The new, imported Commodore is naturally the talk of the country right now. But in terms of vital product for Holden, the Equinox is inarguably the more important model.
As buyer antipathy towards large cars continues, SUVs are rolling relentlessly out of showrooms. And Holden believes these high-riding, high-bodied vehicles will account for about 35 per cent of its entire range going forward.
With medium SUVs threatening to one day replace the small car as Australia’s favourite vehicle type, it’s easy to presume the Equinox will account for the bulk of those SUV sales rather than the smaller Trax or larger (forthcoming) Acadia.
And after years being forced to battle in the fiercely competitive medium SUV segment with the lacklustre Captiva, Holden hopes the new Equinox – despite being sourced from Chevrolet again – will put it on a more even footing with class-leaders such as the Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan and Honda CR-V.
The Holden Equinox starts at a competitive $27,990 for a front-wheel-drive manual variant powered by a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, though we’re testing the range-topping, $46,290 LTZ-V that’s powered by a 2.0-litre turbo petrol and competes at the higher end of the mainstream mid-sized SUV category.
From the $44,290 LTZ AWD (and $39,990 LTZ FWD), it adopts 19-inch alloy wheels, Bose audio, LED lamps front and rear, heated front and rear seats, digital radio, wireless charging, hands-free tailgate, semi-automatic parking, roof rails and leather-appointed seats.
The badge’s extra V adds a dual-pane panoramic roof, heated leather steering wheel, electric adjustment for the front passenger seat (as well as driver’s), and ventilation for the front pews.
There’s also a stack of active safety technology, even if all available from the $32,990 LS+ trim grade upwards. Features include the Holden Eye camera incorporating autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and forward collision alert, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, auto high-beam assist, and a Safety Alert driver’s seat that vibrates if a hazard is detected.
While that’s a good safety line-up, it is edged by the flagship petrol version of Australia’s current favourite mid-sized SUV, the $46,990 CX-5 Akera. The Mazda matches all but the Safety Alert and adds traffic-sign recognition and adaptive cruise, neither of which are available for the Equinox.
The Equinox’s US-designed exterior – its design seemingly inspired by the original 1990s Mercedes-Benz ML SUV with its distinctive wraparound rear glass – is one of the bigger shapes in its class. Its length, for example, is pushing towards 4.7 metres, whereas a CX-5 or Honda CR-V are around the 4.5m/4.6m mark.
Along with a generous wheelbase, it’s put to good use with plentiful cabin space and one of the biggest boots in the class.
The rear seat is particularly notable for its generous leg room, abundant foot space, comfortable bench with broad, well-shaped cushioning, good forward and side vision, and even a flat floor. No shortage of storage options, either, and rear air vents are included.
Head room, however, is significantly impacted by the LTZ-V’s panoramic sunroof, the centre armrest is positioned at an awkwardly high height, and three adults would still be a squeeze across the back despite that flat floor.
There’s no third-row option as with the Captiva 7 despite the Equinox’s size, though this will be addressed by the Acadia (also sourced from Chevrolet).
An auto tailgate accesses the large boot, which expands from 846 to 1798 litres for cavernous cargo-swallowing ability if you collapse the 60/40 seatbacks via release levers. They go flat, too – aided by the rear-seat cushions moving forward – though the centre rear seat’s thicker headrest needs to be removed from the 60-section before it will fold down properly.
Some other practical aspects have also been overlooked. The boot’s side sections are basically useless because they’re almost flush with the cargo floor and have no netting, the bag hooks are placed inconveniently right where the tailgate closes, and the omission of a cargo blind seems odd for a flagship model.
As does the quality. Beyond the rigid, scratchy boot interior panels, the furry cargo floor looks unbelievably low-rent – and already scratched and pilling on our test car. There’s also an ugly crease where the floor folds to reveal the temporary spare.
Cabin quality is patchy, too. There’s smart-looking stitched or perforated vinyl for the door armrests and parts of the front fascia, but if only there was more of it to provide a greater respite from the cheap-looking plastics that dominate the interior.
The fit and finish of the Mexican-built Equinox, at least in our test car, were also less than convincing in some areas – such as the loose left-centre vent and misaligned front-passenger-side window switch surround.
We also have a concern that the interior design could date quite quickly. Chevrolet isn’t advancing cabin presentation/quality at the same rate as Holden’s other key product source, Opel. For proof, you only need to take a look at the UK/Europe Vauxhall/Opel Grandland X (which also presents more contemporary exterior styling).
More thought (and budget) has been applied to the switchgear, so interacting with the various dials and buttons is a pleasant experience. We particularly like the padded, plus-sign-shaped steering wheel buttons that suggest they were designed by a fan of Super Nintendo joypads (Equinox designers clearly like the 1990s).
