Crit­i­cal vac­uum

In­wood searches for prob­lems; re­turns empty handed

Wheels (Australia) - - Our Garage - ALEX IN­WOOD

AH THE three month itch. Typ­i­cally this is the time in a car’s jour­ney through the Wheels Garage when the ex­cite­ment of run­ning a new long-ter­mer be­gins to wane and some frus­tra­tions of fa­mil­iar­ity be­gin to rise. It’s a key rea­son we run long-term test cars: to un­earth the nig­gles and quirks that only be­gin to sur­face af­ter pro­longed use – the very same jour­ney you’d ex­pe­ri­ence if you bought the car your­self.

The only prob­lem is that, in this in­stance, there aren’t any frus­tra­tions to re­port. Not yet any­way. Three months in and the XC60 T8 is prov­ing the near-per­fect com­pan­ion. Quiet, com­fort­able and fan­tas­ti­cally fru­gal (it sipped just 4.9L/100km this month; an im­pres­sive ef­fort for a 2174kg SUV), the T8 has slipped seam­lessly into my life.

It’s ef­fort­less to drive. The steer­ing is light and crisp, which be­stows a sense of wield­i­ness in tight ur­ban spa­ces. Vis­i­bil­ity is ex­cel­lent cour­tesy of an airy glasshouse and park­ing is a pain­less process, even in cramped un­der­ground spots, thanks to three cam­era views (choose be­tween rear, side or over­head), which are dis­played in high res­o­lu­tion on the cen­tral screen.

And then there’s the pow­er­train, which man­ages to achieve the usu­ally mu­tu­ally exclusive traits of be­ing ef­fi­cient while also feel­ing mus­cu­lar and re­spon­sive. The in­stant torque of the elec­tric mo­tor helps here, yet even when the bat­tery seems fully de­pleted, the T8 cap­tures and stores enough en­ergy in gen­eral driv­ing to add small bursts of bat­tery-as­sisted shove as you move away from the lights or gun for a gap in traf­fic.

Even an­noy­ance-prone ar­eas like the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem re­main bug­bear-free. All of the but­tons are where you’d ex­pect, the menu struc­ture is log­i­cal and de­tailed (al­low­ing you to nav­i­gate be­tween dif­fer­ent song playlists with­out needing to touch your phone), and the por­trait-ori­en­tated touch­screen swipes like a smart­phone.

The only nig­gles are de­liv­ered by the stumpy Or­refors gear se­lec­tor (T8 spe­cific), which re­quires a dou­ble pump to move from drive to re­verse. And the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem can lag slightly on start-up if you’re im­pa­tiently press­ing the screen to ig­nite the seat heaters on a cold morn­ing. I’ve long since ad­justed to the sen­si­tive brake pedal, which I now find easy to mod­u­late.

And that’s it. Af­ter 12 weeks of ev­ery­day use, they’re the only crit­i­cisms I can level at the T8, which fur­ther val­i­dates its COTY win. Even bet­ter is that on top of de­liv­er­ing the ease-of-use and func­tion­al­ity you ex­pect, the T8 does so with just enough Swedish flair and x-fac­tor (through neat de­sign touches and qual­ity ma­te­ri­als) to feel in­ter­est­ing and de­sir­able. Which aren’t words of­ten used to de­scribe medium SUVS.

LAST month we de­tailed how our lat­est longter­mer had started life as a hum­ble $37,490 Equinox LT, only for it to be up­graded in a mat­ter of weeks to the full-fat LTZ-V.

The lat­ter sits at the top of an Equinox range that starts at $27,990 for the LS man­ual, and steps up pro­gres­sively through seven mod­els to this, the $46,290 flag­ship.

The en­try-level LS and bet­ter-equipped LS+ make do with a 127kw/275nm 1.5-litre four­cylin­der turbo-petrol, hitched to a six-speed man­ual that drives the front hoops.

The rest of the Equinox range ben­e­fits from a punchier 2.0-litre turbo/nine-speed auto combo and the choice of front- (LT and LTZ) or adap­tive all-wheel drive (LTZ and LTZ-V). All-paw trac­tion costs $4300 as an op­tion on the LTZ, but comes stan­dard on ‘our’ LTZ-V.

Thus equipped, the top-spec Equinox presents with a highly com­pet­i­tive driv­e­train that blows away key ri­vals like the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V and Nis­san X-trail when it comes to power and torque.

With 188kw/353nm on tap, the LTZ-V isn’t only the most pow­er­ful SUV in its class but the quick­est too, with its sharp shift­ing nine­speed auto help­ing it hit 100km/h in 7.3sec.

