When you’re driving to the home of the Moon Pie, you need something that boasts American pride and craftsmanship, and that’s what I got from Chevy for a rare trip to Chattanooga, Tenn.
Up rolled a Cajun Red 2019 Chevrolet Equinox and I promptly packed it down for a roughly 1,600-mile roundtrip to Moon Pie central. The gooey s’mores-like treat was a bonus I hadn’t counted on. My goal was hanging with a couple thousand of my plastic modeling friends for the International Plastic Modelers Society’s national convention in Nooga.
There were plenty of cool cars (aircraft, armor, sci-fi, etc.) on the tables at the event too, plus we passed a gaggle of 1955-57 Chevys going each way to a big Chevy shindig in Bowling Green, Ky., home of the Corvette Museum and assembly plant.
The ride down and back was an easy one in the Equinox, similar wheels to the Cadillac CT4 I’d driven the week before, just not as luxurious. The Equinox touts the same engine and transmission, both of which are among General Motors’ best.
A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder creates 252 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque while being harnessed to a silky smooth 9-speed automatic in the Equinox. Great power and superb shifts. Never felt any stress powering up and around the Tennessee mountains as we wound our way into Chattanooga.
There is a slight turbo lag, but nothing major. I more noticed a lag when the smart cruise control kicked out after slower traffic had slowed our pace. Then the cruise control took a while to boost the power again to return the SUV to cruising speeds. You get used to it.
Handling is good too with a light and easy feel to the wheel and good turn-in for corners and a help when parking. At highway speeds in the mountains there was a bit of body lean in sweeping turns, but again, easy to control and anticipate. Noticed it mostly on downhills as we were hustling to stay ahead of charging semis.
Ride is decent too, not as controlled and cushioned as in the XT4 to be sure. There’s a certain thumping of the shocks on rough city streets, but severe jolts are not passed along to the occupants. On the highway the ride was quite comfortable, especially the stretch from Louisville south as the pavement is soooo much better than in Wisconsin and Indiana. Ironically, gas costs less in Kentucky and Tennessee too.
All-wheel-drive also came on the tested Premium model, the top-level Equinox. That’s easily engaged and gives the Chevy better footing in the rain, and will assist in our snowy winters too. AWD is available for $1,700 extra on the top three trim levels, but not the base L model.
While on the subject of differences, Equinox is a rarity in the small SUV market because it offers three engine choices. This top-level’s turbo 2.0-liter is the horsiest, a full 80 horses stronger than the base’s 1.5-liter turbo I4. But if gas mileage is your prime desire, there’s also a 1.6-liter I4 turbo diesel that gets nearly 40 mpg. It churns out just 137 horsepower, but a strong 240 lb.-ft. of torque.
Inside, the Equinox is attractive and functional. The Premium trim comes standard with leather seats and heated front seats, plus a larger touchscreen at 8 inches, satellite radio, and a power hatch. But there were other goodies here.
First, the black leather seats themselves are well shaped and were easy to ride in on the trip, creating little thigh or hip fatigue. They are a bit firm though, especially after riding in the Cadillac’s soft leather seats the week before and in a Nissan Pathfinder (more on that next week) the week after. Seats here are perforated and had contrasting stitching while there was chrome trim around the air vents, shifter, screen and steering wheel hub. That chrome though is an eyeball melter in bright southern sun conditions. A matte finish would be much better.
Chevy though delivers a good looking dash and one that’s easy to figure out while driving, no mystery knobs or buttons that you must guess at while stabbing at them with your index finger. The 8-inch touchscreen is perfect for viewing and adjusting, while a 7-incher is standard on Equinox.
Below the stack is a wireless phone charger, something that wasn’t in the Cadillac. Plus there are USB plugs for other phones and devices.
The front seats also are heated in the Premium, but a $2,145 confidence and convenience package added a heated wheel and heated outboard rear seats, plus cooled front seats, a boon when driving further south where the interior absorbs higher temps and humidity.
Inside I had but one serious complaint. The seatbelts were not height adjustable, which might have saved my left shoulder a bit of tension if I could have lowered the belt’s angle. Not a big deal, but there also was no stop/start control override. Most models now include a button to allow a driver to turn that off to preserve air conditioning in hot weather, or heat in cold.
As usual there were plenty of safety features on the Equinox, but surprisingly most were optional, and are only available on the LT and Premium trim levels. The above option package included forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, pedestrian recognition and braking, smart cruise control, auto high beams, and HD surround vision.
Blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, parking assist and a backup camera are standard. Chevy also offers a teen driver system that allows parents to check their teen’s driving habits and limit some automotive performance functions.
For the record this Premium model starts at $36,895, including delivery, a competitive price tag. With options this one hit $40,930. A base L model with front-wheel drive starts at a modest $24,795, and an LT at $26,795. That’s the first model where you can also get AWD. An LS model lists at $28,095 and may be the best value. It adds an 8-way power driver’s seat, tinted rear glass, satellite radio, high-intensity lights and a color driver’s control pod.
The tested turbo 2.0-liter also prefers premium fuel, which can get pricey. But it runs fine on regular, according to my tests. I also was happy with fuel economy, getting anywhere from 25.5 miles per gallon in the mountains to 30.4 mpg when traversing flat Indiana and southern Wisconsin. The EPA rates this version at 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
Naturally the best part of any trip though is seeing new sights and eating different food. So for us it was mountains and horse farms, plus the likes of Nervous Charlie’s Fireworks and of course a couple Moon Pies for desert after a heaping helping of barbecue.
FAST STATS: 2019 Chevrolet Equinox Premier AWD
Hits: Good power and handling, AWD, wireless phone charger, big sunroof, heated steering wheel, heat/cool front seats, heated rears, power hatch, well laid out dash and comfortably shaped seats.
Misses: Seatbelts not height adjustable, prefers premium fuel, no stop/start override, glare off interior chrome trim can be distracting, seat cushions a bit firm.
Made in: Ingersoll, Ont.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 252 horsepower
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Weight: 3,665 lbs.
Length: 183.1 in.
Wheelbase: 107.3 in.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 25.5-30.4 (tested)
Base Price: $36,895 (includes delivery)
Confidence & convenience package II (8-way power passenger seat, ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, heated steering wheel, low-speed forward auto. braking, forward collision alert, following distance indicator, safety alert seat, auto. high beam, smart cruise control camera, stop & go, front pedestrian braking, HD surround vision), $2,145
Power sunroof, $1,495
Cajun red paint, $395
Test vehicle: $40,930
Sources: Chevrolet, kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage