Those of us who take pleasure in the cheerful, busy-busy chatter of diesel engines – and of course the Scrooge-like fuel economy that comes with them – have had our emotions torn since the Volkswagen TDI emissions-cheating scandal broke almost four years ago.
VW itself, along with siblings Audi and Porsche, dumped diesels from its Canadian portfolio immediately.
Other automakers’ reactions have been mixed. Mercedes had plans for new diesels, but seems to have given up jumping through the hoops of emissions certification; Jaguar had diesel versions of its XE and F-Pace, but dropped them for 2020; and BMW Canada no longer lists diesels in its lineup.
On the other hand, Ford and General Motors have joined Ram (or soon will) in offering diesel on their 1500 pickups, and a diesel engine will be available on the 2020 Ford Transit Connect compact van. GM’s Canyon and Colorado mid-size pickups also offer a diesel option.
Then there’s this, the Chevrolet Equinox, which – along with its GMC Terrain fraternal twin – introduced a diesel option with the 2018 redesign. By our reckoning, these may soon be the only affordable mainstream diesels available in Canada, since the also-available-as-a-diesel Chevrolet Cruze has ceased production, and we’re still waiting for Mazda’s long-anticipated diesel option for the CX-5 and Mazda6.
The Chevrolet isn’t as affordable as it could be, however, as diesel is only available on the higher LT and Premier trim levels. Equinox pricing starts at $26,700 for a front-wheel-drive LS with the base 1.5-litre turbo gas engine, or $31,300 for the LT all-wheel drive. The LT diesel has a list price of $33,100 with FWD or $35,500 with AWD.
That’s a $4,200 markup for the diesel powertrain, and it suggests a lengthy pay-back period based on official numbers that make the diesel only 14-per-cent more frugal than the gas engine (7.4 L/100 km combined, versus 8.6).
In real-world driving, however, diesels usually achieve fuel consumption much closer to the official figures than do downsized turbo gas engines, and that certainly applies here. In fact, we bettered the official combined number with an average 7.2 litres/100 km. Depending on relative fuel prices (diesel is usually cheaper in summer and costlier in winter) and your driving patterns, the payback could be much faster.
But return on investment isn’t the only reason to consider the diesel version. The spark-plug-less engine is actually really nice to drive – by any standards, not just “for a diesel.”
At least, that was our conclusion after the full eight days we spent with it. At first, we were perturbed by the car’s herky-jerky launch behaviour. After waiting for the auto stop-start system to gear up followed by a slight turbo lag, an initial falter would precede a wheel-spinning lunge when the torque kicked in, and later a yank on the reins when the traction-control system shut down the wheel-spin.
Then we realized that the Equinox has a switchable AWD system, and it was in FWD mode when we took possession. Engaging AWD cured the wheelspin/traction-control vacillation, and cancelling the auto stop-start reduced the launch lag (albeit at some cost in fuel economy).
With that all sorted out, the result was a really pleasant-driving and unexpectedly refined little crossover with class-leading fuel economy. Even in the face of the leading Japanese-brand alternatives that dominate compact crossover sales in Canada, the Equinox deserves to sell better than it does. And the diesel option is one good reason.
- Price: From $26,700; as tested $35,500
- Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
- Transmission/drive: six-speed automatic/AWD
- Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 8.5 city/6.1 highway
- Alternatives*: Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander/PHEV, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4/Hybrid
* Only GMC Terrain also offers diesel option
There’s no attempt at off-road faux-ruggedness here. The Equinox’s shape is more smooth and soft to our eyes. Standard wheels are 17-inchers with 19s optional.
Some rivals may be more plushly finished, but otherwise there’s little to fault inside. The eight-way power seat provides a good range of adjustment with decent visibility, the dash layout effectively blends style with function, and the back seat is as spacious as it is comfortable. The standard semi-floating seven-inch screen is a little small by today’s standards, but an eight-inch HD screen is optional.
Typical of most turbo-diesels, the Equinox’s test-track 0-100 km/h time (about 10 seconds in independent tests) doesn’t do justice to the effortlessly brisk real-world performance delivered by the torque-rich engine. Except when idling after a cold start, the engine is surprisingly quiet, too, the tall sixth gear delivering 120 km/h at a lazy 2,000-rpm lope on the freeway. And we like its conventional stepped transmission better than key rivals’ CVTs. When the going gets curvy, some rivals corner more athletically, but few if any can match the Equinox’s balance of deft handling and a pliant ride.
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, OnStar, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability and SiriusXM are all standard. On the safety “alert and avert” side, all the expected contemporary features – including adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking – are available, although mostly at extra cost and even then only on higher trims.
On paper, the cargo-volume numbers are mediocre, but the Equinox makes excellent use of the space it has. There’s no rear lip to impede loading, the seat backs fold flat and flush with the main deck, and there’s extra hidden space below the (removable) deck.
The verdict: 8.0
Whichever engine you choose (a quick and quiet 2.0-litre turbo gas engine is also available), this Canadian-built Chevrolet is competent and likeable across a broad spectrum of CUV buyer needs and wants.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up today.