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Car reviews - Holden - Equinox - range

Our Opinion

We like
Good value, solid standard equipment list, well-appointed cabin, strong performance from 2.0-litre turbo, impressive ride and handling
Room for improvement
Some minor quality issues, unappealing controls in MyLink system, dull cabin

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Holden logo28 Nov 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON

Overview

FEW will mourn the demise of the Captiva 5 that Holden put out to pasture early last year, but its loss left a huge gap in Holden’s Australian line-up.

The mid-size SUV segment is the second largest segment in Australia and is dominated by seriously strong offerings such as the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and a lot more, and Holden now has its own contender – the US-developed, Mexican-built Equinox.

Pricing is aggressive and the equipment levels are generous but it will take more than that to eat into the sales of the big guns. We dive in to see how the Equinox fares.

Drive impressions

Any mainstream car-maker not playing in the mid-size SUV segment is at a serious disadvantage.

Every one of the top ten brands have an offering in what is now the second biggest market segment, except Holden.

Its underwhelming Captiva 5 was dropped from the line-up early in 2016, leaving the seven-seat Captiva to battle it out in the large SUV segment, and leaving Holden in need of a rival to the wildly popular Mazda CX-5 and its ilk.

Late next year the Captiva will finally be replaced by the US-sourced Acadia seven-seater, further bolstering Holden’s SUV line-up.

It is arriving late to the party, but Holden has had time to do its homework on what will make a successful offering.

Buyers in this segment generally look for great packaging, value for money, a decent amount of standard safety and comfort gear, a versatile and comfortable cabin, and a comfortable ride.

Holden says it is targeting the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson with its new Equinox SUV, and it has already fired shots with an entry price of $27,990 plus on-road costs that beats every other base variant in the segment.

The Equinox is sharply designed, with a distinctive face that is in line with GM’s current corporate look, but its styling divided the journalists on the launch.

It is far less controversial in the cabin, with a smartly designed dash layout incorporating a 7.0- or 8.0-inch MyLink touchscreen atop the centre stack, sitting above the A/C controls.

Everything seems to function as it should, but the layout and design of the various functions housed in the 8.0-inch version of the touchscreen seem outdated already and it is not the easiest system to navigate. No doubt buyers would soon get used to the setup.

In the LS+, that is priced from $32,990 and adds a suite of active safety gear and driver aids to the base LS, the Equinox is fitted with an appealing denim-look cloth seat trim that adds a point of difference, and the two front seats are exceptionally comfortable and well bolstered.

The Equinox LS+ cabin is very monotone, with the dull-ish dark grey dominating below the window line. Only the cream-coloured roofliner and the odd lashings of chrome break up the darkness.

The soft-touch material on the panel above the glovebox feel thin and tacked on and the hard plastics of the door panels look and feel cheap.

The wheelarch intrudes slightly in the footwell of the front passenger area, particularly when the front seat is moved forward.

We also noticed minor fit and finish issues, with a thread from the roofliner hanging from where it meets the sunglasses holder, as well as a slightly protruding rubber seal between the tailgate and rear three-quarter panel.

These things are not uncommon on early production cars and are not enough to cause major concern about the Equinox’s overall build quality.

Thankfully there a lot of positives in the rest of the cabin.

The storage compartment between the driver and front passenger is massively deep and there are nifty storage spots throughout, including a tiny net in the passenger side footwell for phones and the like, and under-floor storage in the cargo area.

Depending on the model grade, there are up to four USB charge points, two 12v charge points and even a 230V universal power outlet in the rear.

It has rear air vents standard across the range, and the second row offers acres of headroom, more than adequate leg and knee room, and a comfortable pew.

The 60:40 split-fold seats can be lowered almost flat via the usual lever on the seatback, as well as via levers housed conveniently in the cargo area.

LTZ variants up have a hands-free power tailgate that is operated, like other similar systems, by employing a kicking motion under the middle-left side of the rear bumper, but the Holden system seems to work better than others we have tried.

Another cool feature is the ‘safety alert’ driver’s seat that vibrates to warn the driver of a potential obstruction, as it did when we reversed a little too close to a raised garden bed. It’s another point of difference for the Equinox, with other manufacturers using steering wheel vibrations or loud audible alerts to warn drivers.

LS variants are front-drive only and use a 127kW/275Nm 1.5-litre four-pot turbo-petrol unit that provides acceptable acceleration from a standing start without threatening any sportscars, but it is far from asthmatic.

Aside from engine roar when pushed hard and some light road noise, the Equinox cabin is well insulated and makes for a hushed environment.

It is surprisingly nimble through twisty sections of road, staying flat through bends and keeping bodyroll to a minimum.

Kudos to the Australian engineering team who had input into the suspension and power steering calibrations of the SUV and have worked hard to ensure the Equinox is fun to drive as well as functional.

Ride in the LS+ is smooth thanks in part to the 17-inch wheels and suspension tweaks, with the five-seater handling rougher surfaces admirably.

The front-drive LT uses an 188kW/353Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine and nine-speed auto – shared with the upcoming new-gen Commodore – and the power and torque increase is immediately clear once you take off.

Acceleration is brisk – proven during a late overtaking manoeuvre – and the engine note is much nicer than in the 1.5.

The ride is a bit jittery compared with the LS+, which is likely a result of the larger 18-inch wheels and a slightly different suspension calibration that relates to the wheel size, but it is by no means a deal breaker.

The steering feels slightly heavier in the 2.0-litre variant and the nine-speed transmission is a smooth operator, as we found during a recent Commodore development vehicle drive.

Oddly our brief time behind the wheel of an all-wheel-drive LTZ that also uses the 2.0-litre unit, but ups the wheels to 19 inches, had a slightly more compliant ride than the LT.

In terms of fuel economy, the LS+ recorded 8.5 litres per 100km, up on the 6.9L official claim, but the 2.0L LT consumed 8.6L and the LTZ AWD sipped 8.3L, with the official figure of 8.2L and 8.4L respectively. Not bad given how hard the press cars were pushed.

The Equinox faces some seriously impressive competition in the segment, and while its ride and handling is impressive, it is not quite at the same level as the benchmark Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan.

The same can be said of the cabin quality and comfort, but it is far from embarrassed in these areas, but it beats a number of its rivals when it comes to overall packaging, pricing and spec levels.

Holden finally has a real contender in Australia’s second largest market segment, and it follows the good form the company has shown in the past year with other solid offerings including the Spark and Astra, as well as the upcoming new-gen Commodore.

The Equinox should find its way onto more than a few shopping lists.

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