Holden Equinox a shining light

FAMILY-FRIENDLY: Holden's new Equinox will battle head-on in the sport utility vehicle market.

Twice a year the sun crosses the plane of the equator, which makes night and day of equal length all over Earth, the phenomenon is called Equinox. How General Motors landed on that name for a mid-size sport utility vehicle eludes me, but one has just been released in New Zealand under the Holden badge. It’s one of many new models that will land here in the next year or so as the company outsources models globally now that Holden’s Australian manufacturing industry has closed.

The Equinox lands here in a wide variety of models. It is a complete range starting from $35,990 and ending at $59,990, all with four-cylinder engines, and all turbocharged. Base models land with a 1.5-litre petrol unit, there is a 2-litre petrol and a 1.6-litre diesel.

I’m yet to drive the diesel, but I can report that even in base-model form the power plant is far from disgraced; it is a real honey and would probably be my choice if I was an Equinox buyer.

However, this evaluation focuses on the range-topping 2-litre LTZ-V petrol, which lists at $56,990 and is fully loaded with specification. It gets all the traditional SUV kit, but there are also many niceties that would please the South Island buyer – heated steering wheel and heated seats for the cold winters, dual sunroof, and cooling seats, which I made much use of during the pre-Christmas heatwave. Other major items include satellite navigation, cruise control, Bose premium audio, wireless mobile phone charging, hands-free tailgate and hill descent control. The latter works on four-wheel-drive, obviously, and while not all models have drive to all four wheels, the LTZ-V does, and it is usual SUV fare, not so much a device to tackle gnarly off-road stuff, but easily a mechanism so that cross-country tracks and trails can be conquered.

On the media launch for the Equinox, Holden New Zealand incorporated an adventurous route out of New Plymouth and taking in Whangamomona through the Forgotten World Highway. The washboard roads were a real test for the suspension and driveline of the Equinox, but even those without four-wheel-drive coped admirably. The vehicle is capable and honest, it does well under testing conditions and does so without compromise. Occupant comfort is high and the driveline mechanicals are well suited to tough conditions.

Holden rates the 2-litre model with 188kW and 353Nm – for interest’s sake, the 1.5 gets 127kW and 275Nm, reinforcing my comment earlier that it doesn’t miss out on much.

Quite obviously, the 2-litre doesn’t work quite as hard, and it has more than enough power. It will compete in the mid-size SUV market admirably. Against the stopwatch it will easily make a standstill to 100km/h sprint in 8.8sec.

More importantly, it is an engine that is gentle with fuel use. Holden claim an 8.4-litre per 100km (34mpg) combined cycle average. That sits well with the 9.8l/100km (29mpg) figure showing on the fuel usage readout during my time with the test car. Considering I drove more than 300km on my home patch, there was a lot of inner-city work along with my usual rural route. At 100km/h the instantaneous readout sits at 7l/100km (40mpg), the engine turning over slowly at an amazing 1400rpm. The latter figure attributed to a fairly tall top gear, and I guess when you have nine gears in the transmission that’s always going to be the case. The other benefit of a nine-speeder is the smooth and fluid way in which transmission is delivered. It’s almost impossible to pick shifts and determine which gear is actually allocated.

In all circumstances the Equinox feels feisty with wonderful engine response – that’s the beauty of having such forceful low down torque, the engine constantly feels eager.

I took the test car west to Hororata, and while there aren’t many corners on the roads heading to that township I felt the North Island experience provided more than ample opportunity to gauge the Equinox’s potential in the tight stuff. I can report it is a champion in terms of handling. The suspension has just the right compliance between cornering and comfort, and the steering is well loaded so that feedback to the driver is constant.

The LTZ-V gets wheels a couple of inches bigger than the entry-level variants, and that certainly helps with the feel of stability and accuracy.

The media launch and long drive of the LTZ-V at home certainly proved how well built the Mexico-sourced Equinox is. It is a car that adds more choice into the SUV market, and I’m betting it will do even better than the ever-popular Captiva, the vehicle it effectively replaces.

Price: Holden Equinox LTZ-V, $56,990

Length, 4652mm;
width, 1843mm;
height, 1697mm

Four-cylinder, four-wheel-drive, 1998cc, 188kW, 353Nm,
nine-speed automatic

0-100km/h, 8.8sec

Fuel usage: