THERE’S a strange sense of déjà vu about the launch of the Holden Equinox. Eleven years ago, Holden rolled out the Daewoo-sourced Captiva in an effort to woo SUV buyers.
Back then we were generally impressed by Holden’s efforts, but time wasn’t kind to the Captiva. Where its rivals evolved rapidly, the Captiva quickly became an also-ran and, latterly, an embarrassing exemplar of Holden’s developmental stasis.
Now, here’s Holden again, admitting they’re behind the curve on SUVs, and the answer is to again scour the General’s portfolio for a pret-a-porter solution. The Mexican-built Chevrolet Equinox is this year’s overseas marquee signing, currently undergoing a rapid process of Australianisation at the hands of the engineering team at Lang Lang.
The Equinox is a familiar FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE nameplate in the US, having graced the rear end of Chevy SUVs since 2004. Holden’s importing the third-generation car, downsized after its predecessor never made the fuel figures claimed for it.
Stung by that, the American market was compensated with a smaller body and, initially at least, the sole choice of a 127kW 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine.
Fortunately, we get a bit more leeway. The engine choice here comprises of that 1.5-litre entry point alongside a 100kW 1.6-litre turbo-diesel and a barrel-chested 188kW 2.0-litre turbo petrol.All will drive through a nine-speed automatic with a Range Select feature that can limit upshifts, primarily for towing.
We drove the 2.0-litre turbo, in this instance in front-drive guise.
The dynamics seem generally well-sorted, with impressive body control, low effort but accurate steering, and a supple ride. On a coned slalom course it’s possible to feel the brake torque vectoring at work, dragging the car back into line. The 18-inch alloys featured 60-series Bridgestone Dueler rubber which helped the secondary ride considerably. The 2.0-litre engine has enough about it to put a grin on your face. Holden expects a 0-100km/h in the mid-7s and it feels every bit that fast. Despite the in-car Bose-engineered noise-cancelling tech, it’s not the quietest car in its class at cruising speeds, as the feature chiefly targets engine frequencies and not external noises.
Holden has developed three separate suspension tunes for each Equinox variant. These changes include front and rear anti-roll bars, bushings, as well as damper and steering calibration.
Once these variables have been crunched, it all has to work on 17-, 18-, and 19-inch wheel and tyre combos. That’s quite a task. “We probably did more work on this car than we were expecting,” engineer Tony Metaxas admits.
The cabin is where the Equinox could struggle against the best in class. The centre console in particular looks budget, though it doesn’t want for standard equipment with plenty of creature comforts expected to be fitted.
Rear seat accommodation impresses, with plenty of space for six-footers in tandem and it’s easy to drop the non-sliding rear seats using a tab in the luggage bay. The rear bench is creaky though and the front seats are a little insubstantial, with rear three-quarter visibility hampered by the big C-pillars.
The Equinox is honest, it’s solid, it does a job and fills a hole: all descriptions you could have levelled at the Captiva intially.
Much will depend on final specifications and pricing, but the likeable Equinox looks set to have its work cut out.
2.0T engine’s pace; sweet handling; interior space; tech inclusions Materials quality in cabin unconvincing; unexciting exterior styling
One of the more intriguing features of the Equinox is its idle-stop system. There’s no way to switch it off. That could strike the SUV off the shortlist of those with a dislike of such tech. BMW locates the idle-stop kill switch on the starter button for just that reason.
Equinox technical highlights include nifty features such as a decouplable all-wheel-drive system, drag-reducing active shutter tech in the front grille, and a 2000kg towing capacity that Holden insisted was a musthave for the Australian market.
Although details of trim levels have yet to be released, expect to find features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging, a hands-free powered tailgate, ventilated and heated front seats as well as heating for the rear seats and the steering wheel.
The Equinox and its bigger Acadia sibling represent the 16th and 17th new vehicles that are part of Holden’s plan to introduce 24 new models by 2020. They’ll join the Trailblazer and Trax to broaden the SUV offering to four, with other AWD choices in the shape of the Colorado ute and the forthcoming Commodore Sports Tourer. The days of relying on Commodore to do the heavy lifting are over. “We’re no longer putting all our eggs in one basket,” said a Holden spokesman.
Mazda finesses the details and creates the benchmark medium SUV.
Carries over the things you loved about the previous generation but now adds better refinement, more space, and a generally slicker feel.
You need to fork out to get a Tucson with strong performance, but the turbo-petrol engine at least features all-wheel drive. Five-year warranty a big drawcard as is the handsome styling.