Creating a New Crossover: The 2018 Chevy Equinox

The segment is hot around the world. And that’s where this new crossover will be sold. So making it right really matters.

Sometimes you meet people who are both proud and energized by what they do, by what they’ve accomplished. People who have worked very hard and who have their work put out in the world in a way that can’t be overlooked.

People like Mark Cieslak. He’s the chief engineer of the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox. And in the world of Chevrolet, the Equinox is a rather important product. That is, if you take the Silverado pickup out of the picture, then the Equinox is the best-selling vehicle in the entire Chevy lineup—and not by a trivial amount.

That is, in 2016 Chevy delivered 242,195 Equinoxes. The closest vehicle to that (taking the pickup trucks out of the picture) was the Malibu, at 227,881. And what needs to be recognized is that the Malibu in 2016 was a new, stylishly designed, well-appointed vehicle, and that the 2017 Equinox was a bit, as they say, long in the tooth, as it is the second-generation model, which first went on sale (as a 2010 model) in 2009. Now it’s not like they didn’t do a refresh on the Equinox during all that time, both in terms of things like modifying the front fascia and adding 4G LTE for purposes of enhanced infotainment, but compared to the massive overhaul of the Malibu, the changes to the Equinox were comparatively small.

Yet there is that 14,314-unit delta between the two vehicles.

This speaks, in large part, to the massive popularity of the compact crossover category, which is growing as the sedan market is shrinking.

Cieslak and his team knew that for this third-generation Equinox they had to come hard, bringing to the development and execution of the vehicle something more, something that could compete with products like the Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Ford Escape—all vehicles that are (as of March 2017 sales) outperforming their respective sedan competitors (one exception could be that the Camry outsold the RAV4, but the RAV4 outsold the Corolla).

Now one of the big changes to the Equinox is in its design. And what’s somewhat amusing is that the design language of the Equinox is not predicated on things like the Silverado or the Tahoe, but, rather, the Malibu and the Cruze. There are sculpted shapes and LED daytime running lights; there are chrome trim and an aerodynamic form (they had the Equinox-in-becoming in the full-size wind tunnel at the GM Tech Center for more than 500 hours and came up with a vehicle that is said to be 10% slipperier than its processor, deploying such things as a larger spoiler on the trailing edge of the roof and air deflectors in front of each of the tires). 

(As regards going for the car styling, a nod must go to John Cafaro, executive director, Global Chevrolet Design and his team. Even though things that are non-cars are selling exceedingly well—as in the aforementioned Silverado and Colorado—they didn’t go for a “truck” look with the ’18 Equinox, which can be contrasted with what Chevy did in an earlier age: back when it put the Malibu on the Epsilon platform, which was a tectonic shift in the early ‘00s, it put a front end on that car, which was the sixth generation, that was to harken to the “bold” look of the pickups—which lasted just two years, because that didn’t work out so well.)

One more thing about what Cieslak and his team needed to address: The Equinox is not just made for places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles—it is going to be offered in 115 additional global markets.

Mass matters
One of the things that is most notable about the 2018 Equinox is how solid it seems even though there is a mass reduction compared to the 2017 model vehicle. According to Cieslak, they spent a lot of time working on getting the architecture of the structure right. They also made a strategic deployment of ultra-high-strength steel, which accounts for about 30 percent of the body-in-white. (While much is made about the active safety technology on offer for the vehicle—based on radar and cameras—such as “surround vision” and “forward collision alert with following distance indicator, the fundamental bones of the vehicle cannot be underestimated. (Another benefit of solid structural engineering as well as good manufacturing practices is that the vehicle is notable for one thing that it lacks: noise—it has a quiet cabin.)

Now while Cieslak says that the team did a “gram-by-gram” mass reduction for the vehicle, and while the 2018 Equinox is said to be “about 400 pounds lighter” than its predecessor, there are a couple of additional factors that need to be taken into account.

Yes, the base curb weight of the base ’18 Equinox is 3,327 pounds compared with 3,764 pounds for its predecessor. But for one thing, the 2018 model is equipped with a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine and the 2017 base model has a 2.4-liter engine, so part of the mass is predicated on having a smaller engine. (Both base models have a Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic, with the new one having a 6T40 and the previous a 6T45.)

Then there is an overall dimensional difference. The 2018 Equinox is smaller than the 2017. So, when you reduce the size of the vehicle, you do have the opportunity to remove some mass.

Evidently, the fact that this is a world vehicle played into the smaller size of the vehicle as well as the use of a smaller base engine. (It should be noted that the Equinox, for the U.S. market, will have an all-turbocharged lineup, with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine and a 1.6-liter turbo-diesel on tap.)

One of the changes that they made is to reengineer the rear seats for purposes of improving cargo loading. (Remember: the middle term in CUV and SUV is utility.) When the split rear seatbacks (60/40 split) are folded forward, the bottom seat cushions index forward toward the back of the front seats, thereby allowing the seatbacks to go to a horizontal orientation.

While the exterior is smaller, the interior is actually bigger. That is, the passenger volume and maximum cargo volume for the 2017 Equinox are 99.7- and 63.7-ft 3, respectively. Yet for the 2018, those figures are 103.2-ft3 for passengers and 63.5-ft3 for stuff. This capaciousness is the direct result of clever design and engineering.

And speaking of the interior, it is worth noting that they’ve broadened their color palette quite extensively. Mara Kapsis, color and trim designer in the GM Design Studio in Warren, Michigan, points out that they worked to create color combinations (e.g., jet black/brandy; jet black/cinnamon) that are far from a more mono-color offering. And in addition to materials like leather, they’re deploying a denim cloth.