The standard Bose audio provides a sound that’s easy to appreciate, and the touchscreen is easy to use (including physical Home and Back shortcut buttons) and quick to respond.
The touchscreen’s home-screen graphics aren’t particularly modern-looking or as well laid out as they could be (the horizontal gaps between icons are much wider than the vertical gaps, for example), before presentation improves as you move through the sub-sections such as the audio streaming ‘page’.
Smartphone integration also means you can opt for a display mirroring your Apple or Android device.
The touchscreen’s upward-slanted angle seems unusual and imperfect ergonomically, though it’s less susceptible to glare than was expected. The navigation map graphics could be sharper, but inputting destinations is a doddle and can be done on the move.
Storage is excellent (carrying over one of the Captiva’s better points), and the charging tray not only fits some of the larger smartphones, but also is quick to replenish battery life.
On the move, the front-seat cushioning feels a touch short, though the seats are generally comfortable and have plenty of adjustment. We’d pass on the Safety Alert system, if we could. It can be over-reactive, vibrating the seat even if you’re just slowly reversing towards a kerbed perpendicular parking spot.
The Equinox is one of the heavier SUVs in its segment, and the fully loaded LTZ-V trim grade inevitably registers the highest number in the range. Its 1778kg kerb mass is well above the equivalent CR-V (1597kg) and CX-5 (1670kg), for example.
Fortunately, the Holden is equipped with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol offering class-leading outputs: 188kW and 353Nm. (Only a Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI and Subaru Forester XT come close.)
And they don’t just look good as numbers because the Equinox offers an abundance of grunt. More than enough, in fact, to make us grateful for the LTZ-V’s standard all-wheel-drive system (otherwise only available as an option on the next-grade-down LTZ).
The LTZ-V is actually a front-driver – until you press an AWD console button to electronically engage the rear axle to accept up to half the engine’s torque. It’s tempting to keep it switched on permanently, as deploying the generous power to all four wheels makes for consistently smoother progress.
It helps avoid both embarrassingly noisy chirpy take-offs from lights/junctions if you’re unintentionally too eager on the throttle, and unedifying exits from corners (complete with torque steer) if you’re out on an enjoyable drive. The all-wheel-drive system was also effective on a gravel trail, with strong traction off the mark and on the go.
The Equinox’s nine-speed auto complements the pokey engine, shifting gears nicely in undemanding circumstances. That’s great news for most SUV buyers. For keener drivers, paddle-shift levers are a disappointing exclusion on a range-topping model – particularly as they would help eliminate some of the turbo lag more evident in quicker driving.
The plus/minus button-shifters on top of the gear lever are a terrible way to change gears manually, with the action compounded by a console bin that’s too high and too far forward. Even a Sports mode would have helped.
Holden engineers fine-tuned the Chevrolet’s underpinnings for Australia, though the results are more mixed than they are with the new (Opel) Commodore. The Equinox’s suspension cushions bigger impacts but provides a frustratingly fidgety ride, even on a seemingly smooth freeway.
The LTV-Z’s big 19-inch wheels clearly don’t help – CarAdvice reviews of smaller-wheeled variants point to better ride quality – and they certainly contribute to a poor turning circle that’s wider (12.7m) compared with Equinoxes on 17s or 18s. Tyre noise from the Hankook Ventus Prime rubber was also noticeable, as were some cabin vibrations at about 60/70km/h.
Smooth and linear steering otherwise makes the Equinox easy to guide on all types of roads, and the SUV’s taut damping pays dividends for handling across bumpy bitumen and through sharp corners.
Running costs are higher-than-average in regard to fuel use, though in the ballpark for servicing.
A trade-off for the 2.0-litre turbo’s strong performance is official fuel consumption in the eight litres per 100km zone (8.4L/100km), whereas most key rivals are in the sevens. Premium fuel is also recommended, whereas 91RON is the norm.
Annual capped servicing costs range from $259 to $399, depending on vehicle age/kilometres – or from $299 to $499 for the 1.6-litre turbo diesel that will become available for certain Equinox variants including the LTZ-V. Those costs are neither expensive nor cheap compared with key rivals, though some competitors come with warranties longer than Holden’s (industry typical) three years.
We don’t think it’s being overly harsh to suggest the Equinox couldn’t have failed to be better than the Captiva, but credit is still due for the creation of a model that gives Holden a much stronger playing card in the high-stacked medium-SUV deck.
The highest-specification model isn’t the ace in the Equinox’s own pack, though. The LTZ-V’s big wheels contribute to a disappointing ride and restricted urban manoeuvrability, and its vast sunroof is bad news for taller travellers. The Holden’s patchy interior quality is also especially disagreeable on a vehicle that costs more than $50,000 when on-roads are added.
It’s still a punchy performer despite being weighed down by more standard kit than any other Equinox, while if cargo space is a priority, this Holden SUV is right up there.