It’s a kiwi thing; the bach. Part of me believes it’s something to do with our geography – with so much coastline in a short distance from pretty much anywhere, it seems every man and his dog has a bach somewhere. Northland, the Coromandel, the Kapiti Coast, not to mention the hundreds of bays and inlets in the South Island, each having its own share of baches in varying states of repair, or disrepair.

Funny story: We were in Richmond, Virginia last month, and went to a ‘kiwi’ restaurant called Burger Bach. Apparently the owner (an American) went to New Zealand not so long ago, loved the food, and opened up this restaurant, using Angus beef imported from New Zealand, for example. There’s no freezers in the entire restaurant, as everything is fresh, and admittedly it tasted great. That in itself isn’t funny, but the staff were. “Welcome to Burger Bach!” they called as we walked in the door.

“Huh? Burger Bark?”

They had been pronouncing ‘bach’ wrong. We put them right, but I should have pushed for at least a free meal for our Kiwi lingo educational services. Funnily enough, this is mentioned on their website, but perhaps staff weren’t trained on pronounciation.

Back to baches. Although we live in Wellington, we used to live the Far North, in the hills well above Ahipara and 90 Mile Beach, west of Kaitaia. We still have land and a house there. Okay, it’s not a bach, but it is where we go now and then for a time out. The only trouble is, it’s 1,000km from Wellington. This means flying to Auckland or Kerikeri, and then hiring/borrowing/stealing a 4WD to actually get to our land, and then our house. It’s not absolutely rugged, but it is 4WD, or at least AWD territory.

Luckily, Holden came to the rescue for this trip, with an Equinox LTZ-V – so the top-spec model, with the 2.0-litre, turbo-petrol motor and nine-speed auto. This is the same drivetrain used in the Commodore. To be honest, I was hoping for the diesel, but I wasn’t going to turn down the offer.

Still plenty of room

A quick flight to Auckland, and we loaded up the Equinox. I forgot about the largish storage area above the space-saver spare (below floor level), handy for quite a few items. The cargo area too is more than enough, and I easily managed to keep our load below the level of the back seats.

I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in Equinoxes (Equinii?), and they’re a great all-rounder – so I was looking forward to a week away testing it out, especially on the ‘road’ to our house.

A Kiwi going-to-the-bach tradition: getting ice creams, this one in Mangamuka township

On the trip to the Far North, I was reminded just how well the LTZ-V is kitted out. You aren’t left wanting for too much, with heated and cooled front and rear seats, automatic parking, a panoramic sunroof, an electric tailgate, a heated steering wheel, and Qi wireless phone charging, among other things. Unfortunately, with a case on it, my iPhone wouldn’t actually fit into the Qi wireless charging slot. But there’s two USB slots up front, and another two for rear passengers.

But there are some things I sorely miss, and primarily that would be adaptive cruise control. Yessiree Bob, even the top-spec model only has standard cruise control – and no speed limiter at all. I did use cruise control over the course of the week, but it really brings back to you how good adaptive cruise is. Surely on the next update to the car, this will be included.

There’s also no paddle shifters, and I find these handy for down shifting for some engine braking. In saying that, with a 9-speed gearbox, you have to go down 50 million gears to get some engine braking. Alright, slight exaggeration, but you get the point. But making up for this is that gearbox; it is so good. Perfect changes up and down, no hunting when exiting a corner, it simply does everything right. For me, this gearbox is a class-leader.

Well, maybe except for one thing. Nothing to do with the actual gear changes, but to move the gearbox into manual mode, you have to shift it into Low. This feels so wrong, when you are on the open road, expecting the car to start revving its guts out as you shift it down. But it doesn’t, and then you can control up and downshifts using the  ‘+/-‘ button on top of the shifter. But it’s not easy, as the shifter is quite far back, so using the +/- button means your wrist is at a weird angle. After a while, I give up using it. If only it was like other autos, where you simply shift the level to one side, then move the lever to change gears. There’s no drive modes in the Equinox either, but there is an AWD button, which will force the car to stay in AWD.

That panoramic sunroof is brilliant – its hugely long, and having the electric blind open lets in a load of natural light. I like it like that. Helping things along here is the light beige headlining. I don’t understand why some brands use a black headliner, when all that does is make the car feel cramped and small inside. With decent side windows, beige headlining and the full sunroof, the Equinox is as airy as you could want. It should save some kids in the back getting car-sick.

Made it to our bach

Performance-wise, the car goes so well. That turbo-four performs brilliantly, and has a little raspy note to the exhaust when you have to pass someone. Within 30 minutes of driving, I can sum up the engine easily: it has character. That’s something that’s understandably missing from many modern, efficient petrol engines, but the Equinox brings it all back. I love that exhaust note. Is this why the Police chose it over the V6 for their patrol cars? Unlikely, but part of me hopes it was a Car Guy from the Police doing the selection of engine, and heard that raspy note. Game over.