That’s a good start and it’s backed by an im­pres­sive list of stan­dard equip­ment de­signed to turn the heads and open the wal­lets of con­sumers who prob­a­bly don’t yet know what an Equinox is, let alone have it on their shop­ping list.

For the record, it’s ei­ther of the two points on the ce­les­tial sphere where the ce­les­tial equa­tor in­ter­sects the eclip­tic… Got it? Good.

For any­one at that stage in their new car jour­ney, it’s worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing the en­tire Equinox range, since even the base LS has 17-inch al­loys, six airbags, rear cam­era and a 7.0-inch touch­screen with Ap­ple Carplay and An­droid Auto. The lat­ter could, of course, be dead handy if the sun­dial packs it in.

For buy­ers more safety than budget con­scious, the $32,990 LS+ adds a suite of ac­tive safety fea­tures in­clud­ing AEB, Lane Keep As­sist, Lane De­par­ture Warn­ing, For­ward Col­li­sion Alert, Blind Spot de­tec­tion, Rear Cross Traf­fic alert, and a Safety Alert driver’s seat (see above).

The trend con­tin­ues up and through the range, un­til you ar­rive at the se­ri­ously wellkit­ted LTZ-V, which adds good­ies like 19inch al­loys, an 8.0-inch screen, panoramic sun­roof, heated/cooled leather seats, power tail­gate, wire­less phone charg­ing, Bose premium au­dio and more.

It’s a com­pet­i­tive pack­age, yet it’s clear Holden has its work cut out to in­crease its share in this sat­u­rated seg­ment, which cur­rently sits at just two per­cent.

In com­ing weeks our patented Bulmer Fam­ily Tor­ture Test will re­veal if the Equinox has what it takes.

THIS GLX Turbo was only meant to be a stop-gap un­til I step into a Swift Sport next is­sue, but in the two months it’s spent in my hands a trend be­came quite ap­par­ent – vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one who came into con­tact with the lit­tle Suzi loved it.

And it wasn’t the kind of af­fec­tion that only re­vealed it­self af­ter the in­evitable “so whad­dya think?”. No. These feel­ings were al­most al­ways voiced with­out prompt­ing, and of­ten be­fore the driver’s seat­belt was un­latched. Re­mem­ber how I said last month that the Swift makes a pro­foundly pos­i­tive first im­pres­sion? Turns out I’m not the only one who feels that way.

So what en­dears it to peo­ple? In­ter­est­ingly, no sin­gle at­tribute seems to stand out. Rather it’s how com­plete and well-rounded the whole pack­age feels. “It just works”, was one morsel of feed­back, which sounds like the re­sponse most non-tech-savvy peo­ple give when asked why they like iphones.

It’s also made me a con­vert to smart­phone mir­ror­ing. Suzuki’s multi-fit touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment pack­age is a good ex­am­ple of how en­try-level in­fo­tain­ment should be done, with plenty of fea­tures, clear graph­ics and an in­tu­itive user in­ter­face, although some in the of­fice have had is­sues with wired smart­phone con­nec­tion. Once cranked up, An­droid Auto has added func­tion­al­ity on top of to the Suzi’s sys­tem like be­ing able to pre­s­e­lect a drive route on Google Maps via my work com­puter be­fore I get in the car. Once I’ve sent the route to my phone and plugged it into the Swift, I’m ready to go as soon as I start the ig­ni­tion. Touches like that just make life a lit­tle bit eas­ier.

The Swift isn’t per­fect, mind you. Trips on coarse-chip high­ways saw me crank­ing up the au­dio vol­ume to an­ti­so­cial lev­els to drown out the tyre roar, and it’d be nice to have some kind of rub­bery or flocked lin­ing in the cen­tre con­sole to stop phones and keys k from slid­ing on the rock-hard plas­tics. The three-pot is also a lit­tle vibey at idle, but hey, triple-cylin­der en­gines have al­ways had tricky har­mon­ics, and the laws of physics are hard to cheat.

There’s also the is­sue of price – $22K buys you a lot of kit and ca­pa­bil­ity in the GLX Turbo but a cloud has re­cently ap­peared on its hori­zon in the shape of the just-landed sixth-gen Volk­swa­gen Polo, which has a top­spec model at an iden­ti­cal price point. Sure, the Polo 85TSI misses out on cli­mate con­trol, stan­dard sat-nav and a few other lux­u­ries, but it feels prop­erly premium.

Had I not driven it right af­ter hand­ing back the Swift GLX Turbo, I would have said Suzuki had a solid po­si­tion of lead­er­ship in the light car seg­ment. Damn.

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