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by Tom Fraser

Ever heard of the saying “hard act to follow”? Well, succeeding the Holden Captiva, the incoming 2018 Chevrolet Equinox will have little to worry about. When it arrives later this year wearing a Holden badge, the five-seat Equinox will be sold alongside the ageing Captiva until early 2018 – talk about chalk and cheese.

While the version that lands on our shores will be Australian tested and tuned specific to our conditions, which we recently tested at Holden’s local proving ground, we got the chance to drive the brand-new, US-spec 2018 Chevrolet Equinox Premier while on a road trip across California.

To add some context to the trip, our Equinox was tasked with carrying five photographers and all accompanying luggage between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The end destination was on the west coast of California in Monterey for the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

We were almost too keen to say goodbye to the Captiva that we had to go over to the Land of the Free to sample its replacement. While it mightn’t be the exact same as what will land on our shores, we’ll still get all three engines in either front or all-wheel drive, just like the Yanks get.

With a variety of engines, two drivelines and various trim specifications on offer, on test we have the top-spec Premier paired with the smallest 1.5-litre engine which sends power to the front wheels.

We’re still unsure of where Holden will price the Equinox, but we hope to see it competitively priced within the mid-size SUV segment in which it will sit.

Speaking of the segment, the mid-size SUV category is a hotly contested space currently and Holden has a lot of catching up to do. Well established competitors like the Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5 will have already been on market for some time when the Equinox lands, and subsequently be priced competitively after having been around for some time.

We’ll refrain from commenting too much on the specs of the Chevrolet Equinox considering Holden’s version still hasn’t been fully detailed. However, the Premier spec on test received a solid list of safety equipment consisting of a full suite of airbags for front and second rows, lane departure warning, forward collision alert and a very handy 360-degree view camera.

The only options for the car was a comfort and confidence package which includes things like ventilated and powered front seats, auto high beam headlights and heated seats and steering wheel –  the ventilated seats were very welcome in a Californian summer.

One of the first things that’ll impress once you hop into the Equinox for the first time will be the amount of space on offer. Whether it’s the front or second row, there’s plenty of room for four, even five passengers – not to mention fitting all our luggage in the 892-litre boot as well.

The cabin is finished in perforated leather for the ventilated front seats, and overall feels a comfortable place to be. There’s some average plastic up front on top of the dash and door trim, but most touch points are finished in leather like the steering wheel which is nice to hold as well as the shift knob.

Sitting pride of place on the dash is GM’s 8.0-inch MyLink infotainment system which owners of the Holden Colorado will find familiar. It’s a very easy unit to use and we have never had trouble with our long-term Holden Colorado, however the screens aren’t the nicest to look at.

Apple CarPlay’s maps came in handy while travelling across the state, making up for the fact the Premier goes without dedicated satellite navigation unless you use Chevrolet’s convoluted OnStar concierge system.

As with every decent road trip, the Equinox’s sound system received a real workout. Sound quality from the standard six-speaker setup was good with reverberating bass, more so in the front row rather than for passengers behind. But they were able to make do with headphones and by connecting their entertainment to the six USB points throughout the cabin.

At-hand storage for the driver is adequate, there’s a deep leather-lined centre console for notepads or a tablet and two cupholders as well as a storage cubby in front of the gear shift. The glovebox is deep, but the downside is that it tends to intrude on the passenger’s knee space if they’re tall. In all other seats however, knee- and headroom was fantastic and made for a generally comfortable space to cover some miles in.

Map pockets combine with deep door pockets in the second row to provide rear seat passengers with storage for their belongings. Should that not be enough space, there’s the option of putting items in the various cubbies that you’ll find in the boot. There’s a split-level floor which can hide items away from prying eyes, or an ice-cream tub-sized space on either side of the boot.

Starting the road trip in Los Angeles gave us an opportunity to experience the Equinox in what will most likely be its prime habitat – the urban landscape.

We all know by now that a mid-sized SUV is just about the best you can do for all round capability – especially around town. The Equinox is no exception, having all the right attributes for a decent run-around: spacious cabin, good visibility, a small engine and light and manoeuvrable steering. The ride is pleasant about town and there’s enough feedback in the steering to understand what the front tyres are up to. On occasion, larger bumps in the road and some road joins could upset the ride, becoming a little crashy.

The smaller engine we had on test will find its way into the Australian line-up at the end of the year. The 1.5-litre unit produces 127kW of power and 275Nm of torque which won’t set the world on fire in a 1506kg vehicle, but it’s about on par when compared against its peers.

When on the open highway, the 1.5-litre engine feels a little out of its depth, especially with the car fully laden. Overtaking often resulted in a real workout for the Equinox, wringing out all 127kWs with a sharp stab of the throttle. However, the six-speed torque converter paired to the 1.5-litre was accommodating, swiftly and intuitively downshifting if caught on a hill.

Chevrolet claims a combined fuel usage of 26 miles per gallon which works out to be 10.9L/100km. Considering our car was always full with luggage and people, our reading of 12.3L/100km isn’t too far off their claim. It may sound substantially higher than other SUVs we receive in Australia, but it’s not a fair comparison until we test the Equinox in Australia on our higher grade of fuels.

The twisty mountainous highways surrounding greater Monterey showed the Equinox as a comfortable cruiser as well. The front seats are very comfy for extended trips and have great lateral support when rounding a corner. Cabin insulation from wind and tyre noise was very impressive when travelling at highway speeds, and a comfortable temperature was always kept with the dual-zone climate control.

As an overall ownership proposition, we can’t comment reliably until we know more Australian details. It’s a comfortable, well packaged, technologically up-to-date and unassuming family runabout with a lot of space and inoffensive demeanour. If nothing else, we expect it to be a nice refresher from Holden in the wake of the Captiva’s departure.

It’ll face some tough competition in Australia, with a hard-fought reputation already being won for entrants like the new Mazda CX-5 and the competent Hyundai Tucson. It’s hard to imagine it moving the game along in any one area when compared amongst its classmates, but it’s a big step forward for the Holden brand.

We’ll be sure to pit them against one another when the Equinox arrives in Australia over the new year.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.

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