Test Drive

2018 Chevrolet Equinox Diesel Review: The High Mileage Anti-Hybrid

You don't need to lug around electric motors and batteries to be efficient.

39 miles per gallon. I want you to think about that number for just one moment as you attempt to conjure up in your mind all the vehicles sold in America that can pull off that mileage figure on the highway. You've likely imagined a long list of traditional and plug-in hybrids commingling with ultra-efficient compact gasoline cars, nary a crossover or SUV in sight. So what do American families buy in a segment they so desperately crave? There are only three crossovers that can achieve such economical feats. This is one of them: the 2018 Chevy Equinox.

All-new for 2018, the Chevrolet Equinox is the brand's second best-selling model after the Silverado, which reflects its importance to General Motors. In the Equinox's most recent past, it was motivated by a choice of 2.4-liter four-cylinder or 3.6-liter V6 engines, both of which delivered fuel economy somewhere between a thirsty Philadelphia Eagles fan and that of Gregor Clegane at Oktoberfest. So GM went to work on its bread-and-butter crossover to make it a more efficient runner. The result? The first-ever Equinox Diesel powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged oil-burner producing 137 horsepower, 240 lb-ft of torque, and that highway fuel economy rating of 39 mpg. (Equinox's twin, the GMC Terrain, sports the same rating.)

But its efficiency shouldn't be a surprise. After all, diesels have been racking up mileage accolades for years. The truly surprising aspect of this diesel Equinox is that it exists at all. In the aftermath of Volkswagen's Dieselgate scandal, journalists began immediately predicting the downfall of diesel in America, just as Oldsmobile's foray into compression ignition had done three decades prior. Instead, numerous automakers, including General Motors, doubled down on the fuel as a way to boost fleet-wide fuel economy and meet what they thought were going to be more stringent future Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

The new diesel Equinox is a product of that thought process. A more level playing field, free of a consummate cheater, probably aided GM in its diesel quest, too. Anyway, on to our tester: GM furnished us with a 2018 Chevrolet Equinox Diesel with front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission in Premier trim. For those of you who haven't kept up with Chevrolet's trim structure over the last couple of years, Premier has supplanted LTZ as the top trim for the brand's models, though the other L, LS, and LT trimlines remain. With its optional Cajun Red Tintcoat paint (a $395 upgrade), our Equinox arrived with a sticker of $34,390 including its $995 destination charge.

For that thirty-five large, you get standard heated leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an eight-way driver seat, dual-zone climate control, OnStar with 4G wi-fi hotspot, a wireless charging pad (that doesn't charge the newest iPhones, I learned), Chevrolet MyLink infotainment on an 8-inch touchscreen display, and a whole host of other comfort items. In all, it isn't bad value, but the Equinox does lack key features one would expect of a top-trim model—like a sunroof and navigation. Not to beat a dead horse, but the new 'Nox blew me away with its real-world fuel economy. It returned 36 mpg on a 32 mpg combined rating. For comparison, my 1.0-liter Fiesta regularly returns 30 mpg.

The newest Chevy family mobile doesn't skimp on off-the-line performance to dish out segment-besting fuel economy, either. Its 137 rated horsepower won't win any dyno contests, but the Equinox's 240 lb-ft of torque is what you feel as you launch yourself forth from a standing stop. In-town merging is a breeze with that much twist on tap, and it's delivered without the typical turbo lag expected from a small-displacement turbodiesel. On the highway, the 'Nox didn't run out of breath as it executed passing maneuvers with the ease of its V6-powered predecessor. Even the six-speed automatic was a pleasant companion to the compression-ignition mill, though that detail should come as no surprise as GM's gearboxes have tended to be buttery smooth.

The only fault I could find with this diesel driveline was the six-speed's tendency to hold higher revs than one would expect. Many times in city driving the tachometer needle would hover right around 2,000 rpm without any plans to upshift. Blame that on the Equinox's 3,500-pound curb weight and only 1.6 liters of displacement to move it all. As with nearly all crossovers, steering in the Equinox was light and lacked feel—though that's like saying your oatmeal lacked spicy heat. In a segment where driving ease is held above all other goals, the Equinox's electrically assisted power steering succeeds in its mission. As does the crossover's suspension.

Over bumps and other road oddities, the Equinox remained composed as it ironed out as much shock as it could with its MacPherson strut front and four-link independent rear suspension setup. For a chassis without the active adjustment of higher-end models, the Chevy did a cracking job. Even body roll was kept to a relative minimum as I hustled the five-seater along interstate off-ramps. Chevrolet has upped its exterior design game with the latest-generation crossover, bringing a fresh take to the same two-box layout that's made the Equinox such a hit with younger families. It's sculpted headlights and clamshell hood work wonderfully to frame its new trapezoidal grille.

In profile, the Equinox retains its signature angled C-pillar, though it's now better blended into the crossover's beltline. And at the rear, its body squares at the corners to give it a flatter, more masculine rear surface. Also, as this is a GM model we're talking about here, there's lots of chrome trim to remind passersby you're driving a top-trim model—if they even care to notice. Standard 18-inch wheels complete the look, though brighter 19-inch wheels are available. Inside, the Equinox Premier's interior design is much improved over its predecessor, but Chevrolet's chosen leather for this model won't win any awards for look and feel.

As has been the case at Chevrolet over the last couple of years, interior quality has seemingly taken a back seat to corporate profitability. As a result, leather in the Equinox isn't something to write home about. Don't get me wrong: the interior was perfectly functional and the seats themselves were comfortable, but the leather seats and trim in this top-trim model left me wanting. The cabin provides suitable room for four adults to ride in comfort; five in a pinch. Kids, though, should be able to sit three abreast in the back seat with ease, even if they're still within hitting distance of each other.

At the very rear, loading the 29.9 cu. ft. cargo hold is as easy as swinging your foot under the bumper to trigger the automatic rear hatch. Dropping the rear seats down opens up the cabin to accept as much as 63.5 cu. ft. of whatever you need to tote from A to B. For a family with one or two kids, there's more than enough space to haul everything you need, but a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid will give you more cargo room. Part of that is due to GM's repositioning of the Equinox. The Chevy used to be one of the largest vehicles in the segment, but it has been shrunken down for this generation to give it a 400-pound diet.

In all, the Equinox is a great buy for those who rack up the highway miles and won't see much of the in-town economy benefit offered by hybrids like the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. And while $33,000 is good value for what you get, you need to make sure the diesel is right for you. Do the math on fuel savings and this Equinox diesel might just come out on top.

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