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First Drive: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Bowtie’s compact crossover gets in shape

GREENVILLE, South Carolina — After a seven-year run, the second-generation Chevy Equinox was due for retirement. Its replacement, the third-generation 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, was fittingly unveiled last September on the date of the fall equinox. After driving the new compact crossover through the Carolinas, we're convinced that the 2018 Equinox is the strong offering it needed to be to succeed in its hyper-competitive segment.

The styling of the new Equinox is not as sharp as that of the new Mazda CX-5 or as funky as the Honda CR-V's, but it's pleasant in a neutral way, yanking stylistic cues from the Cruze and Malibu. It's smaller than the outgoing crossover, its wheelbase shrinking by a not-insignificant 5.2 inches and overall length dropping by 4.7 inches. Height drops down by 0.9 inch, lending a more slippery aerodynamic profile. Thanks to the daintier proportions and the new D2XX platform, which is shared with the Buick Envision and 2018 GMC Terrain, among others, Chevy was also able to slice off around 400 pounds of weight.

There are three new powertrains up for grabs, most notable among them being the new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that serves as the base engine, which was the only one we were able to sample. This is one of the best base engines in the segment, returning 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque. It's managed by a six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to either the front or all four wheels. Need more power? Wait for either the 2.0-liter turbo-four or 1.6-liter turbo-diesel, which are coming later this year.

On the road, the 1.5-liter works harder to motivate the heavier crossover than it does in the Malibu, but it remained impressively smooth and strong when pushed. Though small, the turbocharged engine provided great torque, only to be let down by the somewhat lazy six-speed. It's not a dealbreaker, we just wish it wasn't so eager to settle down so quickly into a higher gear.

While we cruised the fabulous Blue Ridge Parkway, the Equinox continued to impress. Road and wind noise was kept to a minimum and the chassis was confident and capable. It's not as dynamically thrilling as the Mazda CX-5 or perhaps even the CR-V, but it remained composed through some fairly tight curves. We particularly took notice of the AWD version's greater stability through the Parkway versus that of the front-wheel-drive variant. The FWD Equinox felt moderately quicker than the AWD variant, however.

When we slowed down and drove like a regular Equinox buyer, we had time to enjoy the redesigned cabin. Like the exterior design, the inside is plucked from other Chevrolet models. This isn't a bad thing, as it does away with the rough plastic-fantastic Equinox interior of yore. Plastic is still used liberally, but there's a clear move toward softer touch and lower impact materials.

The infotainment and gauge cluster tech gets a much-needed overhaul as well, now utilizing the latest MyLink OS. To keep gadgets from running out of juice, there's an impressive choice of six USB outlets, split between the front and the rear of the car. You'll be happy for the extra outlets — each Equinox arrives standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Remember the exterior shrinkage? Don't fret — interior cargo volume remains nearly the same, with 63.5 cubic feet on tap. Rear passengers lose the ability to slide the seats forward and backward, but are now able to recline their row.

The 2018 Equinox can be had under $25,000, on-par with its competitors, but if you kit yours out with leather, safety systems, and the amenity-focused Premier package, the prices can surge upwards of $35,000, and that's without upgrading the engine, That said, for those who are willing to pay the slight premium, the Equinox delivers a great package.

Although Chevy didn't necessarily "need" to redesign the Equinox, as it still sold a whopping 242,000 units in 2016, we're thankful they did. The 2018 Equinox feels well-planned and executed. It's quiet, nice to drive, and is one of the stronger offerings in the compact SUV segment. With the all-new model now arriving in showrooms, don't be surprised to see that whopper get even bigger and for the Equinox to cement its position as GM's second-best selling model.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox Specifications

PRICE $24,475 (base)
ENGINE 1.5L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/170 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 203 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 24-26/30-32 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 183.1 x 72.6 x 65.4 in
WHEELBASE 107.3 in
WEIGHT 3,327 lb (FWD)
0-60 MPH N/A