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Car reviews - Holden - Equinox - LS+

Our Opinion

We like
Exterior aesthetics, standard safety features, ride and handling, steering, cabin comfort, boot space
Room for improvement
Ridiculous manual mode button on auto transmission, paddle-shifters for sound system, manual air-con not up to Australian summer, vibrating seat not to all tastes

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Holden logo15 Mar 2018

Overview

IN THE Australian production world, Holden’s SUV range takes on even greater importance and the company must improve its ability to compete in the segment.

The first SUV model to be revamped since the end of local production of the Commodore, the Equinox lands to take the reins from the already-discontinued Captiva 5 in the booming mid-size SUV segment and competes directly against the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.

The new-look Holden snout and a more cohesive exterior give the Equinox more attractive styling than its predecessor, while locally tuned road manners and a three-engine, five-grade line-up ensure buyers take home an SUV tailored to Australian conditions.

However, the Mexican-built Equinox faces a tough fight against a myriad of more-established, and critically adored, competitors.

Price and equipment

While the entry-level Equinox LS slips in under the $30K mark, it is a price point model the LS+ is priced from $32,990 before on-road costs and represents a better value proposition given the extra active safety gear it has on offer above the LS.

Standard fare for the LS+ includes 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/65 Continental ContiPremiumContact tyres (but a space-saver spare), a leather-wrapped reach-and-rake adjustable steering wheel, power-folding and heated exterior mirrors, cloth trim, a rear 12-volt outlet, a rear armrest with cupholders, and rear vents.

The manual air-conditioning system can feel a little underdone and, we think, could benefit from some localisation tuning in the same way the chassis has been adjusted for Australian roads.

The rear bench is a 60/40 split with two Isofix child seat anchor points and three tether anchors in the seat backrests, as well as having a 12-volt outlet, tie-down anchors, luggage net points and underfloor storage in the boot.

The LS+ also gets the lower-spec MyLink infotainment system that’s controlled via a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen, giving the driver Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, iPod integration, and access to Siri, but no integrated satellite navigation – you’ll need to use the smartphone’s nav system or step up to the 2.0-litre LT for that.

Equinox also has active noise cancellation to counteract noise from the exterior, but does little to reduce any noise coming from the rear occupants – vents and a 12-volt outlet will reduce that to some extent.

The safety features list is topped by passive blind-spot monitoring, as well as active lane keep and departure warning systems, auto-parking, rain-sensing wipers, forward collision alert, autonomous emergency braking, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Also on the list is a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, a vibrating driver’s seat alert system, automatic (but only halogen) headlights with auto-dipping high beam and LED daytime running lights.

Direct competitors on pricing include the identically priced Ford Escape Trend, which has integrated satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control and emergency assistance but needs an option pack to get much of the Equinox’s active safety gear.

The slightly-cheaper Hyundai Tucson Active X, priced from $31,150, is otherwise well-equipped but misses out on the active safety gear that’s standard in the Holden Nissan’s X-Trail ST hovers around the same price point in seven-seat guise, is $2000 cheaper when seating five and has forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking.

Kia asks $34,690 for its top-spec front-drive petrol Sportage SLi, but it would take a step up to the $40K-plus AWD GT-Line to get the active safety features in question.

Mazda’s front-drive CX-5 Maxx Sport asks $34,390 and it is dynamically more than a match for the Holden, as well as delivering on some, but not all, of the Holden’s active safety features.

Interior

One of the areas of improvement is the cabin space and comfort compared to the outgoing Captiva 5 – the cabin has not been upgraded to salubrious from the model it replaces but it is comfortable and offers reasonable space for the nuclear family.

The cloth trim is not haute couture, but it feels robust enough to deal with some of the wear and tear of family life, although leather tends to be easier to clean if the worst occurs.

The driver and front passenger are accommodated in decent front seats manipulated manually four ways with the driver able to get a good position behind the reach and rake adjustable wheel.

A 7.0-inch touchscreen controls the six-speaker sound system, which can be fed through Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (but no digital radio reception) to deliver a decent noise. Phone-based sat-nav is the only option at this level too, which isn’t an issue if you have a generous data plan.

The inclusion of an electric park brake is a welcome feature, but it’s still in the LHD position – it’s a little thing but one that can make a difference to some smaller personnel when behind the wheel.

Clear and informative instruments leave the driver in no doubt and they also get a leather-wrapped wheel that has rubberised buttons which are nice enough to use, but the lane departure warning button wasn’t an easy on/off proposition.

The driver does get a manual change option for the automatic transmission, but it’s a push-button arrangement atop the selector – not easy to use at all – and the paddles on the back of the steering wheel have instead been commandeered for sound system use.

The Equinox is 56mm longer than the old Captiva 5, almost half of which is an increase in wheelbase that helps with rear space – leg- and headroom are both enough for two adults to get comfortable in the back seat (which has vents and a 12-volt outlet), although three will be cosy when it comes to width.

Boot space is more than useful, listed at 846 litres (most likely including the extra hidden area beneath the floor and measured to the roof) and 1798L when the rear seat is folded, which annoyingly needs the centre headrest removed prior to folding.

