The repo man looked nothing like I expected. In my mind these quaint folk who come to take back your car and other possessions when you default on a loan tend to be burly blokes, wearing chunky jewellery and over-sized leather jackets who speak in Cockney rhyming slang.
Ordinarily that would be a no brainer. After all, who wouldn’t want to swap their mid-spec anything for an upmarket something, especially when in this case the upgrade meant panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, electric front passenger’s seat and front seat coolers, among other temptations?
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The only issue was I’d promised Ponchard and Inwood I’d endure the travails of life in the lower-spec wagon for at least a month before upgrading. We agreed it made sense to sample the breadth of Holden’s new SUV range, to better understand how the other half live … without perfumed leather and electric tailgates.
So, I had been dressing down for the week and duly getting back to my motoring roots, manually adjusting my clammy, non-ventilated driver’s seat and closing my own tailgate among other chores. Felt like quite the pioneer, in fact.
But here was this well-dressed young whipper snapper from Holden HQ politely demanding the keys to the LT and dangling the tempting carrot of the full-fruit LTZ-V all-wheel drive. I mean, who was I to argue?
And that, dear reader, is why you’re reading a review of an Equinox LT, on pages graced by images of an LTZ-V.
As I explained to the Repo Man, I’d had the LT for such a short period that we hadn’t even got the beret wearers in the photographic department to put down their piccolo soy-lattes long enough to photograph it. Yet my pleas fell on deaf ears and I watched the LT disappear down the driveway from the comfort of the LTZ-V’s cabin. Rather nice in here, actually.
But I digress. Wheels is a mag for all and I can be a man of the people. Fortunately, I’d taken some notes if not photos of the Equinox LT before we were so rudely parted.
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First up, it stinks. That’s right, the mid-spec Equinox LT smells like the shop-floor of a Guangzhou plastics factory. To be fair, the overpowering petrochemical aroma did diminish over the short time we had it, but it was still unnecessarily prominent. Interestingly, there are no such issues with the leather-trimmed LTZ-V.
Second, it’s noticeably firmer in the ride than the Honda CR-V I ran before it, but does offer decently responsive steering and handling, and I drove it only one-up, so a load may take some of the edge off the otherwise impressive locally tuned suspension.
Third, its 188kW/353Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is exceptionally punchy and, teamed with an excellent nine-speed automatic, makes for an impressive drivetrain package, except…
Except, for the fact it’s channelling all that grunt to the 18-inch front hoops, which struggle at times for traction and offer regular wrist-borne reminders of where the torque is going. As Ponch said at Wheels COTY, you really need to opt for the AWD models if you choose the punchier of the Equinox’s two engines.
Fourth, at $36,990 plus $500 for premium paint, it makes a compelling value proposition; especially when you consider that it packs an impressive suite of safety features including AEB and forward-collision alert with head-up warning, lane-departure warning, six airbags and a raft of other safety items.
Fifth, you want a fifth? Sheesh, I only had the thing for five minutes. Tell you what, come back next month and I’ll tell you about my new wheels: the bright, shiny Equinox LTZ-V pictured here with electric everything and AWD that also happens to smell nice, okay?
By Ged Bulmer
The latter sits at the top of an Equinox range that starts at $27,990 for the LS manual, and steps up progressively through seven models to this, the $46,290 flagship.
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The entry-level LS and better-equipped LS+ make do with a 127kW/275Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol, hitched to a six-speed manual that drives the front hoops.
The rest of the Equinox range benefits from a punchier 2.0-litre turbo/nine-speed auto combo and the choice of front- (LT and LTZ) or adaptive all-wheel drive (LTZ and LTZ-V). All-paw traction costs $4300 as an option on the LTZ, but comes standard on ‘our’ LTZ-V.
Thus equipped, the top-spec Equinox presents with a highly competitive drivetrain that blows away key rivals like the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V and Nissan X-Trail when it comes to power and torque.
With 188kW/353Nm on tap, the LTZ-V isn’t only the most powerful SUV in its class but the quickest too, with its sharp shifting nine-speed auto helping it hit 100km/h in 7.3sec.
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That’s a good start and it’s backed by an impressive list of standard equipment designed to turn the heads and open the wallets of consumers who probably don’t yet know what an Equinox is, let alone have it on their shopping list.
For the record, it’s either of the two points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator intersects the ecliptic… Got it? Good.
For anyone at that stage in their new car journey, it’s worth investigating the entire Equinox range, since even the base LS has 17-inch alloys, six airbags, rear camera and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The latter could, of course, be dead handy if the sundial packs it in.
