By Roger Boylan
GM offers three versions of this pleasant vehicle: the working-stiff’s Chevrolet Equinox (previously reviewed in these pages), the fancy-pants Cadillac SRX (actually on a premium version of this platform shared with the recently deceased Saab 9-4x), and the present, modestly upscale iteration, the GMC Terrain, which was my ride for a week. (The also recently deceased Saturn Vue was another close relation.) While the vehicle may be similar in feel and specs to its relatives, at least GM has made it look completely different from the Equinox – for better or worse.
The Terrain comes in low-end SLE-1 and SLE-2 guise, starting at around $24K with a 4-cylinder 182-hp engine, or for a few grand more—mine stickered at a robust $32K–in upscale SLT-1 and SLT-2 trim with a stout 264-hp V6 pumping out 222 lb-ft of torque and not a few luxuries within: dark gray leather upholstery with red top-stitching; automatic air conditioning; heated front seats; eight-way adjustable power driver’s seat (but two old-fashioned manually operated handles on the passenger side); AM/FM/CD/MP3 8-speaker Pioneer audio system and touch-screen interface paired through Bluetooth audio streaming to Pandora and other Internet-based services; nav system that worked well for me in my quest to find a Barnes & Noble nearby before they’re all gone; heated power mirrors; 18-in. chrome wheels for that touch of bling; programmable remote-operated liftgate (great fun); silently sliding power moonroof (also fun, but not as much as the liftgate); and so on.
Safety features include stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front-seat side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, and a rearview camera, all of which collectively provide enough protection to earn the Terrain the coveted “Top Safety Pick” classification from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Other optional gizmos include the Forward Collision Alert, which might actually have caused me to have a collision if I hadn’t deactivated it. Every time I came within 6 feet of another vehicle, even in innocuous circumstances, a screen nestled under a small binnacle at the top of the dash flashed dire warnings in the form of a bright-red cartoon of half a car being rear-ended by another half-car. Fortunately, it was easy to deactivate the thing after a brief browse through the driver’s manual, because it would have put a serious damper on my enjoyment of the Terrain. (I know: I’m an old curmudgeon, just the kind of driver these electronic nannies are intended for. But honestly? No thanks.) Other driver info was more useful, and less distracting: fuel range (about 400 between fill-ups), average mileage (20.7), traffic conditions (usually bad), etc., all clearly displayed, either on a small screen between the tach and the speedometer or on the central touch screen.
The interior is elegant and well laid-out, with good visibility on all sides. Up front there are numerous busy little buttons that take some getting used to, but otherwise all is clear and clean, with a soft-touch dash surface and muted blues and grays that harmonize well. The cascading center stack is angled so that most controls are easy to reach, and it accommodates a storage bin for a laptop or lunch box. There are plenty of other cubbies and storage bins scattered here and there. Leg- and headroom are more than adequate fore and aft, and the 60/40 split rear seats slide 8 ft. forward and backward and recline as well, facilitating the kiddies’ or old folks’ siesta on long trips. This feature, although well thought-out, does compromise the cargo situation somewhat. On the other hand, with the seats folded down—and therefore, presumably, sans kiddies or old folks–you have 63.7 cu. ft. of space, less than the Honda CR-V’s 70.9, but more than the Nissan Rogue’s 57.9, plenty of room anyway for a week’s groceries or three big suitcases and assorted totes.
The Terrain’s V6 is powerful enough to impel the burly little vehicle from 0 to 60 in around 7.5 seconds: quite respectable, given the vehicle’s weight and unaerodynamic silhouette, although a brief reluctance on the part of the 6-speed automatic to shift from second gear into third, as if suddenly having doubts about its mission in life, impedes forward progress slightly. Still, I felt no compunction about nailing the gas on a narrow country road to get past Billy Bob‘s meandering old rust bucket of a Dodge pickup. The Terrain’s handling is good, not stellar, but this is an SUV/crossover, after all, and pretty typical of this segment. So is the steering: not exactly numb, but hardly Nurburgring-taut. The brakes, however, are excellent, neither grabby nor mushy, with no fade. The overall quality of the ride is surprisingly plush; the Terrain is one of the quietest and smoothest-riding SUVs (crossovers, trucks, whatever) I’ve ever driven, except under hard acceleration. The V6-powered version is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds, enough for a snowmobile or light boat–or a pair of old black BBQ smokers like the ones in the back of Billy Bob’s pickup. (A common cultural artifact in South Texas.) With front-wheel drive, the Terrain boasts EPA estimates of 17 mpg city and 24 highway mpg, 20 combined. As previously noted, my average was 20.7, according to the driver info center, and that was attained during 300+ miles’ driving on back roads, freeways, and city streets. Not bad, considering the size of the engine and the overall heft of the thing (nearly 4000 pounds).
Yes, the Terrain is indeed a burly truck for a smallish crossover, but that’s what distinguishes GMC from Chevy, and why you might buy a Terrain rather than an Equinox, which is a perfectly decent vehicle. But GMC has always been all about trucks; Chevy–Silverado and Suburban notwithstanding—is mostly about cars. Here, the difference is plain. What is, in Equinox guise, a fairly nimble crossover that feels more like a car than a truck, is distinctly a truck when its name is Terrain. Inside it manages to feel solidly truck-like and sophisticated at the same time, which is in keeping with the noises GM has been making about moving the GMC division further up the luxury scale. The raised seating position gives the driver the same king-of-the-road feeling as in an old-fashioned body-on-frame SUV, or full-size pickup. Like a truck’s, the Terrain’s doors are heavy and bank-vault-like, with a little too much of a tendency to swing back hard onto emerging shins, but there’s no question they’re substantial, and that’s a good feeling when you’re on the highway. All in all, GMC has cleverly packaged as a truck what is, in essence, a tall wagon. This alone is sufficient to set it apart in the segment. Take a look at the exterior: squared-off wheel wells, dual exhausts, a huge chromed grille, and broad, sheer flanks. It’s not pretty, or cute; it’s good-looking, even rugged. It’s a car—sorry, truck—for real guys and gals with real money in the pockets of their Levis.