First drives with Alex Forrest- Holden Equinox

By the time it was discontinued in late 2017, the Holden Captiva was 11 years old and had longer teeth than a hippopotamus.

Though its reliability record was less than perfect, the Captiva ticked many of the boxes that mattered most to young families, especially in its early days when it had an affordable turbo diesel option and the Ford Territory didn't. It was one of the biggest selling large SUVs in the country, outselling even the Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-9.

Still, there is no doubt the Captiva was well overdue for replacement and the new Holden Equinox will fill part of the void left by its departure.

Further bolstering Holden's SUV range will be the larger, seven-seat Acadia, which will arrive in Australia in mid-2018. For now, Holden has replaced the smaller, five-seater versions of the Captiva with the Equinox, which was launched in December 2017. 

The Equinox is sourced from Chevrolet, which is owned by Holden's parent company General Motors. It is built in Mexico, but those Equinoxes bound for Australia will have dedicated suspension, steering and drivetrain tuning for our market, which was overseen by Holden engineers.

This includes stiffer sway bars front and rear, specific damper tuning, suspension bushings and different power steering calibration. Further specific calibration work undertaken by Holden on the nine-speed auto has made the transmission seem smart and intuitive, despite the large number of cogs it is tasked with shuffling between. Equinox Web Content 1.jpg

However, the biggest news about the Equinox is the giant leap in technology it represents compared to the Captiva, such as wireless phone charging and a driver's seat that is connected to the parking sensors and vibrates on either side, depending on where an obstacle is. The latter is called 'safety alert driver's seat', and it has been patented by GM as a way of avoiding excessive beeps and chimes inside the vehicle while parking.

If you're used to parking with the aid of beeps and bongs, having your seat start to buzz while you're parking is startling when it first happens. It's effective though, and innovative, and I reckon it'll become less of a shock as your bottom adjusts to it over time. It at least brings a whole new meaning to the term 'electric seats'.

The Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone projection capability is standard across the Equinox range, and with Apple products that includes the Siri Eyes-Free voice recognition function. The base model LS includes a rear camera, six airbags and two ISOFIX anchorages in the back seat. That's OK, but not class-leading given other medium SUVs offer auto braking as standard across the range. 

Moving up, the LS+ adds a suite of driver assistance features including autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning. The LS+ is also where you get the buzzy seats, blind spot warning and the very useful rear cross-traffic alert. This and the entry level LS get the 1.5L petrol engine, which makes 127kW and 275Nm.

Next up is the LT, which along with 18" wheels and SatNav also brings a 2.0L turbocharged petrol engine that produces 188kW and 353Nm, giving it a gutsy athleticism that makes for an involving and spirited drive by SUV standards.

This 2.0L turbo is the same engine that will be available in the new German-built ZB Commodore, due for launch in February 2018. The LT will also introduce the option of a 1.6L turbo diesel with 100kW and 320Nm, which will join the line-up later in 2018. Holden Equinox Web 2.jpg

Opt for the LTZ and you'll get 19" wheels, advance park assist (the ability to steer itself into a car park, with your supervision) and a powered tailgate, which can be activated by waving one of your feet under the rear of the vehicle. While this can be useful, I do prefer systems that sense the presence of the key at the rear of the vehicle without the need for any foot waving, which can be risky to do when holding shopping and/or children.

The range-topping LTZ-V adds a sunroof, ventilated front seats and the adaptive all-wheel drive system as standard. This system gives drivers the unusual option of being able to decouple the rear wheels for better fuel efficiency when driving on sealed surfaces.    

Though I was able to try the two turbo-charged petrols at the Equinox's Queensland launch, it was clear the effervescent new 2.0L turbo petrol will be the most engaging drivetrain of all three. With the 2.0L turbo drivetrain, the Equinox does indeed go, stop and steer very well for an SUV, so much so that it could put a smile on your face.

Contributing to this is the significant tuning work done by Holden on the Equinox specifically for the Australian market. Further work undertaken by Holden on the nine-speed automatic transmission has made it seem smart and intuitive, despite the number of cogs it is tasked with shuffling between. Though it's worth noting that despite the transmission's agility, there aren't any paddles on the steering wheel and there's no sport mode either, which is unfortunate for the sporty 2.0L models. 

The interior fit and finish is far better than that of the vehicle it replaces. The interior practicality is excellent with lots of storage, and ergonomics are fine, but it's not quite as polished as the class-leading interiors such as those in the Volkswagen Tiguan and the Mazda CX-5.

Still, the Holden Equinox is a well-priced, starting at $29,990 drive away, innovative, sporty and a welcome new addition to the bustling mid-sized SUV market.

Alex Forrest is motoring writer for the RAC WA.