For buyers more safety than budget conscious, the $32,990 LS+ adds a suite of active safety features including AEB, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Alert, Blind Spot detection, Rear Cross Traffic alert, and a Safety Alert driver’s seat (see above).
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The trend continues up and through the range, until you arrive at the seriously well-kitted LTZ-V, which adds goodies like 19-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch screen, panoramic sunroof, heated/cooled leather seats, power tailgate, wireless phone charging, Bose premium audio and more.
It’s a competitive package, yet it’s clear Holden has its work cut out to increase its share in this saturated segment, which currently sits at just two percent.
In coming weeks our patented Bulmer Family Torture Test will reveal if the Equinox has what it takes.
By Ged Bulmer
SOMETIMES progress isn’t always, well, progress. Take the example of the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). It’s been with us in one form or another for more than 120 years, but only really took
off with Aussies in the late ’80s and early ’90s, thanks to enthusiastic adoption by certain Japanese brands.
Most Japanese car makers today still sell CVT-equipped vehicles, typically as their chosen alternative to the ‘conventional’ torque-converter automatic. The slush-box or ‘slusher’ is far more familiar to Australian motorists, as it’s been the preferred two-pedal option for much of our modern motoring history.
This is due in no small part to GM having had such a prominent presence in our market via Holden and, by extension, to the fact it was GM’s Cadillac and Oldsmobile divisions that first introduced the automatic transmission to mass-produced cars in 1940.
Fast forward to 2018 and despite being a relative newcomer to this market, the CVT is perceived in some quarters as the cleaner, greener and more technically sophisticated option. Meanwhile, the ‘humble’ auto is seen as a bit old-school.
However, having just spent a few days with a CVT-equipped Japanese-brand SUV, I’m grateful GM opted to fit our Equinox with a particularly good automatic instead. In my view, the experience of driving CVT-equipped vehicles remains almost universally disappointing; whereas the Equinox’s excellent nine-speed automatic is anything but.
Dubbed the 9T50 in GM’s internal code, this is an automatic that responds quickly and decisively to throttle inputs, shifting effortlessly up and down its well-spaced gear ratios. Crucially, it does so without
the mid-range favouritism and droning engine note that characterises some of its CVT-equipped rivals.
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Of course, having six, seven, eight or nine forward ratios is academic if the engine doesn’t have the grunt to effectively pull those gears, but that’s not an issue with the Equinox’s punchy 188kW/353Nm 2.0-litre four pot.
Within the 9T50’s casing, gears eight and nine are overdriven, while seventh is direct drive. In some ’boxes such overdriven gears are rarely used, unless driving at high speed in open-road conditions, but the Equinox makes extensive use of its ninth cog.
GM engineers are on record as saying the ’box was designed to ensure the tallest gear delivered go and not just show, and that it can shift from any gear to any other gear (third to fifth for instance), depending on driver inputs.
The wider spread of ratios also means smaller steps between the lower gears, reducing shift shock and offering smoother operation. 9T50 has been optimised for stop-start as well, with an accumulator that stores pressure so the first clutch gets pressure as soon as the engine fires up, ensuring a consistently smooth step-off.
I’ll take that every time over a CVT’s dullard drone.
By Ged Bulmer
CARS are becoming smarter, automatically doing more of the things we once regarded as being part of basic driving competency. So I can’t but wonder: will we, via some sort of devolution, lose the ability to do those simple things at all?
It was English naturalist Charles Darwin who advanced the theory of biological evolution, declaring that species develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that are essential to survival. So surely it can go the other way?
Take the stretch, grip and pull manoeuvre long required to close an SUV tailgate. On a growing number of models this has been replaced by the press of a button and the near silent, but far less dramatic whir of an electric motor, gently closing that which we once slammed with gusto.
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In the case of the Equinox, this feat can also be performed with a wave of your plate-of-meat beneath the rear bumper to activate a sometimes elusive sensor, or with a press on the key fob.
Reversing cameras are another innovation that surely save lives and a great many bumpers, but which we have quickly become dependent on. Could it be that over the millennia this may lead drivers to develop a frog-like inability to turn our necks? Ribbit!
I’m ancient enough to have been schooled in the near-forgotten art of reversing using the car’s mirrors; today I can simply select reverse and look to the Equinox’s excellent 8.0-inch colour touchscreen for guidance.
