my front tires kept breaking traction during takeoff, this due to all of the diesel’s rubber-smoking torque, but after noticing the AWD button and then putting it into action, no more squealing tires.
Another bonus was the base six-speed automatic, which while down a couple of gears from some others in this class, including the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four, was nevertheless very responsive. You can even row through the gears by flicking a rocker switch on top of the shift knob with your thumb, which is an unusual but welcome alternative to shifting the whole gear lever or pulling on a set of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (now that I mentioned that, don’t try to shift by pulling the buttons on the backside of the Equinox’ steering wheel, as you’ll probably just swap radio stations). Back to that six-speed, I never found it lacking gears, as each engine provided plenty of torque over very wide rev ranges, and the transmission shifted nice and smooth no matter whether I was doing so manually or leaving it to its own devices.
The Equinox also has a nice smooth suspension, which is par for the course when talking about GM products, other than performance-first models like the Corvette Z06. Back to the compact crossover SUV segment, the Equinox takes to corners well too, easily providing a level of smile-inducing sporty performance. It feels light in weight, nimble, and plenty of fun through the curves, plus it’s great at zipping in and out of heavy inner-city traffic, or just cruising down the freeway.
I was able to take in the Equinox Premier’s impressive interior better during more relaxed stints behind the wheel, however. It’s finished to a higher degree than some of its key rivals, a quality factor that immediately becomes noticeable when closing the driver’s door. It just feels more solid and better built than a number of its tinnier challengers, with this refinement continuing throughout the cabin. For instance, both smooth and perforated patterned and contrast-stitched leatherette covers the entire instrument panel, while tastefully applied aluminum-like accents dress up the steering wheel, the primary gauge cluster, each dash vent, the centre stack switchgear, and the lower console controls.
A weakness is the amount of pliable interior plastics, but Chevy does cover each armrest plus much of the door inserts and uppers in a padded, contrast-stitched leatherette, while it finishes off the rest of those door uppers in a synthetic soft paint that also is used for dressing up the dash top and much of the instrument panel, plus the top edges of the centre stack and lower console. To clarify, this isn’t the type of paint that eventually peels off, but instead it is permanently bonded to the plastic and therefore provides a nicer texture than the usual hard shell plastic found in this class.
Pushing such premium touches yet further upstream is a truly nice set of steering wheel switchgear, my test model even featuring a heated steering wheel rim as well as adaptive cruise control, while some of the buttons at hand actuated the colour multi-information display in the otherwise analogue gauge package, this incorporating a digital readout for traffic sign info, plus a back seat reminder that detects whether or not you opened the rear doors before departing on your journey, and when arriving warns that something or someone might have been left in the rear passenger compartment.
Lastly, the Equinox tops off its centre stack with a truly impressive infotainment touchscreen. I really like the clear and elegantly simple circular graphics and bright colours used for the main menu interface, which look modern, fresh and are easy to sort out. Chevy has created one of the best infotainment systems in the mainstream industry, and while some competitors might offer larger touchscreens, this eight-inch system is brilliantly sharp thanks to excellent resolution, and provides deep, rich colours with superb contrast. The navigation system’s map is clear and easy to read, while inputting addresses is easy, plus the route guidance was totally accurate each time I used it. I only wish the satellite radio interface showed album cover graphics, but that was hardly a deal-breaker.
The Equinox infotainment system also includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, plus one of the best 360-degree parking monitors I’ve ever experienced. From its default mode, which makes the “bird’s-eye” view surround camera smaller and puts it to the left of the display with a bigger rearview camera along with its dynamic guidelines to the right, it can be switched up to a full reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, or instead provide a different view of that same backup camera, an overhead view of that rear camera, or alternatively a weird frontal view that actually seems as if the SUV is being filmed from a drone hovering slightly ahead and above. There are simultaneous views of the curb and road, ultra-close-ups of the front, plus more. This camera kept me spellbound for at least an hour. By the way, both this top-tier camera system and the entry-level version were upgraded for image quality this year.
Just below the infotainment display is a two-zone auto HVAC interface that’s nicely organized and attractive, but my favourite set of buttons activated the three-way heatable and/or cooled front seats, the second of these items rarely available in this category, but really appreciated for keeping backside dry and cool during summer’s heat.
