On The Road Review: GMC Terrain

GMC, General Motors’ premium truck division, has enjoyed a sales rebound this year that isn’t often part of the total market story because, well, GMC doesn’t have quite the cache as some of the other trendy brands right now. GM marketers are out to change that.

GMC’s sales are up 20 percent year-to-date, with a gain of 47,000 units over last year. The Terrain — the brand’s smallest current offering — is accounting for 40 percent of that growth.

The Terrain is a mechanical clone to Chevy’s hot-selling Equinox crossover wagon. Both models use the same drivetrains and engines, but their exterior styling and interior appointments are very different. In fact, the blocky-looking Terrain looks like another one of those characters from the Transformers movie trilogy.

This week, we’ll take a look at the high-end Terrain SLT with optional AWD and the upgraded 3.0-liter V-6 engine. Heavily equipped with options, this package lists for $38,895.

First off, the Terrain’s exterior measurements put this vehicle very close to the midsize crossover segment rather than the compact class that many shoppers might associate the GMC with — cars such as the RAV4, Honda CRV or Ford Escape. At 185.3 inches long the Terrain takes up a footprint that is more like the Ford Edge or Nissan Murano, fine two-row, five-passenger crossover wagons themselves.

Endowed with a lengthy 112.5-inch wheelbase, the GMC also boasts one of the smoothest rides in the segment, a characteristic that is not lost on the buyers who are embracing this platform. This extended wheelbase gives the engineers the capability to also create one very spacious second row seating area — with a rear seat that slides back and forth up to 8 inches. Called Multiflex seating, the Terrain’s second row is limousine-like spacious when the seat is pushed all the way back.

Like many recent GM vehicles, the Terrain has a vastly improved interior with materials, textures and surfaces that are decidedly better than the plasticky designs of just a few years ago. Fit and finish is not as perfect as Audi, yet the combination of concise gauges and buttons, solid ergonomics and good overall ambience create a winning vibe in a segment where quality is a high priority.

That said, I did find that the GMC’s navigation system must have been designed by some former Microsoft technicians. Simple requests and changes required multiple steps and the whole setup proved to be more cumbersome to use than recent units from Chrysler, for example. In a day and age where distracted driving is a serious issue on the road any technical interface that demands multiple transactions to accomplish basic functions violates the tenets of the KISS principles — keep it simple….

Like the majority of crossover wagons, the Terrain’s ingress and egress is very convenient. The elevated hip point makes climbing in as simple as sliding in and out with minimal bending, twisting or reaching. High appeal factor for this class.

Under the hood, our SLT-2 trimmed Terrain featured the optional 3.0-liter V-6. This motor is rated for 82 hp more (264 vs. 182) than the standard four-cylinder engine, yet there is only a modest bump in peak torque. With just 222-pound/feet of torque on tap — at a lofty 5,100 rpms — the Terrain driver must be willing to push the throttle rather firmly to realize the wagon’s best acceleration. With all Terrain’s carrying a six-speed automatic transmission to enhance fuel efficiency, this 4,200-pound crossover has a lot of mass to move quickly — expect multiple downshifts (accompanied by a pleasant intake honk) in order to execute quick passing maneuvers or for sudden merging action.

Previous encounters with four-cylinder equipped Terrains and Equinox models proved that the vehicle’s weight isn’t necessarily a large penalty for reaching rather impressive EPA mileage estimates — as well as real world results. Base model Terrains with front-wheel drive earn 22/32 mpg ratings — very commendable.

Our tested AWD with the V-6 is EPA rated for 16/22 mpg — really not any better than the full-size GMC Acadia that is larger inside and out with more power on tap. My actual mileage was slightly less than 20 mpg, a disappointment given the fuel performance of previous editions.

While we’re nitpicking, it is also worth noting that the Terrain’s low-speed turning radius was much larger than expected, and larger than the class leaders. I also found that the chrome plating on the exterior mirrors reflected an awful lot of direct sunlight right back into my eyes under certain conditions.

The Terrain’s loaded price also warrants a price comparison to GM’s own Cadillac SRX crossover wagon. The SRX starts at $34,615 with similar power but a higher fuel economy rating, plus, an arguably much more attractive exterior that includes the panache of the Cadillac name. The SRX is slightly shorter than the Terrain, so rear seat space and a shorter wheelbase are some of the tradeoffs, plus the Cadillac lacks a base engine offering like the Terrain.

Unless you need the additional V-6 power for towing (3,500 pounds vs. 1,500 pounds) or your lust for dual exhaust pipes and that rich intake honk under acceleration must substitute for some other shortcomings, there is not much validation for spending the extra money for the V-6.

Look for GM to tinker with the V-6 engine here, adding direct injection and other technical features to increase its output and efficiency, while a true GMC compact crossover wagon remains in the wings. The long rumored Granite — a tough-looking compact wagon — is slated to hit dealer showrooms late next year.

Terrain hits: roomy and comfortable interior, nice ride dynamics, good fuel economy with four cylinder power.

Terrain misses: large turning radius, poor fuel economy with V-6 engine, gets pricey when adding options.

Just the Facts: GMC Terrain

Terrain is a five-passenger crossover wagon with front or optional AWD. Pricing starts at $24,995, including destination fees.

Tested SLT-2 AWD lists for $31,650. With options, total price came to $38,895.

All Terrains come with back-up camera, StabiliTrak traction and anti-skid control, six-speed automatic transmission and satellite radio. SLT trim includes: OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation, power rear liftgate, 18-alloy wheels, chrome package, sunroof, heated leather seating, front memory controls, automatic climate system, Pioneer 8-speaker audio system and Bluetooth.

Options on test car included: upgraded audio system with integrated navigation and 7-inch touch-screen, dual screen rear DVD player with wireless headsets, V-6 engine, 19-inch wheel package, trailer towing package and auto-dimming mirrors.

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Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.