Car reviews - Holden - Equinox - LTZ AWD
Massive boot, spacious cabin, excellent nine-speed auto, solid handling and braking, long equipment list, vibrating seat alert reduces need for annoying beeps
Room for improvement
Remaining beeps ridiculously shrill, fidgety ride on 19-inch alloys, lacklustre cabin design, no adaptive cruise control, ergonomic quirks, interior rattles and creaks
Holden desperately needed a decent mid-size SUV, and the Equinox is just that
3 Aug 2018
DEVELOPED in the United States, built in Mexico and fine-tuned for local conditions by Holden engineers in Australia, there is a lot riding on the new Equinox mid-size SUV.
It needs to hit a lot of high notes to overcome the sheer quality of – and level of consumer recognition enjoyed by – its biggest rivals.
During our week with a second-from-top Equinox LTZ AWD, we found a handful of stand-out qualities, but wonder if most would be lost on the SUV-buying public.
Price and equipment
The Equinox range starts at $27,990 plus on-road costs for the front-drive 1.5-litre turbo-petrol LS with a manual transmission (a six-speed auto cost $2000 more and the LS is the only Equinox available with a manual).
We tested the all-wheel-drive, LTZ, the second-highest Equinox variant costing $44,290 plus on-roads. The LTZ comes with a larger, more powerful 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. A front-drive LTZ costs $4300 less, while the full-fruit LTZ-V is $2000 more.
Even in base LS trim, the Equinox comes with a fairly comprehensive list of kit, including a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth and a reversing camera plus automatic headlights, 17-inch wheels with 17-inch space-saver spare, and – in automatic versions – a noise cancellation system.
Jump all the way to the LTZ trim we tested, and the Equinox gains a wide range of upgrades. Inside, prominent additions include dual-zone climate instead of manual air-con, heated front and rear leather seats, one-touch folding rear seats, a powered driver’s seat with memory function, wireless phone charging, remote engine start and one-touch front and rear windows.
There are even more significant changes on the entertainment front, with highlights including a bigger 8.0-inch touchscreen, embedded sat-nav, DAB+ digital radio reception, a Bose six-speaker sound system, four USB ports and wireless phone charging.
Over and above the range-wide inclusion of automatic lights, a trip computer and cruise control, the LTZ also gets automatic wipers blind spot monitoring, active lane keeping assistance, front and rear parking sensors, rollover stability control, forward collision warning with brake assistance, an advanced parking assistance system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a compass display and a 4.2-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster.
Cosmetically, the wheels at this spec level are 19-inch items – still retaining a space-saver spare – while the LTZ also gets LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, roof rails and chrome trim. As a result, this up-spec Equinox looks a little less utilitarian than the comparatively plain-Jane entry variants.
Also included on the LTZ are power folding side mirrors and a power-operated tailgate and chrome trim.
Summit White is the no-cost paint option, with others – including our car’s Son of a Gun Grey – setting you back an extra $550.
Holden also serves up a host of official accessories, ranging from a cargo liner through to a full-on towing package. For more standard kit you’ll have to step up to the flagship LTZ-V, which gets creature comforts such as ventilated front seats and a dual-panel panoramic glass roof.
From an interior perspective, the real reason to buy an Equinox is its massive 846-litre boot – and that’s with the rear seats up! Fold both sides down (there is a 60/40 split) and a cavernous 1798L becomes available.
Holden is cheating a bit with this car’s 4652mm length compared with the segment’s best-sellers – it’s more than 100mm longer than a Mazda CX-5 and almost 180mm longer than a Hyundai Tucson. Despite this advantage, the Holden’s rear legroom, headroom and shoulder room do not quite compete with the best in class.
Apart from the size of its boot, the Equinox interior is average at best.
Unlike a number of Holden models we have tested, the front Equinox seats were instantly comfortable, if lacking ever so slightly in thigh support for taller occupants.
Despite the broad range of electric adjustment offered to the driver on this LTZ (front passenger seat adjustment is manual), we never achieved a driving position we’d describe as ‘just right’ during our week living with the car.
