The GMC Terrain is a midsize crossover sport utility that seats five. Its roomy and substantial cabin offers enough rear-seat legroom and interior volume for comfort on long trips. Terrain uses front-wheel drive and carlike unit-body construction and shares its basic structure with the Chevrolet Equinox.
Launched as a 2010 model, the 2011 GMC Terrain carries over unchanged except it comes with the latest version of Enhanced OnStar 9.0, which delivers improved speech recognition. Terrain was designed to compete with compact sport-utilities such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 and midsize SUVs such as the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano.
We found the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine delivers good performance and fuel economy, earning an EPA-estimated 22/32 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive and 6-speed automatic. This engine is rated at 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque.
A 3.0-liter V6 is optional rated at 264 hp and 222 lb-ft of torque and 17/24 mpg with front-wheel drive and 6-speed automatic. The V6 is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds, enough for a light boat or a pair of personal watercraft or snowmobiles.
All-wheel drive is available for all-weather capability. All models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
We found the interior of the GMC Terrain comfortable and quiet, well isolated from the noise and chop of the roadway. Interior design and workmanship is quite good.
The Terrain SLT trim levels offer the widest range of premium features, but even those opting for the four-cylinder engine can still equip a Terrain with options such as navigation and rear-seat DVD systems. All safety features except all-wheel drive are standard throughout the Terrain lineup.
The GMC Terrain is designed to appeal to a different buyer than the Chevy Equinox, which is made in the same plant and based on a shared platform. GMC is strictly a truck company, so the Terrain has bolder styling with a larger, more distinctive grille.
The GMC body makes use of broad, sheer surfaces with rectangular shapes in the wheelwells. The side surfaces are clean, with chrome accents on the door handles and windows. Along the bottom of the exterior panels is a textured anti-chip layer of paint, conveying the message that the Terrain could be functional in harsher environments, both urban and rural. A sleek roof rack provides additional cargo capacity.
Especially when viewed from the front, the Terrain's wide stance and high beltline make for a substantial, well-planted impression. Although technically a compact, the Terrain looks much bigger.
Three wheel sizes and styles are available, including 17- and 18-inch aluminum wheels, and 19-inch chrome clad wheels.
GMC Terrain seats five, and it is not available with a third-row seat. The larger GMC Acadia is better for families who might need to seat seven or eight.
The interior design of the GMC Terrain features curving lines and close-fitting panels with nicely grained textures. The environment inside the Terrain is open and relaxed. Seats are styled using a secondary contrasting inset with exact red stitching.
The GMC Terrain offers a high seating position, giving the driver the same kind of vision and command of the road as traditional body-on-frame SUVs. The step-in height, however, is relatively low, making entry, exit and rear-seat loading a bit easier than with the truck-based SUVs.
The seats proved comfortable and adjustable enough to keep us from squirming as the hours wore on. For our average-size frame, there was more than enough legroom, and it was easy to position the seat comfortably in relation to the steering wheel. We were told that the interior team worked extensively to optimize the accelerator pedal heal position, so that the driving position could be close to ideal for a wider range of body types. There was special attention paid to accommodating shorter drivers.
The controls and dash are low and lean away from the front occupants, an effect that creates a generously open, spacious feeling. The dash and controls are lighted in orange, with bright white instrument numerals. The interior lighting scheme is extensively developed, creating a well-lit, but not overly bright, nighttime environment.
A floating center stack, positioned so that the most-used controls are within easy reach, houses a center storage bin big enough for a laptop computer. The navigation screen is seven inches in size, with touch-screen design. A 10-gigabyte hard drive enables storage of a substantial number of music files.
The rear seat is designed with emphasis on flexible operation. It reclines and slides forward eight inches to favor either cargo room or passenger room, as the situation dictates. The optional rear-seat entertainment system has two independently operable screens, capable of providing separate amusements for two back seat occupants.
A rearview camera is standard in all models, a great safety feature as it can help the driver spot a child behind the vehicle when backing up. However, without the navigation system, the image is displayed on the rearview mirror and it's small. Having the navigation system makes the rearview camera easier to use. Regardless, this image can help the driver spot a small child when backing up.
OnStar and XM are pre-paid for one year. There are four power outlets for phone chargers, laptops and other portable devices.
Bluetooth allows the driver to operate cellular telephones hands-free using the Terrain's speakers, a hidden microphone, and the navigation screen.
The power rear hatch can be programmed to open part-way, in case of low-clearance garages.
Underway, the GMC Terrain is commendably quiet. GMC engineers have used acoustic blankets between the engine and dash to reduce engine noise, and acoustic laminated glass to deflect wind noise. The doors are triple-sealed for further quieting and efficient climate control.
The GMC Terrain feels substantial around town, but reasonably agile, with a progressive turn-in and minimal body roll at normal speeds. The chassis is clearly set up to deliver a smooth, isolated ride, as we discovered on some straight, fast and sometimes potholed Midwestern roads. Relatively little vibration leaks through into the steering wheel or other touch points. The suspension is on the soft side, but handling around town and on more demanding roads is not hugely affected by body roll or brake dive. Hydraulic bushings were used to tune the chassis. Cornering is quite predictable and secure, enhanced by a relatively wide stance. All things considered, we think the Terrain offers a comfortable dynamic balance, appropriate for a multi-purpose SUV. It's not going to win an autocross, but the Terrain is still solidly planted and nicely balanced.
The 3.0-liter V6 is an advanced, direct-injection engine that revs smoothly and willingly. The same engine is used in the Buick LaCrosse, but this is a higher-output version that has more aggressive induction and exhaust turning. The 3.0-liter V6 is rated at 264 hp and 222 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg with front-wheel drive, 16/22 mpg with all-wheel drive. The Terrain V6 is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds.
For an engine that supplies peak torque fairly high in the rev range, the V6 pulls from low rpm smoothly and well, capably powering the nearly 4000-pound Terrain around town in a satisfying, low-effort manner. It's the 6-speed transmission that makes the engine ideal, with a gear for every situation and intelligent programming that can sense the difference between subtle variations of throttle input. Sixth gear is a very tall overdrive, so the Terrain cruises at highway speeds easily and quietly, loafing along at 1500 rpm at 60 mph, and 1800 at 75 mph. And yet, the transmission and V6 allow the Terrain to respond well to demand for power on on-ramps and highway passing. Ask it to pass and it downshifts twice in quick succession, but with very little shift shock, and the tach shows 4500 rpm on the way to a 6950-rpm redline. Upon full throttle, there is a rush of available power, but not excessive noise.
The Terrain with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine delivers good performance. In fact, we did not notice a huge difference in acceleration performance. Towing capacity is reduced to 1500 pounds, but overall driveability is comparable. With its own quick-shifting 6-speed transmission, the 182-hp four-cylinder was easily able to power the Terrain around town, and with just a little more effort, supply confident on-ramp acceleration and no-downshift passing power on the highway. The 6-speed Hydra-matic behind the 2.4-liter has slightly lower gearing, but it shifts just as smoothly and follows throttle input just as well. Especially for those who feel fuel costs will become a significant factor in the next five years, the four-cylinder powertrain is worth consideration. The 2.4-liter gets an EPA-estimated 22/32 mpg City/Highway, 20/29 mpg with all-wheel drive. The 2.4-liter engine is rated at 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque.
The GMC Terrain is a generously sized compact (or small midsize) crossover SUV best suited to young families. It's well designed and executed, with state of the art powertrains, features and safety systems.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Terrain in southeast Michigan.