LAYING the platform for a future without a locally built Commodore, Holden has taken its first step toward a bold new world with the Equinox SUV.
Edging from the Aussie Commodore shadow, it's a step, rather than a leap, with what's a competent and proficient offering.
Starting from $29,990 drive-away with a manual transmission(add $2000 to get an auto), the Equinox is designed to ruffle the feathers of Mazda's CX-5, the Toyota RAV4 and the Hyundai Tucson.
It's the start of things to come from Holden and boss Mark Bernhard said the marque had moved on from the "Commodore car company” and was in an envious position.
"GM is a changing company and we get to leverage that,” he said.
"We get to choose product from a portfolio of brands and choose the right product for Australia.”
The Mexican-built Equinox is the second biggest General Motors seller in the US behind Silverado, but the parent company has unleashed wide-ranging resources and worked closely with Holden engineers to deliver an SUV more suitable for the Aussie market.
The Yanks like their SUVs soft and fluffy due to the wide highways and concrete surfaces. Aussies need something that handles better in the bends.
Base variants start with the LS and basic equipment includes 17-inch alloys, seven-inch colour touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and cruise control.
LS+ models gain leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic high beam headlights, power folding exterior mirrors and a diesel engine option that will be available from early next year.
LT derivatives start from $39,990 drive-away and have larger 18-inch alloys, bigger eight-inch display screen, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, release handle in the boot to drop the rear seat-backs 60-40, front parking sensors, sat nav, four USB points (two at the front and a pair at the rear), along with a 230-volt power point in the back for charging standard three-prong devices.
Get into the LTZ (from $39,990) and it has 19-inch alloys, rain-sensing wipers, automatic parking (perpendicular and parallel), power tailgate, leather trim, heated front and rear seats, wireless phone charging for compatible devices, Bose stereo with digital radio and a power adjustable driver's seat.
Sitting top shelf is the LTZ-V (from $46,290), which gains a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, power adjustment of the front passenger seat, ventilated and heated front pews and all-wheel drive.
Holden has upped its game in the after-sales area, having improved its position on the industry's JD Power customer satisfaction index, and there is a seven-year/175,000km warranty available. Whether that continues into the new year has not been confirmed.
Capped priced servicing is among the least expensive in the genre, with an average price per service over seven years of $310. Service intervals are annual or 12,000km.
All paint, apart from white and red, is $550 extra. Alternative colour choices include dark blue, grey, silver, pepperdust (champagne) and black.
Basement models come with six airbags, stability and traction control, hill start assist, rear-view camera and back parking sensors, as well as anti-lock brakes, but it's the second-rung LS+ that gains some of the latest safety gear associated with a forward-facing camera system, including autonomous emergency braking that can help avoid or lessen the impact of a frontal collision, lane keep assist and departure warning, as well as a forward collision alert.
Sensors inform the driver of vehicles in the blind spot, while it also has rear cross-traffic warning, which is brilliant when reversing out of car parks.
One item missing from all variants is radar cruise control.
Breaking new ground for the mainstream brand is a driver's "safety alert” seat, which literally gives you a kick in the pants to warn of dangers from the front, side and rear. It uses vibrating feedback through the seat to alert the driver rather than various chimes or beeps.
"Audible chimes tend to be a little bit overwhelming. It helps you get rid of the audible busyness in the car,” GM Holden lead development engineer Tony Metaxas said.
"It can also warn the driver of the location of the hazard. Right side of the seat for a danger on the right, the same for the left and both sides for something at the front or rear.”
Feeling confident and composed, the Equinox is a resoundingly better car than its predecessor, the Captiva.
Sitting flat in the bends, it's more car-like than SUV, with little body roll while maintaining high levels of ride comfort.
Two four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines are available from showrooms this month, a 1.5-litre derivative and a more potent 2.0-litre version. The latter has some useful punch, able to reach 100km/h from standstill in just over seven seconds, which will suit those who appreciate a sprint away from the lights or require extra urgency for overtaking.
While a manual transmission is available, nearly all buyers will opt for the auto variants and both the six-speed (1.5-litre) and nine-speed (2.0-litre) units shift intuitively.
Our experience saw the base models shine on 17-inch Continental rubber (they also have a smaller turning circle), offering impressive grip and performing admirably in twisty stuff, whereas the bigger Bridgestone and Hankook tyres scrambled on occasions.
Fuel consumption is on par with key competition, 6.9 litres/100km for the smaller turbo engine and 8.2-8.4 for the larger donk - although the latter prefers premium fuel.
Boot space is massive, able to easily swallow two large suitcases with additional room to spare.
While not revolutionising the segment, Holden now has a worthy contender. The Equinox is a safe pitch for Holden. It possesses excellent interior space, strong driving dynamics and a competitive price structure.
2018 Holden Equinox
PRICE LS (manual) $27,990, LS (auto) $29,990, LS+ $32,990, LT $36,990, LTZ $39,990, LTZ-V $46,290, AWD option on LTZ - $4300. Prestige paint $550 premium.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 7yr/170,000km warranty, servicing $817 3yrs (excellent)
ENGINES 1.5L 127kW/275Nm, 2.0L 188kW/353Nm FWD and AWD (strong)
THIRST 6.9L/100km and 8.2-8.4L/100km (ok)
SPARE Space saver (expected)
BOOT 846 litres, 1798 seats folded (very good)
TOWING 1.5 tonne with 1.5L; 2000 with 2.0L.
LS MT - $29,990
LS AT - $31,990
LS+ AT - $34,990
LT AT - $39,990