The 2021 Chevy Equinox LT is Mr. Anonymous

Today’s review comes courtesy of my esteemed podcast co-host Roger. Show him some love and comment below if you want to see more from him!

We all have had some experience with the phenomenon where, once you own or drive a particular vehicle, you start to notice the model out in the wild more frequently. It’s an odd thing that probably speaks deeply to our vanity as individuals – not really paying attention to something unless we are somehow directly involved or associated with it.

What was peculiar about my experience with the 2020 Chevy Equinox was that I never realized just how anonymous and unremarkable it was until I received it as a rental vehicle after a minor fender-bender put my Lexus IS in the body shop for 2 weeks. I’m the type of motorist who scans and identifies vehicles around me by make, model and year while driving. Once I got into the Chevy, I was taken aback by how little I had noticed it before. Not because the driving experience was anything terribly impressive – more on that later – but because Chevy had accomplished so much by not accomplishing very much at all. It’s as if someone at GM took a blank sheet of 8 ½” x 11” office printer paper, sketched out the silhouette of a generic mid-size crossover and told the engineers to fill it in with whatever was in the nearest parts bin. 

And credit those engineers, because honestly the result is more than the sum of the parts from that bin. On its own merits, the little Equinox will adequately satisfy the needs of a significant share of shoppers in this overcrowded segment. As you may have gathered so far, the Chevy’s most egregious sin is in its styling, or more accurately: lack thereof. From the side profile it’s an entirely generic CUV, as there’s not even a whiff of pretense of sportiness or off-road worthiness unlike a number of its more notable competitors. It’s Tall Hatchback and nothing more. To be fair, the Summit White paint is absolutely the most bland shade in which to clothe this already plain Jane. There’s not even a smidgen of styling cues here to help the poor girl stand out. This isn’t a problem on its own, but when you’re being compared to class standouts such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Santa Fe, the apparent lack of character in the design becomes a mark against the Equinox.

Mercifully, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. My version of the Equinox was the mid-level LT trim that came with handsomely patterned two-tone ash gray cloth seats and a 7” Infotainment unit loaded with useful features including Apple Carplay and Android Auto as standard. The seating position was high and comfortable. The dashboard is laid out in a simple and pleasantly gimmick-free manner. Still, there were little things that bugged me the more time I spent in the cabin. GM has come a long way in improving the appearance and quality of their interiors, but little things like the cheap rubber used on the steering wheel controls and the thin-gauge sheetmetal of the exterior panels betrayed some of the other strides in perceived quality the company has made. The low-quality plastic surrounding the infotainment screen gave me flashbacks to the late-90’s Pontiac Grand AM my buddy had back in college. To be fair, the Equinox is meant to be a cheap, practical car that functions as a do-it-all mule for a small family. Still, the Chevy gives a fair bit of quality up to its competitors, but hopefully returns some of this in the form of lower prices to customers.

One of the things I initially found impressive was how spacious the Equinox’s interior was, even for a small/midsize CUV. Cargo capacity comes in at slightly under 30 cubic feet, expanding to just shy of 64 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat. This sounds great until someone taps you on the shoulder and slaps you back to objective reality. [Ouch – Ed] The class leaders from Toyota and Honda surpass the Chevy in this metric by a significant margin, made worse by the fact that they accomplish this while having essentially identical exterior dimensions as my rental. Essentially, my time in my own smaller car skewed my perception in the Chevy’s favor.

Behind the wheel, the little Chevy doesn’t surprise – it drives more or less like it looks. Handling is composed and confident, if not exhilarating. The 6-speed slushbox simply gets the job done. It finds gears with competence and sufficient verve, never struggling to find the appropriate ratio for the situation at hand. A fancier, more modern 7 or 8-speed automatic might be nice but would probably be wasted in this trim level. Likewise, the 1.5 liter turbo four-pot was eager, but somewhat underpowered with 170 tiny horsies as partners in motivation. Low-speed driving on surface streets was fine thanks to turbocharging providing juuuuust enough low end twist, but the little mill struggled when called upon at higher speeds. No doubt the 2-liter version available on more decked-out trims would provide more confident acceleration and an overall more engaging driving experience. (See Marlon’s quick Instagram review of a fully decked out 2019 Equinox Premier here).

Fuel economy was also decent and probably one of the Equinox’s stronger points. I observed just over 30 mpg in mixed driving (EPA rates the 1.5-liter at 26 city and 31 highway).  Something I initially hated but came to accept was the engine auto stop-start function. Unlike many other vehicles, there is no way obvious way to defeat it, either via a physical button on the console or through the vehicle’s dashboard or infotainment screen. After a day or two of driving, I came to accept and even appreciate the way it functions. It’s not exactly quiet, but the startup is smooth enough to live with and isn’t jarring unlike some other, higher priced cars.

If only I could say the same about the other noises the Equinox makes. Wind and road noise in the cabin on the highway is atrocious and frankly unacceptable in a modern crossover in any class. It’s not quite as bad as the Jeep Patriot I drove a few weeks before, but like that abomination, it was still futile to try and have a phone conversation via the onboard Bluetooth because of how intrusive the noise was on the other end. It’s especially peculiar because while the Equinox isn’t very flattering, it does have a purposeful, modern shape that ostensibly should help it slip through the air. I suppose the bean counters at Chevy thought our heroic engineers were doing too much and cut some of the budget for proper, basic sound insulation.

On the plus side, front, side and rear visibility was impressive and made it easy to maneuver the vehicle when parking and when changing lanes on the highway – which was important since this particular model didn’t have blind spot monitoring. I found this unusual given the fact that some other advanced safety features such as lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control were available and worked well enough, even though I found the lane keep assist to be a little aggressive in tugging at the steering wheel when the vehicle started to creep towards lane markers. All the same, it’s somewhat disappointing that Chevy didn’t go a little further and toss in blind spot monitoring and complete the package.

If it sounds like I’ve been harsh on the 2020 Equinox, it’s likely because I have been judging it less on its own merits and more so versus the competition. Yet the fact is that it doesn’t compete against itself, and as mentioned earlier, the mid-size crossover segment is overcrowded and ultra-competitive.  Ultimately, the Chevy fails to make a particularly strong case for itself. As tested, it’s too small, underpowered and noisy to recommend to anyone for any reason outside of price. Right now, you can purchase one of these, spec’d identically to my rental, for under 25K, and you can probably negotiate it even lower with some grit. Lease deals might be an even better value especially factoring in intangibles such as warranty, a relative lack in quality, depreciation and residuals.  If you’re shopping for a small mid-size crossover, take a look at the Chevy Equinox. But don’t be surprised if you completely forget what it looks like as it fades into the background like a middle child who’s also a C-student in a class of overachievers, beauty queens and valedictorians.

Big thanks to Roger for giving his views on the 2020 Chevy Equinox. Remember to check out our podcast!

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