Holden is completing its transition to an import-only brand with the arrival of its first imported car since local manufacturing shutdown, the Equinox. The medium size SUV will compete to win buyers in the market’s fastest growing segment, giving it every chance to pip sales of the imported next-gen Commodore.
Sourced from GM’s US Chevrolet line-up, the Equinox isn’t the only recent car to enter Holden’s line-up from overseas with the brand bringing in cars such as the Astra hatchback and Spark city car while it was still putting together steel in Adelaide.
And like those cars, the Australian team has been involved in development of the third-generation Equinox from the start, including the undertaking of a comprehensive local tuning program to ensure the car better handles our climate and needs.
This means replacing US-spec winter tyres with grippier summer rubber, firming up the ride and insisting a more powerful power plant made the cut.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $27,990-$46,290 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 188kW/353Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 127kW/275Nm 1.5-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 9spd automatic, 6spd automatic, 6spd manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.7-8.2 l/100km
Of the two petrol engines available on launch (a diesel is coming early next year), the higher capacity unit is a standout compared to its mid-size SUV peers; a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 188kW and 353Nm of torque.
It’s the most power for money you can buy bar the new Toyota Camry V6 and comes mated exclusively to GM’s new nine-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0-litre powered models are also rated up to a class-leading two-tonne towing capacity.
Powering the LS and LS+ exclusively is a smaller 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo, however, it isn’t lacking for power either with 127kW and 275Nm on offer and a braked towing capacity of 1.5 tonne.
Available in either front or adaptive all-wheel drive, and boasting a host of new technology, the five-seat Equinox makes the outgoing Captiva feel archaic.
The mid-range front-wheel drive LT is tipped to be the volume seller, priced at $36,990 (plus on-road costs) and comes with the 2.0-litre turbo engine. But there’s also value in the LS range which starts from $29,990 with a six-speed automatic transmission, and a $2000 more affordable six-speed manual LS matches entry-level competitors but is unlikely to move many units.
All-wheel drive isn’t available until the top-spec LTZ and LTZ-V models which add extra features such as 19-inch alloys, adaptive all-wheel drive and premium interior appointments such as heated electric leather seats, Bose audio system and wireless phone charging.
The LS+, LT, LTZ and LTZ-V all feature the same ‘Holden Eye’ safety camera with features including AEB, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning, but the lack of a radar camera means even top-spec variants miss out on adaptive cruise control. And the base LS misses out on the safety features altogether.
- LS: Cloth trim, 7-inch infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights, manual air conditioning, rear view camera with park assist, 17-inch alloy wheels
- LS+: Cloth trim, AEB, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, follow distance indicator, forward collision alert, rear cross traffic alert, automatic high beam, leather steering wheel
- LT: Cloth trim, 8-inch infotainment with sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rear USB ports, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels
- LTZ: Leather-appointed seating, hands-free tailgate, rain sensing wipers, wireless phone charging, heated front and rear seats, DAB+, Bose sound system, 19-inch alloy wheels
- LTZ-V: Leather-appointed seating, panoramic sunroof, power passenger seat, ventilated front seats
- Cargo Volume: 846 litres
Despite being built on the smaller Astra hatchback D2XX platform, the Equinox is a much bigger beast inside and offers a spacious cabin that will win points with families.
The front and rear seats both offer generous leg space and ample headroom that caters for tall passengers. The fabric seats featured in both LS and LT models are more characterful over the LTZ’s leather trim, offering a diamond pattern finish with contrasting stitching, and prove comfortable over a long trip.
That said, the leather seats get creature comforts such as heating and ventilation (top-spec LTZ-V) - including rear row warming - and also have haptic feedback which will vibrate when forward vision alert predicts a collision may incur.
The boot is a particular highlight, with 846 litres of space on offer - almost 300 litres more than some rivals - and is easily accessed via a wide opening hatch with a deep loading width that will accommodate a large pram and sundry items. Storage is also ample with a large centre console bin, deep door pockets and hidden umbrella holders inside the front door panels.
Some of the other finishes inside – mostly the plastic used for the door panels and some of the dash – feel light and are of cheaper quality than others in the class. The LS grade also only get one USB port upfront for the more basic infotainment system whereas the other variants feature two front and two rear. The infotainment is also much nicer in the LT models up, though all models feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 188kW/353Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 127kW/275Nm 1.5-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: Nine-speed auto (2.0) six-speed auto, six-speed manual (1.5), front wheel drive, all-wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, four-link independent rear
- Brakes: 321mm vented front discs, 288mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electric power steering rack-mounted dual-pinion
- Towing Capacity: 2000kg (2.0) 1500kg (1.5) braked, 750kg unbraked
Just looking at the 2.0-litre turbo’s figures, the Equinox shapes up as an SUV with some serious performance - and it feels as much when on the road. Holden claims will sprint 0-100km/h near 7.0 seconds flat, which shows up most rivals, and unless driven with all-wheel drive engaged the torque easily chirps the front-wheels.
With the LT only available in front-wheel drive and with the more powerful 2.0-litre engine wheel spin is unavoidable when taking off with enthusiasm, but it remains poised and quick when on the move. The nine-speed auto is also a step-up over the six-speed auto (no manual was on test) and the extra three cogs provide a gear for nearly every situation.
An oddity was the shift selector that sits on-top of the automatic lever and is only practical for towing or low-speed use. Combined with a lack of paddle shifters in any model, it makes it hard to extract every last bit of juice from the bigger turbo power plant but it’s still fun to drive.
When matched to all-wheel drive, the larger engine is more stable while pushing along the extra weight effortlessly. The adaptive all-wheel drive system doesn't completely disconnect the drive shaft though, meaning a 0.2L/100km fuel consumption deficiency.
Stepping down to the 1.5-litre there’s no lack of grunt even if it feels less urgent. Quick traffic and overtaking manoeuvres are well catered for, but its six-speed automatic is less energetic to engage gears down low than the newer nine-speed unit.
The pièce de résistance for the US-sourced Equinox is Holden's local tuning that includes stiffer springs, bushes and re-tuned dampers that have improved ride and handling across the range. It seems Holden’s engineers are never short of tricks to improve the ride and handling of overseas sourced models.
All variants benefit from the changes and a firmer ride leads to accuracy when turning into corners and a composed body when changing direction. But the LTZ’s larger 19-inch alloys deliver a harsher ride that hits corrugations and bumps harder than the smaller-wheeled LT and LS, and tyre roar on coarse chip roads was noticeable in all models.
ANCAP Rating: The Holden Equinox is yet to be ANCAP rated.
Safety Features: All Equinox variants come with six airbags (dual front, curtain and side impact) electronic stability and traction control and seatbelt pretensioners.
The base LS model misses out on features such as AEB and lane keeping assist but LS+, LT, LTZ and LTZ-V come with AEB, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist and forward collision alert.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Holden says the Equinox is a game changer that will rival the segment's best SUVs. It compares the Equinox to the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson but it has a long road ahead to regain the sort of momentum the Commodore enjoyed for years.
However, if the trend towards buying SUVs over passenger cars continues, the Equinox is the right stepping stone for Holden's future.
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