Is the imported Equinox enough to shake up the medium-SUV segment, and turn Holden's flagging sales around?
This is the 2019 Holden Equinox, and is the Australian brand's entry in the competitive medium-SUV segment. It’s hand-picked from the American market, made in Mexico and fine-tuned for local tastes. It’s originally a Chevrolet product, which has picked up where five-seat versions the Captiva left off in 2017.
SUV. Sports Utility Vehicle. It's a ubiquitous term these days without a solid definition. It was once the domain of off-road-focussed vehicles with live axles, low-range and a ladder chassis. That kind of vehicle is in the minority these days, and the term is forced to cover a wide variety – everything from a 76 Series LandCruiser to this Equinox. Two entirely different vehicles.
Based on the General Motors Delta platform, the Equinox is a five-seater SUV that’s 4652mm long, 1843mm wide and 1661mm tall. You’ve got a choice of diesel and petrol power, and either AWD or FWD configurations. We’re behind the wheel of an LT specification, which has the 2.0-litre petrol engine going through to the front wheels.
Holden’s asking price is $36,990 (plus on-road costs) for this spec, which sits around the middle of the range: $27,990 will get you a 1.5-litre LS spec, while $49,290 is diesel AWD LTZ-V money. Servicing costs are capped with 12-month/12,000km intervals. Each service ranges between $259 and $399, costing you a total of $1565 over five years or 60,000km.
The best thing about the Holden Equinox is no doubt the engine, a really punchy 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged petrol four-banger. It makes 188kW at 5500rpm and 353Nm at 2500–4500rpm.
Holden doesn’t make much of a song and dance about the output, which is 14kW less and an equal amount of torque to Hyundai’s raucous i30N. For more perspective, Volkswagen’s Golf GTI has 180kW at 6200rpm and 370Nm at 1600–4300rpm. Not too shabby for a nondescript SUV, right?
That power pushes the 1585kg of kerb weight through nine ratios with some nice vigour. Tyres squeal against full-throttle takeoffs, even briefly on rolling starts from lower speeds. There’s more than ample power for your tighter merging situations, and plenty enough to pin you into your seat a little afterwards. It’s not a ‘hot’ or ‘warm’ model, but there is class-leading power available here.
Seventh gear is a 1:1 ratio, leaving eighth and ninth as overdrive gears. At an indicated 110km/h, you’re sitting at around 1500rpm in top gear for some smooth and sedate highway cruising. Revs quickly rise to over 2000rpm when you press the throttle, accessing that wide range of peak torque.
The good thing about that torque (and where it is) is that it makes life easy for the driver and gearbox: the car is able to hold the gear, and the engine makes peaceful and planted progress. If this power and torque weren’t available, the gearbox would feel like a drunken rendition of Riverdance as it finds power up near the redline under acceleration.
When cruising on the highway and around town, the GM-sourced Ecotec donk is a quiet and smooth operator. Engine noise is mostly unobtrusive, although the overzealous stop-start system makes things feel a little bit jerky in stop-start traffic. Fuel usage for us was around 7.4 litres per hundred kilometres, which is on a fairly light-throttle commute.
It went up into the eights after some bad morning traffic, but note Holden's quote of 10.7 litres for urban driving which is touching on the thirsty side (and 8.2 L/100km on the mixed cycle). You’ll need to opt for premium fuel at the bowser, too, which will increase your running costs.
Like the Acadia large SUV, only recently launched, the Holden Equinox is sourced directly from General Motors’ international line-up.
In a similar fashion, it has been tuned by Holden’s local engineering team to suit local conditions. The ride is well balanced, with comfort and control present and accounted for. Rough roads can yield a jitteriness at times, but it's overall on point.
Steering errs on the side of comfort, and could feel a little complacent for some. Once the vehicle is cornering, the car holds onto the road well and doesn’t body-roll too much.
Truth be told, the toughest challenge of the suspension and tyres is handling any real usage of what the engine can deliver. It’s not an exciting car to commandeer, but it fulfils the brief of functional family SUV well.
Excitement isn’t the most important element at play here. Family buyers will likely prioritise interior functionality and safety as being more important. There are six airbags throughout the cabin, and what they call ‘Holden Eye’ gives you lane-departure warning and lane-keep assistance, forward-collision warning and distance indicator.
As long as you don’t choose the LS specification, you also get low-speed autonomous emergency braking. The Equinox range scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating from December 2017.
The size of the boot is quite good for the segment, with 846L (1798L with the second row folded). It’s mostly square, with a handy extra space under a false floor. It’s a bit flimsy, however, sitting on top of the space-saver wheel. There’s a 12V plug in the boot, along with some levers to drop the second row. The second row folds flat after you remove the bulky and odd-shaped middle headrest.
When the seats are employed, they are pretty comfortable. You’ve got plenty of room for long-limbed adults to be comfortable, with good head, leg and foot space. Typically, the middle seat isn’t so good. It folds down to an armrest and cup holders, but feels firm and unsupportive to sit on, although leg room and headroom are both still quite good.
Second-row occupants will no doubt appreciate the two air vents (without any controls, however), USB chargers and a 12v plug. While comfortable for two, the second row isn’t able to slide or tilt anywhere from its set position.
In terms of storage, you have the back-of-seat pockets and room for a bottle in the door card, along with a coin receptacle on the armrest and cup holders in the middle armrest. It’s functional, but seems to be lacking in any real flair or niceties.
Move up to the front, and it’s much of the same. Some of your common touchpoints have a softer finish to them, but there are still plenty of cheaper surfaces and switchgear to stumble across. The interior feels functional and well laid out, but there is a lack of special feeling or contemporary design, especially when rated against the current crop of competition.
What definitely doesn’t help is the collection of hard plastics in different tones and textures, which often have a particularly cheap overall feeling to them, and some wiggling easily against prods and grabs. This is where the Equinox falls most sharply against the competition.
Cloth trimming on the seats has a pleasing diamond pattern, with your basic manual adjustments to dial yourself in. The steering wheel has good tilt and reach adjustment, which let me feel comfortable behind the wheel. Visibility is pretty good from the driver’s seat as well, and aided by a decent reversing camera and blind-spot monitoring.
The lit centre console bin is a good size, as is the vestibule for phones and wallets in front of the shifter. Power and connection are provided by two USBs, one AUX, and a 12v plug. Infotainment comes in the form of an 8.0-inch screen with Holden’s MyLink running the show. It’s got Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.
It’s worth noting here the system is not the next-generation system as used in the Acadia. It’s the same as the current Colorado and Trailblazer, which isn’t as functional or nice to use. It's good enough, but not great.
The instrument binnacle has a multifunction display as well, which lets you cycle through your typical run of information like trip meters, fuel usage and (importantly) a digital speedometer. Running through Silverado-style rubbery buttons on the steering wheel, it all does the job without being particularly exemplary.
Aside from the occasionally scintillating engine, the overall feel of the Equinox is it's a little bit forgettable and a touch boring. It's no doubt a quantum leap in front of the previous Captiva, as is the Acadia. And it's a solid offering from the Australian brand.
It's definitely worth adding to your shopping list, especially if horsepower is an important factor. It rides well and has a functional interior, which does feel a bit piecemeal in places. Those desiring a premium feel will find it wanting.
Importantly, though, it comes down to your own taste after a test drive. And, of course, find out what kind of deal you can wrangle.