The GMC Terrain is a generously sized compact sport-utility vehicle best suited to young families or active couples. It seats five in a well-designed, nicely finished cabin, with state-of-the-art powertrains, advanced safety systems and convenience features, and class-leading fuel economy.
The 2012 Terrain represents its third year of production, and new for 2012 is a handful of upgrades, starting with a touch-screen audio system that adds a seven-inch HD video display to integrate several functions. There are also safety upgrades, including a better rearview camera and a new collision-alert system.
Technically a compact SUV, the Terrain crossover is nearly large enough to be considered mid-size sport-utility, with lots of space inside. Terrain competes with compacts such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, and midsize models such as the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano.
Terrain's most obvious strength might be its spacious, well-equipped cabin. The interior is comfortable, quiet and well isolated from the noise and chop of the roadway. Design and workmanship are quite good, and the new touch-screen monitor on the 2012 Terrain reduces clutter.
The GMC Terrain shares its platform and mechanical components with the Chevy Equinox, but the two vehicles don't look much alike. Terrain is geared toward GMC's truck image, and its angular styling is polished and rugged at the same time.
Terrain comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for improved all-weather capability, even with the standard four-cylinder engine. All models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The base 182-horspower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder delivers good performance and great fuel economy, earning an EPA-estimated 22/32 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive. A 3.0-liter V6 is optional, rated at 264 hp, 222 pound-feet of torque and 17/24 mpg with front-wheel drive. The V6 increases towing capacity from 1500 to 3500 pounds, the latter enough for a light boat or a pair of personal watercraft or snowmobiles.
Starting at about $26,000, the 2012 Terrain SLE comes very well equipped, with a nice audio system, satellite radio hardware, OnStar and rearview camera. The standard rear seat might be best in class. The seatbacks recline, and both sections slide fore and aft up to eight inches to maximize either passenger or cargo space.
The 2012 Terrain SLT trim levels offer the widest range of premium features, including navigation, streaming audio, heated seats and memory, but they're still available with the four-cylinder and front-drive. Buyers don't have to take the big engine or all-wheel drive to get the techie features and goodies.
Safety features have been enhanced for 2012: The optional Front Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning system, new for 2012 and initially available on the line-topping SLT, is relatively inexpensive. It works as well as some more expensive systems in other cars, with less intrusion during around-town driving. The standard rearview camera on 2012 Terrain models displays its image on the seven-inch audio screen, rather than inset in the rearview mirror.
The GMC Terrain is built at the same plant as the Chevy Equinox, and it's on the same platform with the same mechanical components. Yet the Terrain is intended to appeal to a different buyer. Technically a compact, the Terrain looks bigger. Its dimensions (and those of the Equinox) come close to some mid-size SUVs and crossovers.
Terrain measures 15 feet, 5 inches bumper to bumper, on a 112-inch wheel base. The distance between its wheel hubs is slightly longer than the wheelbase on the big Ford Explorer, and the Terrain is slightly larger than the Ford Edge in most dimensions. GMC engineers have used acoustic blankets between the engine and dash to minimize engine noise streaming into Terrain's cabin. Acoustic laminated glass help manage wind noise, and the doors are triple-sealed for further quieting and efficient climate control.
GMC is strictly a truck company, so the Terrain has bolder styling with a larger, more distinctive grille than what's on the Equinox. Especially when viewed from the front, the Terrain's wide stance and high beltline leave a substantial, well-planted impression.
Terrain's body makes use of broad, sheer surfaces with a rectangular shape to the wheel wells. 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.
Three wheel sizes and styles are available, including 17- and 18-inch aluminum wheels, and 19-inch chrome clad wheels.
The GMC Terrain makes a comfortable, versatile, flexible vehicle for families with two kids, or for couples with active lifestyles. Some interior improvements for 2012, starting with a standard touch-screen interface, make Terrain even easier to live with, but it's not available with a third-row seat. Buyers who occasionally need space for seven or eight will have to look at something larger, like GMC's Acadia.
The Terrain cabin features curving lines and close-fitting panels. All surfaces are soft and nicely grained. The interior space is open and relaxed, with lots of room to stretch in back. Seats are styled using a contrasting inset with exact red stitching. The dashboard is low and leans away from the front occupants, creating a generously spacious feel.
The driver gets a high seating position, offering the same kind of vision and command of the road as traditional body-on-frame SUVs. Terrain's 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 are comfortable and adjustable enough to prevent squirming as the hours wear on. We found it has more than enough legroom for an average-size person, and it was easy to position the seat comfortably in relation to the steering wheel. GMC says special attention was paid to accommodating shorter drivers. Interior designers worked extensively to optimize the accelerator pedal so the driving position could be close to ideal for a wider range of body types.
