Mountain Wheels: Chevy Equinox makes for good company on 2,000 miles of I-70
2015 Chevrolet Equinox FWD 1LT
MSRP: $26,170; As tested: $27,805
Powertrain: 182-HP 2.4-liter four-cylinder, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 26 combined MPG (22 city, 32 highway)
While many folks deride the Eisenhower Interstate System as being the root cause of a completely generic America, if you’ve got a lot of ground to cover and a short time to do it, you owe a debt to dear old Ike.
And so when logistics called for me to travel from the Mid-Atlantic to the greater Denver area in not much more than a weekend’s driving time, I-70 westbound was my home away from home.
More specifically, a 2015 Chevrolet Equinox on that long, long ribbon of pavement, stretching from Baltimore, Maryland, to (had I made the whole trip) the I-15 junction at Cove Fort, which many of you road-trippers know so well.
Plus a lot of the Midwest, in between. A whole lot.
To this end, the Equinox was good company, an amazingly commodious and hardy compact SUV that served as a pleasant perch to check out the many miles of road. Efficiently, too — thanks to its four-cylinder Ecotec 2.4 liter DOHC engine and direct injection, I got a healthy 27.7 miles per gallon over a 2,000-mile long trip.
The 187.8-inch-long Equinox may not have the family hauling, third-row girth of Chevrolet’s larger SUV family — the mid-sized Traverse or the uber-gigantic Tahoe or Suburban — but its reasonable size and ease of use also made it a good traveler, and easy enough to park in underground garages. Where we nervous travelers with blazing out-of-state plates like to back up against a wall to help protect all of our earthly belongings — something done pretty easily with the help of the wide-view backup camera.
My only quibble — and one that got just a little exacerbated with some 37 hours of combined driving in the car — is that the Equinox’s six-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission is geared perhaps just a little too low for the vehicle’s now breezy character, its choices seeming to harken back to the days when a 3.6-liter V6 was an option.
I got a tremendous amount of occasionally groaning kickdown into overdrive, even while starting the trip on the New Jersey Turnpike, unladen. The ascent into what you’d think were the flat plains of Kansas (actually a 3,500 foot rise in elevation, over the course of 500 miles) also left the Equinox fighting it out between fifth and sixth gears for a long, long stretch.
The upside to all of this is that you can rather handily control those choices yourself with a click of the gear lever into Manual mode and a thumb-activated button to help out when the car needs prompting.
Minus the load of life belongings I had, entirely filling all 63.7 cubic feet of the behind-seat space, I’m guessing you’ll find a smoother shifting experience. And in regular use, the 182 horsepower feels plentiful, except if you find yourself in a spot where 85 MPH is the new normal — the Kansas Turnpike, for instance. Which also caused fuel economy to plummet, predictably.
Suspension is certainly more car-like than the bigger Chevy SUVs and handling easy and precise, with ample braking power, even with the car a bit heavily loaded.
Equinox makes much of its case on its relatively inexpensive status — the front-wheel-drive, 1LT trim model I drove is just $26,170, out of the box. I’d have appreciated a full navigation system during my many meandering miles, but the alternative was pretty good.
That is, a color touchscreen radio with OnStar — make the call and a representative sends you directions to Dayton, Ohio, which are downloaded and then appear as verbal cues and in the center instrument digital display.
Those turned out to be pretty accurate (my routing through Pennsylvania, maybe a bit debatable compared to Google Earth’s choices on a smartphone), although you have to start from scratch if you decide to modify your route.
And Direction Voice Lady, as you may call her, is very invasive when you do stray from the route, so be sure to make a compelling case for steering away from her guidance, or you will really hear about it.
Seriously, however, if the touchscreen radio can still tell me updated weather, local gas prices and movie times, how difficult is it to get navigation into that brainy radio head unit? Those were the things I pondered as Indiana turned into Illinois, and then Missouri, and suddenly noticed a CD slot I had not noticed before. That and the utility of a shade over the top of the whole affair; the same not so for the shiny instrument cluster, which gets blinded out when the sun is positioned directly above the car.
Had I carried four passengers, which you could, Chevrolet’s new 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot could also help keep them satiated with internally streamed data.
Equinox is set up for comfort, and with perforated, mesh-styled cloth seating — power adjustable, a $625 option that also includes a remote starter — the various extremes in temperature did not produce those much feared long-distance back sweats. Air conditioning is also good; the whole audio and climate control system laid out in a style on the center console that makes perfect sense to previous Chevrolet owners, but is certainly a one-of-a-kind presentation and layout compared with the larger auto world.
In the back, the MultiFlex seating arrangement means you can slide that 60/40 rear seat a good 8 inches for some very impressive rear leg room, or skootch up and load even more stuff in the back. The rear seating does not entirely fold flat, however, requiring long, flat cargo to be loaded at a bit of an angle.
Equinox’s design is certainly fully Chevrolet Modern, from the rounded, chrome-infused headlamps and chrome-edged, Lego block-styled grille to an overall roundness that’s in sharp contrast to the slab-sided and closely interrelated GMC Terrain.
The reverse-curved rear glass is an interesting touch, as is the texturized rear bumper and the classic, oversized reverse lamps in the middle of the double stack of brake lamps — lights that come on when you remote unlock the vehicle.
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