This was mostly due to the pedal location making it impossible to find a comfortable position for our feet – particularly on the accelerator – and the steering column not having quite enough reach adjustment.
The steering wheel is pleasant enough to hold, but marred by weird and cheap-feeling rubberised panels used for its cruise control and trip computer functions, not to mention the hard-to-learn paddle-like controls on the wheel’s reverse for radio tuning/track skipping and audio volume.
And although the Equinox cabin design and presentation is far from inspiring, it’s largely functional and the padded, contrast-stitched leather-look swathes across the dashboard at least helps make the cabin look and feel a bit upmarket.
The dash-top itself is hard plastic, albeit of decent texture and solidity, as are most of the visible surfaces – at least up front. However, some are dreadful and unfortunately located on touch-points such as the panel surrounding the window switches and mirror controls. It’s typical of General Motors to let this sort of thing through to the keeper.
Rear occupants are treated to a cheap, scratchy plastic fascia for their air-con vents, 12V and 220V power outlets and their door trims are similarly low-grade. But they do get heated seats with the intriguing option to choose whether they warm their posterior, back or both.
Back in the front, a button on the steering wheel looks as though it alters cruise control following distance but merely adjusts sensitivity of the forward collision warning. It’s a disappointing discovery considering there are similarly priced competitors with adaptive cruise (it is not available on any Equinox variant).
But we celebrated the inclusion of a feature we have never before experienced: The vibrating driver’s seat that alerts its occupant to the presence of obstacles detected by the car’s parking, rear cross-traffic alert and forward collision warning systems.
Modern cars beep a lot, which can become overwhelmingly distracting when trying to execute a tight manoeuvre, so any way of keeping the driver informed without an accompanying electronic cacophony is a positive.
Unfortunately a different team clearly designed the ridiculously shrill chime that assaults the ears if the engine is started without first fastening your seatbelt, or if the car feels the need to remind you to check the contents of the back seat when exiting.
Thankfully the warning chime accompanying powered tailgate operation is reasonably subdued and the action itself is pretty swift compared with the glacial pace of many.
Holden’s semi-automated parking system is brilliantly effective and the lane-keeping assistance system works pretty well too, gently tugging at the steering wheel to ensure the Equinox stays between the lane markings.
Cabin storage is pretty good, with a smartphone-sized cubby that includes wireless charging for compatible devices and various connectivity ports. The glovebox is big but its lid feels flimsy.
Also flimsy of lid, a bin under the central armrest is spacious but featureless, while the two up-front cupholders are well-sized, as are those in the rear central armrest that benefit from removable inserts enabling them to carry large-diameter drinks bottles.
Still on the subject of bottle storage, all four door bins can accommodate large refreshment vessels, although in variants equipped with a powered tailgate the switch on the driver’s door is obscured by taller bottles. Well-sized upholstered map pockets in the front seat-backs are present and correct, as is a smartphone-sized elasticated net beside the front passenger’s right leg.
Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, accessed by the LTZ’s generously sized 8.0-inch touchscreen provided easy USB-connected smartphone mirroring including WhatsApp messaging functionality.
Road noise levels are high at lower speeds but seem to taper off as speeds rise, while both wind and engine noise are well-insulated. That said, the powerful engine of the LTZ does emit a distinctively gruff and sporty note on cold start-up that rear occupants can also hear under acceleration even once warmed up. But it’s never intrusive or boomy unless extended, with refinement levels ebbing away at higher revs.
What did irritate was the amount of rattling and creaking from the cabin when driving on a twisty, bumpy road. It didn’t fill us with confidence about build quality and raised questions about how long it would take before the cabin sounded loose in gentler conditions. Gravel roads also caused a lot more of this noise, in addition to unexpectedly high levels of sound from stones rattling against the underside.
Rear seats are fairly flat but of reasonable comfort and occupants of the central position benefit from an almost flat floor with only the smallest transmission tunnel intrusion, making up somewhat for the uncomfortably protruding head restraint and hardness of the backrest owing to the presence of the armrest mechanism.
Outboard positions have Isofix child seat anchorages and all three top-tether points are sensibly located on the seat backs. There’s enough room to fit a rear-facing infant capsule behind a tall front-seat occupant as well.