Follow the centre stack down to its base and you’ll find a sizeable compartment with a rubberized floor that’s ideal for a big smartphone. Chevy included a wireless charging pad, always convenient, plus the Equinox went from one regular USB-A port to a set of USBs, one for the usual A plug and another for new USB-C connectors, which is what my Samsung S9 uses. An aux plug and 12-volt charger come standard as well, while two additional USB charging ports can be found in a bin under the front centre armrest.
Glance upward and you’ll find an overhead console housing a sunglasses holder, LED reading lights, plus controls for OnStar, SOS, etcetera, plus of course switchgear for the panoramic sunroof and its powered sunshade. I love big glass roofs like this, because they shed plenty of light inside, brightening the entire vehicle’s ambience.
Of course, none of this would matter if the Equinox wasn’t comfortable, and to that end it provided plenty of room for my medium-build five-foot-eight body, as well as an excellent driving position that gave me total support and kept me in full control. Such isn’t always the case. In fact, some rivals’ tilt and telescopic steering won’t reach far enough rearward to compensate for my need to pull the driver’s seat far enough rearward for my longer than average legs (for a five-foot-eight person at least).
What’s more, when my driver’s seat was set up for my long-legged short torso body type, I still had about eight inches of room for my knees when sitting behind in the second row, and plenty of space from side to side plus about two inches over my head. The panoramic sunroof noted a moment ago pushed the surrounding roof area down a couple of inches than it would have if not included, but not a problem for me.
As far as rear seat features go, the Equinox Premier gets a set of LED reading lights on both sides, two additional USB-A charging ports (new for 2019), a regular household-style three-prong 120-volt socket, and the best rear seat heaters I’ve ever tried out, in that their three-way controls adjust the lower cushion and the backrest temperatures, or just the back alone. I don’t think you’ll hear a lot of complaints from the kiddos, but being that the rear seatbacks are divided 60/40 with no centre pass-through, active families that ski will be forced to play rock, paper, scissors for the heated side.
I like that Chevy incorporates levers on the cargo wall for folding those rear seatbacks down automatically. Just pull on them once and the seats drop down quickly, expanding the already sizeable 847-litre (29.9 cu-ft) dedicated cargo area to a really big 1,809 litres (63.9 cu ft).
Being just a year into its lifecycle, the 2019 Equinox looks identical to the 2018 model, but nevertheless GM has put a great deal of effort into rejigging trims and packages. To begin, a new Lights and Bright package is available with the second-rung LT, adding a chromed grille surround, LED headlights and tail lamps, as well as a special set of 19-inch alloys. Front-drive LT models no longer include a standard leather-clad shift knob, however, but it’s now part of an upgrade package.
My test model did feature a $2,995 Driver Confidence and Convenience II package, mind you, which is exclusive to Premier trim and includes the 360-degree parking monitor mentioned before, plus auto high beams, dynamic cruise control with stop-and-go, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, a safety alert seat that vibrates when veering out of your lane or causing any other number of issues, a heated steering wheel, an eight-way powered front passenger seat with power lumbar, and the cooled driver and front passenger seats, plus the heatable rear seats mentioned earlier.
You can also get the Driver Confidence II or Driver Convenience II packages separately, while my tester wore a no-cost set of 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. I won’t go into detail about all the options available, but suffice to say that anyone wanting to personalize their Equinox won’t have a problem.
On that note my test model included a $1,305 Infotainment II package as well, featuring the aforementioned panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, HD radio, and a different set of 19-inch alloys, while some Premier trim highlights include LED headlamps and taillights, chromed door handles and mirror housings, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and auto-dimming outside mirrors, a leather-clad steering wheel rim, a colour multi-information display, a universal garage door opener, two-zone auto climate control, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (the base model gets a 7.0-inch display), wireless smartphone charging, rear parking assist, blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, a hands-free power tailgate, and more.
If you’re not convinced the Equinox is worthy of your attention by now, you’ve already made up your mind on something else. If you’re still on the fence, however, or just starting to search, make sure to include this impressive compact crossover SUV on your list. Just remember, however, that the diesel option will be cancelled soon, so claim yours if you like the idea of driving seriously far on a single tank of fuel. No matter the engine the Equinox is a good choice.
Story credit: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credit: Karen Tuggay