2018 Holden Equinox LT diesel review

$34,130 $40,590 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    5.7L
  • Engine Power
    100kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    151g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

Holden has just launched a diesel derivative of its Equinox mid-sized SUV. It's refined and frugal on fuel, but also $3000 more expensive than the class-leading turbo-petrol offering, and produces less torque than most rivals.

Holden has just added a diesel engine option to its Equinox mid-sized crossover range, available from low-grade LS+ specification all the way to the LTZ-V flagship.

As you’d well imagine, the 1.6-litre turbocharged-diesel engine uses significantly less fuel than either of the two petrol engine options, but also carries a $3000 higher recommended retail price (RRP). So is it worth a look?

While petrol remains the majority choice in this segment – diesel tends to be more prominent in the bigger SUV classes – the new engine should elicit interest from high-milers, given its theoretical driving range between fill-ups of nearly 1000km.

We have the Equinox in mid-range LT specification here, which was our favourite variant from the recent five-car range review. The diesel’s RRP is $39,990 before on-road costs (the petrol is $36,990), equivalent to about $43K drive-away before haggling.

The new 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine is very much geared towards maximising economy and refinement, with an official combined cycle claim of 5.6 litres per 100km aligning closely with our real-world return of 6.2L/100km over a 370km drive loop.

That’s about 50 per cent more efficient than the factory claim for the 2.0-litre turbocharged-petrol engine also offered on the LT, and in our testing we found the gulf more like 70 per cent. But there’s a catch, beyond that $3000 diesel impost.

In return for its frugality, the Euro 6-certified diesel engine makes fairly modest peak power and torque outputs of 100kW at 3500rpm and 320Nm at 2000rpm compared to the outright class-leading 188kW/353Nm petrol engine.

These 100kW/320Nm outputs are adequate, with the torque figure being key. However, the similarly priced diesel versions of rival offerings offer greater figures without any massive fuel economy differential – at least based on dyno testing.

The Mazda CX-5’s 2.2-litre diesel makes 140kW/450Nm and uses 5.7L/100km; the Nissan X-Trail’s 2.0-litre diesel makes 130kW/380Nm and uses 6L/100km; and the Hyundai Tucson’s 2.0-litre diesel makes 136kW/400Nm while using 6.4L/100km. These are just three examples.

In Holden’s defence, when tested in isolation the Equinox doesn’t feel underdone. There’s strong rolling response for overtaking, and the suppression of typical diesel clatter and vibrations felt inside and outside the car is laudable.

It’s exceptionally hushed for the class, thanks in part to ample wheel-arch and firewall insulation, and headphone-style Active Noise Cancellation inside. Same goes for the idle-stop system, which turns the car on/off in traffic in an impressively unobtrusive way – a good thing, since it can’t be disengaged.

Where you notice that comparative lack of torque compared to, say, the CX-5 is when you’re seeking a rapid getaway or powering up a hill. It doesn’t struggle, but it just lacks that crisp and muscular response typical of more hi-po oil-burners out there.

The diesel engine is mated with a six-speed automatic with naff buttons to conduct manual overrides, or an ‘L’ mode for towing up hills and other such things. It’s generally pretty intuitive, though could be quicker to upshift around town – we found ourselves pottering along at 60km/h at 2000-plus RPM at times, taking the edge from that quietude.

Finally, the braked-trailer towing capacity is a fairly modest 1500kg, which is 500kg less than the more muscular petrol engine. You would expect the opposite, generally.

The LT as tested comes standard with front-wheel drive focused on sealed road use. If you want all-wheel drive (AWD), and we imagine many people do, the on-demand system can only be had on the LTZ or LTZ-V versions, priced at $47,290 and $49,290 respectively.

This system has a clever rear axle decoupling mode for bolstering fuel efficiency, and in normal use shuffles torque to the rear wheels reactively but rapidly, when the front tyres scrabble. However, the price impost is far, far too high.

Holden should rethink here. Especially considering those aforementioned, more powerful diesel-powered rivals tend to come standard with AWD, and for less money than Holden demands.

One of the more ‘winning’ aspects of the Equinox is its MacPherson strut/multi-link suspension calibration. Holden’s engineers in regional Victoria (the company still operates the famous Lang Lang proving ground, working on all sorts of global GM projects) do fantastic work.

The Equinox offers excellent bump isolation and noise suppression over typical urban road joins, potholes and speed humps, and is equally good over corrugated gravel. The motor-drive steering is light but responsive from centre, and body control remains excellent against cornering forces. The turning circle of 11.7m isn’t great, though.

It’s one of the better SUVs to drive, showing surprising ardour for corners without sacrificing passenger comfort in the least.

It’s also pretty well equipped for a mid-grade vehicle. Standard fare includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and integrated satellite navigation, four USB points (two in the front, two in the rear), Bluetooth phone/audio, and a colourised trip computer and driver information display between the gauges, with digital speedo.

There are nice cloth seats with tasteful patterns, orange stitches and bum heaters for front occupants, dual-zone climate control AC, leather-covered wheel and gear shifter, regular cruise control, button start, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch wheels and HID headlights.

Safety features include: a 2017 ANCAP five-star crash rating; six airbags; reversing camera; front and rear sensors; rear cross-traffic alert for backing out of perpendicular spots; blind-spot monitor; low-speed autonomous emergency braking; and a forward collision alert.

There’s also a system that sends a vibration into the driver’s seat base when the proximity sensors are activated, and a lane-departure warning system that theoretically nudges you between road lines, but which we found a little prone to overcorrection. Like many such systems, to be fair.

The interior design, rather like the exterior design, distinctly lacks excitement. However, the material quality and tactile surfacing are acceptable, the infotainment excellent (the way the Bluetooth chimes when it re-pairs is surprisingly handy), and there are a ton of storage cubbies scattered about.

The back seats come with air vents and USB points, and offer above-average leg and head room, on a par with the X-Trail. There are also ISOFIX as well as top-tether child seat points. There’s plentiful space for four adults, or five at a pinch. There’s no seven-seat option.

The back seats also fold flat to liberate extra cargo space in the rear, taking it up to about 1800L. The cargo area has tie-down hooks, a cargo blind and under-floor storage above the space-saver temporary spare wheel. The boot is above-average by class standards.

From an ownership perspective, Holden offers capped-price servicing. Intervals are 12 months or 12,000km, with the first five visits presently pegged at $299, $399, $299, $499 and $399. Total cost is $1895 for five years or 60,000km, whichever comes first.

For comparison, the capped cost for a Mazda CX-5 over five years or 50,000km (shorter distance intervals) is currently listed as $1708, with an additional $199 for over-the-term brake fluid and air filter replacements. Much of a muchness…

The official warranty is three years or 100,000km, but Holden is regularly offering seven-year warranty coverage. Push for that. Finally, it also has guaranteed 24-hour test drives, which we’d encourage you to take up.

So, the verdict. To be honest, despite the diesel’s outstanding refinement and good fuel economy, we’d bypass it and go for the cheaper petrol. That engine’s 188kW punch is hard to pass up, and the $3000 saving pays for a lot of fuel…

If you do happen to want a diesel SUV, then there are a number of rivals as listed above that offer more punch and similar fuel economy. Moreover, they don’t sting you nearly as much for the privilege of AWD.

The Equinox as a whole is a solid offering, but this derivative isn’t the one we’d opt for. The above-average rating reflects the fact that the fundamentals of the car itself are still better than many people give it credit for. Just haggle, or buy the petrol.

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