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2020 Chevrolet Equinox Test Drive Review
A dutiful daily driver designed to simplify your life, the 2020 Chevrolet Equinox checks most of the compact crossover SUV boxes on a typical consumer’s shopping list. But does that mean you should buy one?
Does anyone remember the first-generation Chevrolet Equinox Sport? It represented the one time Chevy tried to make its compact crossover SUV something more than a bread-and-butter commuter vessel, and it lasted all of 2 years.
A decade later, the 2020 Chevrolet Equinox remains a basic tool of its trade, serving drivers who want more foul-weather capability, more cargo space, and a higher driving position than a Malibu midsize sedan can provide, but not much in the way of excitement. That the Malibu is currently cruising toward its sunset while the Equinox is one of the best-selling vehicles in America underscores the dramatic change in automotive consumer preferences that has taken place during the past 10 years.
Built in Mexico, the Chevy Equinox comes in L, LS, LT, and Premier trim levels. For 2020, a new Midnight Edition appearance package debuts for LT trim, and three new colors are available. A light refresh is planned for the 2022 model year when Chevy will tighten up the styling, expand safety equipment availability, and once again try to make the Equinox sporty, this time with a new RS trim level.
Look and Feel
Decked out with Premier trim, a more powerful engine, all-wheel drive (AWD), a power panoramic sunroof, and a Confidence and Convenience II option package, my 2020 Equinox test vehicle tallied up to $40,040 (including the $1,195 destination charge). If that sounds expensive, you’re right, it is. But Chevrolet clearly bakes the expected rebates and incentives into that number. For example, as this is written, Chevy is shaving $4,500 off of that figure—and that’s before any price negotiation.
Benefitting from a clean design that doesn’t resort to overt SUV styling cues in order to generate appeal, the Equinox Premier looks good, especially when it sits on the 19-inch wheels that come with the turbocharged engine. Gray contrast cladding covers the SUV’s lower perimeter, helping to reduce visual height, and Premier trim includes roof rails and extra chrome detailing to signal its position at the top of the Equinox trim level ladder.
Outfitted in Jet Black and Brandy leather, equipped with a panoramic glass sunroof, and featuring plenty of polished metallic interior accent trim, the test vehicle’s high-contrast cabin looked upscale. For the most part, however, it did not feel that way. Hard and shiny plastic is more a rule than an exception, and its presence is easier to accept when the window sticker’s price doesn’t start with the number “4.”
In the past year, I’ve driven a couple of Equinoxes. One was a rented LS with the standard turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, and the other was this Premier test vehicle with the optional 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine.
Most people will be happy enough with the torquey 1.5-liter. It provides 170 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 203 pound-feet of torque between 2,500 rpm and 4,500 rpm, and powers the front or all four wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. My rental, with AWD, averaged 24.3 mpg, coming in well short of the EPA’s rating of 28 mpg in combined driving.
For much better performance, or to take advantage of the Equinox’s maximum towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, you’re going to want the 2.0-liter turbo engine. With 252 hp at 5,500 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm, it provides lively acceleration at all times. A 9-speed automatic transmission, paired with either a front-wheel drive (FWD) or AWD drivetrain, helps to maximize fuel economy. I averaged 22.1 mpg with this version of the SUV, less than the EPA rating of 24 mpg in combined driving.
Both versions had fairly firm, connected ride qualities, and they suffered from more road and wind noise than is desirable. The LS, with smaller 17-inch wheels, proved more maneuverable in urban settings thanks to a smaller turning circle. Thicker tire sidewalls on the LS also helped in terms of ride quality.
On the winding mountain roads near my home, the Premier’s 19-inch wheels and 235/50 tires made it feel more athletic and enjoyable to drive. Like most modern General Motors products, the Equinox exhibits a flat cornering attitude, well-controlled body motions, and natural steering and braking feel and response. Nothing about the driving dynamics will encourage you to take the long way home, but nothing makes you wish you were already home, either.
Form and Function
My rented Equinox LS had cloth upholstery that looked good and felt durable and included a Convenience Package with a 10-way power driver’s seat including lumbar control. The Chevrolet-supplied Equinox Premier had leather, an 8-way power front passenger’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel.
For a driver, either is comfortable, though both could benefit from a longer seat cushion with more thigh support. Premier trim with the Confidence and Convenience II Package would be highly desirable in climates where winter cold and summer humidity are common.
Chevrolet wisely equips the Equinox with a sliding rear seat. This helps to maximize passenger or cargo space as is necessary. With the seat in its rearmost position, the legroom is quite generous, and while it offers capacity for three people, two adults fit better. You can easily carry three younger kids, though. The Premier included rear air conditioning vents and USB ports, too.
Cargo volume is not as generous as some competitors, measuring 29.9 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 63.9 cubic feet with the 60/40-split rear seat folded down. On either side of the load floor, Chevrolet provides recessed trays and there is storage under the floor.
Speaking of storage, there is plenty of it in the cabin. The center console storage bin is large for this class of vehicle, and Chevy sprinkles various bins, trays, and cubbies throughout the interior.
Several different infotainment systems are available for the 2020 Equinox, all with 7-inch or 8-inch touchscreen displays. Every one of them includes Bluetooth pairing for two different devices, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, and Chevrolet Connected Access services. Upgrades include a high-definition display, cloud connectivity, improved voice recognition, HD Radio, satellite radio, navigation, and a Bose premium sound system.
My Equinox LS rental had the most basic setup, which worked perfectly for a trip to an unknown region. Using Apple CarPlay, I had no trouble finding where I needed to be, and the 6-speaker audio system was adequate. The Premier had all of the bells and whistles, with the larger high-definition 8-inch touchscreen and Bose sound system perhaps the most important components. Regardless of trim level or system, the Equinox’s technology is intuitive and easy to use.
Additionally, the Equinox offers wireless smartphone charging and a dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system, though the cost of it certainly would pay for years of WiFi hotspot service instead.
Chevy Safety Assist is standard on every 2020 Equinox. This is the company’s new name for a collection of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and for the Equinox it includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, a safe following distance monitor, and automatic high-beam headlights.
A reversing camera is also standard, along with a rear-seat reminder system and Teen Driver technology. Teen Driver monitors how your inexperienced teenager drives while he or she is out and produces a report card for parents listing numerous metrics.
Upgrades, depending on the trim level, include adaptive cruise control, lane change warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic warning, and a Safety Alert Seat that vibrates when a driver needs to pay closer attention. High-definition reversing and surround-view cameras are also available, and with an active subscription to Chevrolet Connected Access, the SUV includes automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling, among other features.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2020 Equinox is a Top Safety Pick, earning top ratings in all crashworthiness assessments. In tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2020 Equinox earns 5-star ratings in each evaluation, plus a 4-star rating for rollover resistance.
Clearly, the Equinox is a safe SUV. Chevy needs to make the blind-spot warning system more accessible, though, which it plans to do for 2022.
Mainly, the value in a 2020 Chevy Equinox resides in the perpetually available rebates, incentives, and other discounts offered for this SUV.
Sure, Chevrolet provides a free first maintenance visit to the dealership, and you get very short free trial periods to some infotainment services, but compared to the perks that some companies bake into their SUVs, the Equinox pales in comparison. And that’s where this Chevy most needs to improve its game.
Do yourself a favor. Don’t pay anywhere near sticker price for a new Equinox. Start at invoice, apply the rebate and other incentives, and make that the starting point for negotiations. Given how deep the discounts can be, that solves the cost-effectiveness problem.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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