Folding the 60/40 split rear seats is easily achieved either via the light action of handles on the seats themselves or remote release handles in the boot, creating a completely flat extended load area. The boot includes a 12V power outlet and a couple of shopping bag hooks plus a false floor arrangement with plenty of room above the space-saver spare.
Engine and transmission
The Equinox LTZ and LTZ-V come with a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine producing a massive 188kW at 5500rpm and 353Nm at 2500-4500rpm, making this the most powerful mainstream mid-size SUV on the Australian market (the next being the 178kW/345Nm Ford Escape 2.0 EcoBoost and 177kW/350Nm Subaru Forester XT).
Strange as it sounds coming from a motoring journalist who – as a requirement of the job – is a car enthusiast, there’s probably too much power in the 2.0-litre Equinox. There is nothing overtly sporty about this car, so why all the performance? It’s overkill and unlike the aforementioned competitors, this car frankly struggles, regularly exhibiting axle tramp under hard acceleration.
It’s also interesting that Holden offers an Equinox with this engine as a front-drive option and that the version we tested offers the driver the ability to turn its all-wheel-drive system on or off – supposedly to save friction and therefore fuel with it disengaged.
The AWD on the Equinox switches to an on-demand system that sends power to the rear wheels if it detects wheel slip – like the Ford – rather than the Subaru method of having drive to all four wheels permanently engaged. There’s also no locking centre differential on the Equinox.
Anyway, it goes without saying that the Equinox tested is seriously rapid. Floor the accelerator as a 60km/h speed limit makes way for a 100km/h zone – such as a motorway on-ramp – and that 40km/h is gained in little more than the blink of an eye. But it gathers pace without an accompanying sensation of speed, so keep your eyes peeled for ‘safety’ cameras.
The nine-speed automatic transmission fitted to our Equinox was one of the best nine-speed units we have experienced, being incredibly slick and intuitive. It was also one of very few nine-speeders we have used that will actually use and remain in the ninth ratio at road speeds legal in Australia.
Cruising on the motorway at 110km/h in ninth, the engine is barely above tickover at 1600rpm.
The gear selector has an odd rocker switch on top for effecting manual shifts, which only works with the lever pushed into the L position that most vehicles would be labelled S for sport. It’s not the most intuitive or ergonomic solution and pretty frustrating in operation, but we expect it will be used rarely despite the performance on offer.
More importantly, this feature will be rarely used because of the performance on offer, for in most circumstances the engine has the guts to overcome a higher-than-ideal ratio selection.
When asked to kick down, the transmission responds promptly and its ability to quickly shuffle down a ratio or three is outstanding. As a result, the nine-speed Equinox is best left to its own devices due to the number of available ratios and impressive calibration, even when pressing on.
During our week with the Equinox, we recorded fuel consumption of 9.9 litres per 100km, so it’s not particularly frugal. But the thirst – and its preference for 95 RON Premium Unleaded – is understandable given the engine’s performance.
We got 7.4L/100km on a motorway run, with 11.5L/100km reached around suburbia. For comparison the official figures are: 8.4L/100km combined, 7.0L/100km combined and 11.0L/100km city.
As an aside, the idle-stop system, in addition to theoretically saving fuel, also hides the engine’s slightly lumpy idle – even when up to operating temperature.
Ride and handling
In addition to high levels of road noise, our Equinox paid the price of fashion over function with big 19-inch wheels and low-profile tyres that cause the ride to feel fidgety at any speed, especially over smaller bumps and ripples. Rear-seat passengers experience this more vividly than those up-front, which counts against the LTZ in the family-friendliness stakes.
That said, there is genuinely suppleness to be found in the Equinox suspension but it requires bigger hits. Speed humps and deep potholes that can penetrate the initial firmness are absorbed beautifully and there seems to be plenty of suspension travel as the LTZ never bottomed out or crashed over poorly surfaced dips and crests.
Australian tuning for local conditions really shone through on our dynamic test loop of bendy, broken country lanes where the Equinox LTZ felt right at home. It dealt particularly well with mid-corner bumps and ridges that were felt through the steering without sending the car off our intended line.
