NASHVILLE, TN – How much horsepower and torque do Chevrolet Equinox customers really want or need? General Motors product planners are about to find out.

The all-new third-generation ’18 model has been available in the U.S. since March with a 170-hp 1.5L turbocharged 4-cyl., and arriving at showrooms is the optional (and very capable) 252-hp 2.0L turbo-4 that has been slightly adapted from rear-wheel-drive applications in the Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac ATS and CTS.

The Equinox employs front-wheel drive (with optional all-wheel drive), so the 2.0L turbo-4 (internal code W10B 2013) has a unique accessory drive and oil pan. And the exhaust system is completely different so it sounds understandably less sporty than that in the Camaro. Dissipative acoustic carpet and active noise cancellation help on that front.

Consumers associate turbochargers with high output, and Chevy is counting on the new Equinox engine lineup to be a competitive advantage: It’s the only midsize CUV offered with nothing but forced induction, as well as direct injection.

Late this summer, Chevrolet plans to complete its Equinox engine rollout by offering a 137-hp 1.6L 4-cyl. turbodiesel, the same engine available in the Cruze compact car. For now, GM expects the 1.5L to be the dominant powertrain, while projecting a 25% take-rate for the 2.0L turbo. Too early to predict popularity of the diesel.

Here in Music City and its rural surroundings, the new 2.0L Ecotec gasoline turbo-4 eagerly pushes the Equinox through winding roads, up hills and along reasonably flat, uncrowded highways.

Paired to GM’s 9-speed automatic transmission, this engine behaves as if it’s barely working, cycling quickly and smoothly through gears, even under a heavy foot. Product planners predict most drivers will spend about half their time in ninth gear.

At stop lights, the engine isn’t working at all: Every model of the new Equinox comes standard with stop/start, which boosts fuel economy an estimated 1.5%. The system can be turned off, however.

Midsize CUVs such as the Equinox are not purchased for weekend racing or high revving, which explains why this booming segment makes do primarily with naturally aspirated 4-cyl. engines. These are liftgate-friendly utility vehicles for young families, often filling a void because Mom and Dad don’t want to drive a minivan.

The prior Equinox used a direct-injected Ecotec 2.4L that won a Wards 10 Best Engines trophy in 2010 but since has been outpaced by newer engines from rival CUVs and now goes away.

GM sets out to rectify that situation, endowing the 2.0L turbo-4 with the most power in the segment (252 hp). The Ford Escape, also offering a stout 2.0L EcoBoost turbo-4, wins the torque battle with 275 lb.-ft. (373 Nm), edging out the No.2 Equinox, which produces 260 lb.-ft. (353 Nm).

Years ago, the Equinox was among the most popular vehicles in the segment.

But this fierce battle among several reasonably new midsize utes has the Nissan Rogue in the No.1 U.S. sales position through May, followed in order by the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Escape and then Equinox, according to WardsAuto data. The Subaru Forester and Outback and Jeep Cherokee are not far behind.

So GM is taking a chance, hoping shoppers will appreciate more juice, especially because it comes with only a slight penalty in rated fuel economy relative to the old 2.4L engine. During two mostly rural drive routes, we achieve better than 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km) with the 2.0L, according to the trip computer. Not shabby at all.

Shoppers seeking better fuel economy will want the 1.5L Ecotec instead, or will end up in competitor showrooms. Or they will wait for the Equinox diesel, which is expected to achieve 40 mpg (5.8 L/100 km) on the highway.

The new Equinox is 400 lbs. (180 kg) lighter than its predecessor, which helps on the efficiency front and makes the CUV dynamically superior, tracking well through the curves and feeling extremely nimble.

The use of more ultra high-strength steels in the chassis, shorter overhangs and redesigned suspension subframes that use six connection points instead of the usual four contribute to the CUV’s confident stance and reduce body flex.

The Equinox is the first offspring from GM’s new D2UC architecture, which will spawn other future vehicles. The prior-generation Equinox was part of GM’s Theta platform.

Equinox pricing (in L-trim) starts with the 1.5L turbo at $24,525, and the 2.0L requires stepping up to the LT trim, which starts at $30,090 with FWD. Those prices are in line with much of the competition, but the range-topping 2.0L Premier AWD is the most expensive vehicle in the segment, at $38,175.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com