When buying a car, it can matter a great deal which boxes you do check. And, sometimes, which ones you don’t. Comparisons between the GMC Terrain tested last month and a Chevrolet Equinox driven recently unearthed one do, and one don’t.
The Equinox and Terrain are essentially the same vehicle aside from sheetmetal. But the sheetmetal differs so greatly that “rebadge” is not appropriate. Though the Terrain’s chunky exterior has fans, you’d never know it from the comments at TTAC. The Equinox’s much more conventional exterior, in contrast, shouldn’t offend anyone. Though not striking, the second-generation Equinox is blandly attractive, if anything more so than any of its primary competitors. No one does a double take when a Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, or Volkswagen Tiguan crosses their path. The droopy headlights of which Chrysler and VW have been so fond lately make an unfortunate appearance on the Equinox as well, but this minor design faux pas pales next to the noses that various Japanese companies has been cursing their cars with lately.
The tested GMC Terrain’s black cloth had a bit much of a work truck vibe. The Chevrolet Equinox had the optional black and brown leather (also available in the GMC), and it makes for a much warmer, more luxurious, and altogether more attractive interior. Both models share a stylish, well-organized center stack complete with ambient lighting, red in the Terrain, blue in the Equinox. The Chevy’s blue is easier on the eyes. Most of the interior plastics are hard, and some appear lower rent than others, but this is typical of the price point. Overall, this is the segment’s best interior.
Like the Terrain, the Equinox combines the width of a compact crossover with the wheelbase and length of a midsize. Inside, this translates to modest shoulder room and exceptional legroom. Seats front and rear are moderately firm and comfortably contoured, and the rear cushion is high enough off the floor to provide adults with thigh support. Ironically, the distantly related Cadillac SRX pairs a larger number of rear seat amenities—rear vents with automatic controls, seat heaters—with a much more cramped, lower, and less comfortable rear seat.
The Equinox’s cabin isn’t broad but, as in many current GM vehicles, the instrument panel runs high and deep between massive A-pillars. “Bigger is better” thinking persists within General Motors, and especially once underway the Equinox feels larger than it is, and it already is a half-size larger than most competitors. This probably attracts more people than it turns off, even if fewer people are seeking to “live large” these days.
The usual price of this large feel: anyone hoping for agile handling won’t find it. The Equinox’s handling is accurate and secure, with nicely weighted steering, good body control, and modest body lean. But agile or sporty it is not. GM leaves any semblance of that for the imports. The Equinox’s moderately firm suspension absorbs most bumps well without any float, but from time to time transmits enough of the impact that you know…you’re in an crossover and not a car. Noise levels are low, making it all too easy to go faster than you intend.
The first-gen Equinox was available with a 185-horsepower 3.4-liter OHV V6 and a 264-horsepower 3.6-liter DOHC V6. The new uplevel engine, a direct-injected 3.0-liter V6, on paper as powerful as the old 3.6, was the largest source of disappointment in the tested GMC Terrain. Too little midrange power to feel energetic, and too vocal with each often-needed downshift, and no more economical than a direct-injected 3.6 would have been.
Since the 3.0-liter V6 was so underwhelming, the new base engine, a 182-horsepower direct-injected 2.4-liter DOHC oughtn’t have a shot at motivating the front-wheel-drive Equinox’s 3,800 pounds. And yet, defying all logic, perhaps even physics itself, the four feels considerably better than the V6 in typical driving. Partly it’s a matter of also sounding better than the V6. Or at least sounding less. The six-speed automatic must downshift at least as much with the four, but when it does so the four draws much less attention to itself. After decades of uncouth fours, GM has finally managed to develop one that puts the optional V6 to shame. Didn’t see this one coming.
Physics cannot really be defeated, so the 2.4-power Equinox isn’t quick. It just feels acceptable and appropriate when driving the way non-enthusiasts drive. Add all-wheel-drive, a full load, some hills, or a combination of the above, and maybe not. For these conditions and those who want both refinement and quick acceleration, let’s hope GM tosses the 3.0 in favor of a 3.6 sooner rather than later.
Ads for the Equinox have tended to focus on the four’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 22/32. In the real world, the Equinox can top 30 in straight highway driving, but mid-twenties tends to be typical with mixed driving.
After sampling the V6 with the cloth trim and the four with the leather, the latter combination is clearly the way to go—at least until GM sees fit to offer a suitable uplevel engine. It seems odd to pair uplevel features like leather with a four-cylinder engine in a nearly two-ton vehicle, which might be why such a combination has rarely been offered in the past in the U.S. But in this case the combination somehow—surprisingly—works. The new Equinox isn’t great in any area aside from rear seat legroom. But, out in the real world driving like compact crossover owners typically drive, the whole impresses more than the sum of its parts. If the reliability stats are solid—TrueDelta should have some in February—the Chevrolet Equinox will be a good vehicle to recommend to people who would otherwise buy a CR-V, RAV4, or Forester with the base engine. They’ll then find that the Equinox is a rarity for GM: a model dealers can’t seem to keep on the lot.
[Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, a provider of automotive quality and reliability data]