The Equinox was also very much at home on gravel, with plenty of traction, front-end grip and braking surety.
When punted around the suburban environment most SUVs tend to inhabit, we found the Equinox to turn in keenly and deliver a nimble feel. Out on faster roads it didn’t tip into bends with quite the same enthusiasm as a Mazda CX-5 or Hyundai Tucson but it is still an above-average performer in this regard.
Bodyroll is well-managed, too, and overall sway control is admirable for its ability to isolate passengers as the Equinox covers a twisty road.
The LTZ’s 19-inch Hankook Ventus Prime tyres never delivered the most convincing level of cornering bite in the damp conditions of our dynamic test, but the natural-feeling, accurate steering and great forward vision helped restore some of our lost confidence, as did the excellent braking that helped redeem the rubber’s lacklustre lateral wet-weather performance.
Even in all-wheel-drive mode we still experienced a pulsating feeling through he steering wheel under strong acceleration that gave the impression of the vehicle being overwhelmed by its engine performance and succumbing to axle tramp.
Worse, the steering goes all light under anything more than moderate acceleration. If your other car is rear-engined, you will feel right at home in the Equinox.
On the upside, when in front-drive mode, torque steer is admirably well managed and, owing to just-detectable electronic intervention, the Equinox manages to put the power down more effectively than untamed physics would permit.
When pulling briskly out of junctions, this ability to prioritise the driver’s intent of forward motion is a much safer and more satisfying setup than systems that simply cut power to quell wheel spin and leave the vehicle stranded in the path of oncoming traffic. Bravo, Holden.
Safety and servicing
The Holden Equinox was tested by ANCAP in December 2017 and hit a five-star home run, scoring 34.21 overall points out of a maximum 37. It ranked well in the pole and side impact tests, scoring 2 out of 2 and 15.00 out of 16.00 respectively.
As well as a battery of electronic stability and safety kit, the Equinox LTZ features a wide range of additional active safety and driver assistance equipment – including blind spot warning, active lane keeping assistance, front and rear parking sensors, rollover stability control and collision warning and brake assistance.
Holden has just increased its warranty offering to a standard five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for the Equinox, which includes roadside assistance. Holden also offers a range of flexible extended warranties, which should help keep costs down later in life.
Servicing is every 12 months or 12,000km and under Holden’s capped-price maintenance plan, the first interval costs $259. The price oscillates slightly depending on the work being undertaken at each pit-stop, but it never exceeds $400 (correct at time of writing). A range of service packs, including towing and pre-holiday check-ups, are also offered.
Power and performance are not a huge measure of vehicles in the mid-size SUV segment, but Holden has seen fit to endow the Equinox LTZ with a class-leading engine and transmission combination.
In every other regard apart from boot capacity and its innovative seat-vibrating obstacle alert, the Equinox is nothing special.
Despite local chassis tuning there is little to set it apart dynamically either, unless you live in a country area where this car excels. The muscular, relaxed engine would help on those long distances, too.
Holden has tried to overcome the lacklustre interior design and quality by including plenty of standard equipment, which when considered along with what almost passes for a premium driveline, adds plenty to the value-for-money argument.
But it’s not enough to put the Equinox on our mid-size SUV shopping list.
Ford Escape Titanium EcoBoost AWD from $44,990 plus on-road costs
Oft-overlooked and much less spacious than the Equinox, but one of the segment’s most pleasurable drives.
Subaru Forester XT from $41,240 plus on-road costs
Arguably the original performance mid-size SUV. Getting on a bit and about to be replaced but there’s still plenty to like about its airy, spacious cabin and tough go-anywhere character.
Mazda CX-5 Touring automatic from $38,990 plus on-road cost
The most popular mid-sized SUV, and justifiably so. It looks the part, drives well and is competitively priced. Far more sharply styled than Holden’s offering, and comes with an unlimited-mileage warranty to boot.
Hyundai Tucson Elite 1.6 AWD automatic from $39,750 plus on-road costs
Majors on value for money and equipment. Drives well and rides beautifully on its Australian-tuned suspension, and is backed by a substantial five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty, too.
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