Comfort levels are pretty good in the cabin. We’ve got Apple CarPlay going for music and reading out any texts on the audio system, it’s hot so the vented seats are on, I’ve got the 2-way electric lumber adjust set just right, and the blind for the sunroof fully open. Cruising towards Kaitaia was effortless.

90 Mile Beach

Ride quality is more than acceptable, perhaps not on par with the Hyundai Santa Fe I just handed back before this trip, but I have no complaints about the ride on any surface.

Tyre noise does rear its head on coarse chip seal, but then this is a common occurrence for many cars. In the wet, it’s amplified, and this is an area where the Equinox needs some work, maybe just a change of tyre brand or type. Wind noise is well damped though, with just a slight whistle at motorway speeds.

After 5 hours, we got to Kaitaia, and fuel economy from Auckland was 7.8L/100km. Pretty good, when you consider the size of this car.

Heading west from Kaitaia, we got to Ahipara, and then started climbing the hills to our house. It’s another 20 minutes of driving, lots of it on metal roads. I’d already spent some time on metal roads in the Equinox in the past, and it does very well. It can feel a little light in the corners, but you always have the feeling of control. Sliding the car a bit on purpose yields no dramas, and it’s simple to bring it back into line again. The ride is good here too, and I’m surprised it doesn’t hop around on the many ruts we have going up the steeper hills, where other cars have chewed the road out. The car just gets it done with no drama.

It’s steeper than it looks in the photo…

At last, we get to our actual ‘road’. I’m confident we’ll be fine, but this is an AWD SUV that’s more suited to snow than mud. Currently our road is not too bad, mostly metaled, but with a few dodgy bits. Much to the annoyance of my wife, I stop on the steepest hill, to do a hill start and see how the car does from a standstill. On road tyres, it did start to wheel spin a bit, but then the electronics kicked in, and away we went. Over the next week, it was the same scenario every time the car lost traction; a little bit of a noise as the car sorted out which tyre/s had grip, then we were off. It did a whole lot better than I thought it would.

Far too quickly the week was over and it was time to head back to Auckland. Unfortunately, we had torrential rain for the entire trip. Heading up and over the Mangamukas, I still can’t get over how well this car handles. It’s hasn’t got the sophisticated GVC suspension of a Mazda CX-5, but still it does bloody well. There’s some body roll, sure, but like other driving aspects of the Equinox, it’s all so controllable and undramatic. My wife, who normally is the first person to tell me to slow down on the corners, says nothing. It’s easy to set this car up to go from apex to apex, and the Mangamukas are a real test of that.

Actually, I always use the high side. Saves scratches

I guess in some ways, the rain was a great test for the Equinox, and after Whangarei, it got even heavier. We’re down to 80km/h with some major pooling on the roads, the car sailed on through it all, and at no point did it feel like it was going to aquaplane. I did have the AWD turned on for full-time AWD, just to be safe. Regardless, the Equinox inspired confidence while driving, even in such atrocious conditions.

A few hours on, we got to Auckland, and Auckland’s traffic. Of course, that mean traffic jams and time to reflect on the trip. I wasn’t sore in the slightest, so the seats felt spot on, for me at least.

With the stop-start traffic, I did re-encounter one annoying aspect of the Equinox; the engine auto-stop system. First up – and not a biggie – the electric park brake button is on the left side of the gear shifter, no doubt a left-over from conversion in the USA. There’s no auto-hold function for the park brake, which I use every time. Hopefully this too will be added in the next update.

So it was down to using the electric park brake when we were stopped for a longish amount of time. So you’ve stopped, and the engine stops to save emissions and fuel. You put the park brake on, since you are going to be a while, and the car thinks you are moving off again (as you’ve released the footbrake) and the engine starts again. I know I keep saying this over and over, but it’s pointless. You’re trying to save fuel, but the engine keeps starting. A Holden engineer told me it was a safety feature, so that if you (for example) stopped in your garage, and the engine auto-stopped, then you got out, it would be a safety issue, since the engine would eventually start again, with no one in the car.

That’s certainly true, but there’s such a simple answer, Holden. You’ve already got it that the horn toots if you leave the key in the car and walk away, simply make it so that the horn toots if you walk away from the car and haven’t turned it off. So simple. You’re welcome.

Fuel economy over 1,000km with our light off-roading ended up at 9.5L/100km. Higher than the trip to Kaitaia, but slow going over rough terrain will always suck the gas, and there’s little you can do about it. I was happy with that number.

Other than the engine auto-off problem (that probably only I get annoyed about), and the lack of adaptive cruise control, the Equinox should be on your Must Drive list if you are looking for a midsize SUV. It ticks so many boxes, and I expect just one drive for some people would be enough to win them over. It’s a very underrated SUV.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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