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SPIRITED SCRAPPER : Chevrolet’s compact 2019 Equinox AWD Premier 2.0T crossover comes out swinging against pricier competitors

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Chevrolet’s redesign of its compact Equinox crossover for the 2018 model year brought a much-improved entry into one of autodom’s most contentious segments.

Fortunately, General Motors’ bow-tie division has done excellent work, bringing to the fray a handsome, slightly smaller CUV with athletic handling characteristics, a potent optional turbocharged engine, and a spacious and attractive cabin.

The 2019 Equinox offers excellent passenger space for both front- and rear-seat riders in its comfortable and eye-catching interior, but cargo space comes up a bit shy compared with some of its adversaries. A nice feature, though, is an underfloor compartment beneath the rear cargo area, handy to secure smaller items out of sight.

The cabin’s styling certainly looks sharp, particularly in higher-end two-tone models like our Premier-level tester, but much of the dash, door panels and console are crafted from hard plastics. To sustain the semi-upscale ambiance, you should look but you better not touch. At least the interior materials seem tightly assembled and should prove durable.

Behind the wheel, the Equinox delivers surprising drivability. The optional 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine spits out a gutsy 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Given that the current Equinox is reportedly 400 pounds lighter than its predecessor, that’s plenty of juice to move the CUV with real vigor.

Paired with an excellent, efficient nine-speed automatic transmission, the all-wheel-drive version is EPA-rated at 22 mpg city/28 highway. That’s a bit below some of the CUV’s rivals, but few of them can match the Equinox’s vitality.

The excellent suspension tuning, paired with unexpectedly accurate and well-weighted steering, makes the Equinox among the sportiest of compact utes, regardless of national origin. It has an almost Germanic feel as it sweeps confidently through back-road corners.

If there’s a fly in the pricing ointment, Chevy has ordained that several driver-assist and safety features are only available on the top-tier model. So to get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, standard on even base models of several competitors, you’ll need to pony up for a Premier. Unfortunately, even then you’d still need to pay extra for forward-collision alert with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.

At least the Premier includes leather interior, heated front seats with driver-position memory, hands-free power tailgate, 8-inch infotainment system touchscreen, dual-zone climate control and roof rails.

Our loaded test Equinox AWD Premier had a Confidence and Convenience II Package tacked on that lumped the above-mentioned safety items with a number of additional luxury and comfort features. That pumped up the bottom line to $38,740, which puts it in price contention with several near-luxury offerings.

Still, the 2019 Equinox is a surprisingly adept compact CUV, a fine driver with numerous standout attributes. As such, it deserves a close look from prospective buyers.