THE 2018 HOLDEN EQUINOX IS VITAL FOR THE BRAND, replacing the Captiva SUV as Holden's alternative to Mazda's CX-5 and the Toyota RAV4.
Holden is in the midst of a historic transformation as the brand shifts from local manufacturing to a fully-imported lineup.
In 2018, Holden's showroom will look dramatically different to what is available now – the Australian-made Commodore and Cruze will be gone, and the new Astra hatch and sedan will be joined by SUVs vital for the brand's success.
One such SUV is the Equinox. Holden was keen to give TMR a glimpse into its future SUV range, inviting a handful of journalists to its Lang Lang proving ground for a preview drive of its upcoming line-up.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Engine/trans: 186kW/353Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 9sp automatic
Having confiscated cameras and taped over the lenses on our smartphones, engineers presented a pair of camoflague-clad crossovers.
Set to arrive locally in November, the Equinox has been subject to an extensive development program including a dedicated Australian suspension tune.
Local engineers honed its handling with new springs, shock absorbers and anti-roll bars before letting us loose in a pre-production model on Holden's hill road handling circuit.
Occupants in the front and rear rows benefit from heated seats, the powered tailgate offers hands-free operation and the split two-panel sunroof lends natural light to the rear without compromising headroom for large teens or adults.
Other toys include a wireless phone charging pad (making a total of nine charging points), a central infotainment screen with a reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and smart keys with a starter button.
And that's before you factor in a safety suite that features autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, self-parking systems and a driver's seat that rumbles with haptic feedback in league with auditory alarm and light-based warning systems to help prevent a crash.
ON THE ROAD
While it's hard to truly appreciate their work without a back-to-back drive in Chevrolet's sister model, the Mexican-built Equinox does an impressive job maintaining its composure at speed with four boofy blokes on board. The machine steers sweetly without quite matching the poise of Mazda's CX-5, and there's no shortage of grunt thanks to its turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine.
It's the most potent of three engines (there's also a 1.5-litre turbo petrol and 1.6-litre turbo diesel) offered in the Equinox, boasting 186kW and 353Nm outputs that bring effortless mumbo, even on steep hills. The downside is that the powerful turbo motor sounds more than a little whooshy in the cabin, with a noticeable hiss from its exhaust under load.
Driven in isolation, the Equinox also feels a little more raucous than best-in-class examples, with a touch more road noise than we'd like to see. While its suspension was impressive in its body control and shock absorption, our test example's underpinnings were a little boomy over trying bumps and the turbo motor's healthy outputs occasionally had the front-wheel-drive car's steering wheel squirming in our hands under heavy throttle.
A brisk but by no means reckless drive on a country road with steep hills also had smoke pouring from the brakes, which otherwise performed admirably.
We also tested the Equinox with straight-line acceleration and braking exercises that flattered its new engine before deftly tackling a slalom course that had the SUV lifting inside rear wheels off the ground like a hot hatch.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The core appeal of this class of car does not lie with its driving dynamics.
Spending time in the front and back of the 2018 Holden Equinox, we were impressed by the space and comfort afforded by its seats, along with little details such as twin USB charging points in the front and rear that join three 12-volt power outlets and one household power point – convenient stuff for families on the road.
It will be interesting to see what Holden can do to address potential drawbacks before the car goes on sale, and to see exactly how its price and features slot into a competitive segment.
Few Holden customers will have driven anything like it.