On the subject, I cycle through a regular array of test vehicles other than the Equinox and have recently been reminded of the surprisingly poor clarity in anything other than optimal light from reversing cameras in some premium German marques.
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Not so the Equinox, which is exemplary in this regard, its camera and screen combo providing crystal-clear reversing vision of my tricky, dog-leg driveway at any time of the day or night. It’s so good I can spot a southern banjo frog at 50 paces, and swerve in time to avoid the little fellah.
What’s not so optimal, however, is the Holden’s turning circle, which at 12.7m is one of the worst in its class, and a good 1.7m bigger than Mazda’s rival CX-5. Quite why it’s so much larger when the basic configuration of front struts, A-arms and anti-roll bars is similar remains an engineering mystery.
Fortunately, we can say it ain’t so in most other conditions, where the LTZ’s tactile leather-trimmed wheel and consistently weighted electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering endow it with above average steering qualities for a mid-size SUV.
Which only goes to show that while drivers and their driving skills may be headed back to the primordial swamp, even something as oft-maligned as the SUV can evolve to a higher place.
By Ged Bulmer
At the end of an extended test period with any car the question must inevitably be: ‘would you buy one?’
So to Holden’s Equinox, GM’s flag-bearer in the mid-size SUV class, and a vehicle designed to steal market share from a list of competitors as long as your arm and growing at a pace.
The Equinox arrived on our shores in late 2017 as an unheralded new model, bearing a name plate no-one knew or recognised, to compete in a segment where Holden’s previous offering had been the unloved Captiva.
What’s more, it launched into a pall of negativity surrounding Holden, thanks to the impending end of local manufacturing and legitimate questions about the brand’s future.
One year on, Holden is still here and looks to have survived its annus horribilis, though not without some collateral damage, and the Equinox has established a vital toe-hold in the SUV-dominated Aussie market.
The Holden’s 2.1 percent market share places it roughly mid-field in a crowded 23-car category, with plenty of work to do to better its nearest rival, the Ford Escape on 3.5 percent share.
Which means precisely what if you’re considering buying one? Simply, that popular cars tend to have better resale value on the used-car market. Industry experts Glasses Guide reckons the Equinox will be good for circa 55 percent of its purchase price after three years, which is about five percent off the pace of the similarly priced and equipped Mazda CX-5 Akera.
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On the plus side, Holden’s recent move to an unlimited five-year warranty brings it towards the top of the class in this regard, with only Kia and Mitsubishi offering longer warranties. That’s great peace of mind for any new-car owner and shows up rivals like the VW Tiguan.
In this top-spec LT-Z V trim, the Equinox also comes terrifically well appointed, with an impressive suite of safety and convenience features that makes it at least the equal, if not better, than the best-in-class.
Here we’re talking goodies like 19-inch alloys, 8.0-inch touchscreen, panoramic sunroof, heated/cooled leather seats, power tailgate, wireless phone charging, and Bose premium audio among others.
Equinox doesn’t skimp on the safety kit either, with six airbags, AEB, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, forward-collision alert, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and a safety-alert vibrating driver’s seat, to name a few notable features.
Car-makers sometimes throw such extra fruit at a car to mask a second-rate powertrain, but that’s not the case here, with the 188kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder outgunning pretty much all its rivals.
The engine is mated to an impressive nine-speed automatic, which is two or three more cogs than rivals offer, delivering tangible benefits in terms of responsiveness and fuel consumption.
Holden’s local chassis development work means the Equinox ranks above-average for dynamics, its confident handling combined with an impressive drivetrain making it one of the more rewarding mid-size SUVs to steer.
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One slight downside to this dynamic discipline is the fact the Equinox, as equipped here with 19-inch alloys, is firmer than some rivals. The Holden’s 12.7m turning circle is also poor, tracing a 1.7m wider arc than the Mazda CX-5.
Of course, interior space is the first and often the final frontier in any SUV race and here the Equinox offers generous front and rear seat accommodation, and a decent-sized luggage bay that’s flat and easily accessed via an electronic tailgate.
So, to the burning question: ‘would you buy one?’ For me, the answer must remain equivocal, because there are so many factors specific to individual buyers. However, I can say unequivocally that the Equinox should be on your shopping list.
When measured against its mid-sized SUV rivals it’s right on the money in a number of key disciplines, and ahead in several others. Plus, right now Holden is offering a $500 incentive for anyone who tests its wares and then buys a rival brand. That sounds to me like there’s nothing to lose by test driving the Equinox, as we just have, although in our case the cheque is most definitely not in the mail.