The absence of a full-sized spare has helped in this area, but given the metropolitan duties likely to be performed, it’s becoming less of an issue.

Engine and transmission

The smaller turbo-petrol engine does put in an effort at shifting the 1500-odd kg wagon, but if you’re looking for anything other than brisk pace then the bigger engine will need to be on your priority list.

The 1.5-litre intercooled turbo-petrol four cylinder uses 16 valves, double overhead cams and direct injection to produce 127kW at 5600rpm and 275Nm between 2000 and 4000rpm.

It claims a thirst of 6.9 litres per 100kmand has a small 55-litre tank that can be topped up with 91RON petrol.

Our time in the LS+ resulted in a fuel economy figure of 9.5L/100km at an average of 43km/h, but the fact that (like Mazda’s CX-5) it can use normal ULP will also play in its favour.

Unlike its larger-engined sibling that gets the nine-speed auto, the LS+ has to make do with ‘only’ six gears.

The six-speed automatic does a decent job of directing drive to the front wheels, but there is a little bit of torque steer and noise from the front axle if the need arises for a quick take-off at a T-junction.

The transmission’s programming applies the outputs appropriately in most driving situations, although it’s certainly aiming for fuel economy over all else.

Given it’s a family wagon you wouldn’t expect it to think about much else, but if the need arises for manual gear selection then the driver will need to use the ill-conceived manual change button on top of the gear selector after first having moved it to the ‘L’ slot.

If you can put up with the far-from-intuitive manual gear selection it will hold a gear in the face of the rev limiter, but this manual change system design needs to go the way of the dodo.

Ride and handling

The results of local chassis and steering tuning cannot be underestimated by car-makers and it’s obvious when an effort has been made.

The two South Korean brands have made up plenty of ground doing it, and the Holden Equinox makes up for horsepower shortfalls here.

Sitting on 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/65 Continental ContiPremiumContact tyres gets the Equinox off to a good start when muscling its way through suburban traffic with the taller rubber taking the sting out of small ruts and bumps.

Rough road surfaces are dealt with easily, often heard more than felt, but the Equinox delivers a good ride quality while still feeling well-planted on the road, something for which the local engineering team deserves plenty of credit.

Body control on the open road did nothing to detract from the good first impression the Equinox is composed in the corners, but there is some bodyroll when pushing hard.

Holden’s latest SUV settles on its haunches and gets the job done with the help of some torque vectoring functions within the braking system.

The driver even gets steering that is just on the light side of being well-weighted, but certainly not without merit in the bends.

The MacPherson strut front and a four-link rear suspension continues to deal with bumps in an orderly manner, working harder on country roads, maintaining orderly progress until well beyond its comfort zone.

Safety and servicing

Clearly the “safety sells” mantra has been employed here with the LS+ adding plenty of active safety gear to the usual six airbags and stability (including trailer sway control) and traction control systems.

Holden’s Equinox was awarded a full five stars from ANCAP when it was crash tested late in 2017, dropping 1.79 points in the frontal offset crash and one point in the side impact test for an overall score of 34.21 out of a possible 37.

Holden has reverted to its three-year/100,000km warranty from the Kia-like seven-year coverage that backed its marketing campaign at the end of last year, but we reckon it should keep the extended warranty full time.

Regular maintenance is required every 12 months or 12,000km, the latter being on the short side, and prices at the time of writing ranged between $259 and $399.

The car-maker offers one year of roadside assistance, which is then extended to match the warranty time period if the scheduled servicing is performed by a Holden dealer.

Verdict

There’s no question the Equinox is a more handsome contender than the Captiva 5, and its active safety features and cabin space will also get plenty of attention from families.

The Holden badge might also have some appeal, although that’s less of a patriotic draw than it once was, and the parent taxi brigade won’t mind the fuel economy and the easy phone connectivity.

There are more appealing offerings in the segment for those looking for a more dynamic drive or something to get mud on the mats, but Holden’s biggest problem will be getting traction and visibility in a evermore-crowded mid-size SUV marketplace.

Rivals

Hyundai Tucson Active X FWD, from $31,150 plus on-road costs
While the cheaper and less-powerful (121kW and 203Nm from the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre) Tucson misses out on the active safety gear that’s standard in the Holden, it ups the ante in the interior – a sunroof, a bit more leather in the cabin – and does a decent job on the road too.

Nissan’s X-Trail ST FWD, from $30,990 plus on-road costs
The recently-updated Nissan hovers around the same price point but offers seating for seven, sitting $2000 below the Equinox when seating the same number as the Holden. It has forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking as well as a more flexible back seat, but offers less under the bonnet – 126kW and 226Nm – which gets smudged on its way to the road by a CVT.

Mazda Maxx Sport FWD, from $34,390 plus on-road costs
Dynamically more than a match for the Holden, as well as offering some, but not all, of the Holden’s active safety features, the Mazda has 114kW and 200Nm through a smarter six-speed auto. The Mazda gets dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming centre mirror, LED headlights, satellite navigation and digital radio but no AppleCarPlay/Android Auto.

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