Equinox, and Chevy, can avoid criticism

John Gilbert

The 2020 Chevrolet Equinox strikes a streamlined pose. Photo credits: John Gilbert
The 2020 Chevrolet Equinox strikes a streamlined pose. Photo credits: John Gilbert

Where were you when the dreaded Coronavirus struck to foul up our springtime of 2020? I was just getting ready to enjoy the start of the NCHC college hockey playoffs, with the University of Minnesota Duluth prepared to start a bid for its third straight NCAA title. I also had just finished a week-long road test with a 2020 Chevrolet Equinox Premier, a nicely styled and nicely sized SUV that is aimed at challenging the best of the compact SUVs — the RAV4, CR-V, Escape, Rogue, Cherokee, Tucson, Forester, and — my favorite — the Mazda CX-5.

Several things happened between my test drive term and the actual writing of this review. First, I was very impressed with everything about the Equinox, and that caught me by surprise, because Chevrolet has seemed to fade away from competing with the best of the rest. Second, I had read a couple review in car magazines, and my impressions of the vehicle and those test reports is that those magazines were too harsh in their reviews of the Equinox.

Another thing that happened was that the Federal Government has been unfairly harsh — at least its “Fearless Leader” -- in dealings with General Motors, and GM chief Mary Barra seems to have become one of President Trump’s favorite targets for his hit-and-run verbal cheap-shots. The most recent one came after last weekend, when the Coronavirus was tightening its deadly grip on all corners of the U.S., and Trump was live on television saying that Barra was being resistant to help when the nation needed GM.He singled her out to say he had experienced problems "with Mary."

That struck me as curious, because last week I had read an account of how GM had worked out a partnership with Ventec Life Systems, a small company that makes the ventilators so vital to helping afflicted patients keep breathing. GM engineers collaborated with Ventec on how they could convert a GM plant in Kokomo where they could help Ventec make 10 times more than the 200 ventilators it normally makes each month, So I was surprised when Trump took his private little stage on Friday, March 27, 2020 and said he had activated an emergency plan that would force GM to help.

To its credit, GM and Ventec officials made the judicious move and didn’t comment on the accusation, or on the suggestion that Trump should get credit for getting General Motors to start doing what it had already been doing around the clock for most of a week.

For what it’s worth, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also have been helping the cause. Ford, for example, has partnered with Minnesota’s 3M and respirator-maker GE Healthcare to simplify the process by which GE Healthcare can greatly increase its production of respirators, aiming at 100,000 per week.

New-age Chevy family resemblance most notable on Eqjuinoz grille.
New-age Chevy family resemblance most notable on Eqjuinoz grille.

Meanwhile, back out on the road, I found the Equinox a far more worthy family hauler than a Motor Trend review of it would indicate. Those lead-foots at the car magazines tend to pound cars much harder than normal consumers might, so when they ripped the Equinox for not accelerating like a dragster or cornering like a Miata, I took it with a grain of salsa. I tend to assess cars for their target audience.

In testing a vehicle’s handling, one driver’s too-soft swaying is another driver’s comfortable ride, just like one driver’s firm and solid cornering might be another’s harsh and uncomfortable ride. The Equinox came in eighth and last in the Motor Trend comparison, but Chevrolet needn’t feel too bad; the magazine didn’t even bother to include a Ford Escape — another compact SUV I like a lot. In the test, the CR-V was first, the Mazda CX-5 second,. and the Equinox last..

Without question, the Equinox is no race car, although it is possible my test-vehicle, which had the optional Premier top-of-the-line package, was far better equipped to corner and display directional stability than the one Motor Trend got. The leather seats, lane-departure alert, Landens-keep assist, rear-park assist and camera, heated and ventilated front buckets, heated steering wheel and adaptive cruise control with camera aid are significant upgrades for a loaded, as-tested sticker of $38,545.

Power in the test Equinox came from Chevrolet’s new-age 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with a smooth-shifting 9-speed automatic transmission, while many competitors have a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that tends to drone with frustration. The LED head and tail lights and the keyless start system are all nice features sometimes rare on compact SUVs.

Each time I walked up to the Equinox, I was impressed by its styling, with its swept-back lines that blend the rear pillar into the rear of the vehicle. and I think it stands out from the pack because of that.

Stylish leather seats and instrument layout adorns Equinox interior.
Stylish leather seats and instrument layout adorns Equinox interior.

Inside, the materials are not all cushy and luxurious, but they are stylish and functional. Some may find them too hard; I found them durable, not unpleasant. Without having the lower-scale models for comparison, I don't know how much of an upgrade the Premier represents, but I like it.
 
Chevy also makes the Traverse, which is a little bigger, but very similarly styled, with a V6 for power and three rows of seats. So it becomes your choice, if you want and need a larger vehicle with a larger engine, or can get by with the agility of the smaller Equinox.

It was perfect timing that put the Equinox Premier with its push-button activated all-wheel drive into my hands at the precise time when it seemed that General Motors and Chevrolet needed and deserved some defending from unfair criticism from the White House, coupled with my impressions of the vehicle itself.

It has been a Chevrolet tradition when it makes cars to offer a loaded, top-of-the-line model, a mid-range model for features and expense, and a less-expensive bargain model that may be without a lot of appreciated features. Other companies cut corners similarly, but nobody else is guilty of stripping the desired value items from its less-expensive models. That’s one area where the Japanese, Germans and Koreans are far ahead.

Sleek rear quarter view sends Equinox off down the road.
Sleek rear quarter view sends Equinox off down the road.

But this vehicle gives Chevrolet a worthy competitor in the compact SUV field, and one that might be favored by everyday drivers. Just remember, it all comes down to a driver’s opinion, and keep in mind that not all compact SUVs are created Equinox-ly.