The dash and controls are lighted in orange, with bright white instrument numerals. The interior lighting creates a well-lit, but not overly bright, nighttime environment.
The floating center stack is positioned so that the most-used controls are within easy reach. It looks high-tech, but isn't overly complicated, and there's enough space for a center storage bin big enough for a laptop computer. The center console also has a tall, deep box, and that has two advantages. It makes a great armrest, and there's plenty of room to put things inside. There are four power outlets spread through the cabin for phone chargers, laptops and other portable devices.
The big news for 2012 is a new, seven-inch touch screen for the standard audio system. Essentially, GMC is building all Terrains with the HD screen for the navigation system, even if they're not equipped with navigation. For customers, this brings the added benefit of making the optional GPS system much less expensive. The touch graphics look something like a cell phone, and they allow more functions to be integrated into the system. OnStar and XM satellite radio hardware are standard, with a six-month subscription to OnStar and a three-month subscription to XM included. If a Terrain buyer likes either, there will be ongoing cost.
Bluetooth now comes standard on all Terrains, and it allows the driver to operate cellular telephones hands-free using the Terrain's speakers, a hidden microphone, and the touch screen. On the line topping SLT-2, occupants can also stream audio from hand-held devices and control them with the touch screen. With navigation, there's an SD card slot to transfer music to the system's hard drive.
All Terrains comes standard with a rearview camera. It's a great safety feature, as it can help the driver spot anything, including children, behind the vehicle when backing up. The standard touch screen helps considerably here: previously, on Terrains without the nav system, the rearview image was imbedded in the rearview mirror, and too small to really exploit the back-up camera.
The Terrain's rear seat is one of its best features. It's split 60/40, as is typical, but each seat back reclines individually, like those in front. Better still, each portion slides forward or rearward up to eight inches, favoring either cargo room or passenger room as the situation dictates.
A power-operated, programmable rear hatch is available on all but the base Terrain. It can be set to open to three difference heights, depending on the size of the operator and the overhead clearance available.
Cargo space is good, but not best in class. With the rear seat moved furthest forward but up to hold passengers, there is 31.6 cubic feet of volume behind it. That's twice the space available in the typical compact sedan's trunk.
With the rear seat folded, volume expands to 63.9 cubic feet. That approaches the cargo space available in some larger crossovers like the Toyota Venza or Ford Edge, but it's less than what's available in some smaller ones, including the Ford Escape. And there are no standard cargo helpers with the Terrain. If you want a net pouch for grocery bags or a cover to hide what's in the cargo area, you'll have to spring for the optional Cargo Package, which also adds cross rails for the roof rack.
The GMC Terrain delivers a nice balance of attributes on the road, getting along in a fashion that complements its interior features and all-purpose versatility.
The dynamic balance tilts toward comfort, but the Terrain is reasonably nimble around town, and very easy to manage. It accelerates nicely regardless of the engine, and fuel economy with the four-cylinder is outstanding. The optional all-wheel-drive is suitable for graded trails, and it's valuable in wintry climes.
For 2012, the standard four-cylinder engine can run on E85 bio-fuel, and the high-trim SLT-2 is available with a new collision warning alert. Many buyers will find it worth the cost.
For starters, the collision alert system is relatively inexpensive ($295), and it works as well as others that cost a lot more, with less distraction. It's a bit distracting itself, until the driver becomes familiar with it, because the warning device is front and center on the dashboard. The driver sets the warning distance to an appropriate length. Once that's settled, if he or she happens to glance down at a phone or back at a toddler at an inappropriate instant, the warning system will beep loudly and flash if the Terrain is closing too quickly on another car or object. It gets the driver's attention fast, and that's really all there is to it. It's a good idea.
Both Terrain engines are technically advanced, with direct gasoline injection and sophisticated control technology to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. The 3.0-liter V6 is rated at 264 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city, 24 highway with front-wheel drive, 16/23 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 satisfying, low-effort style. It's the six-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 V6 cruises at highway speeds easily and quietly, loafing along at 1500 rpm at 60 mph, and 1800 at 75 mph. And still it responds quickly to demands for power on on-ramps or for 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. Under full throttle, there is a rush of available power, but not excessive noise.
That said, we did not notice a huge difference in acceleration with the 2.4-liter, 182-horsepower four-cylinder. Towing capacity is reduced to 1500 pounds, but overall drivability is comparable, and mileage ratings increase significantly. The four-cylinder gets an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city, 32 highway with front drive, and 20/29 mpg with all-wheel drive. Both ratings are near the top of the class.
With its own quick-shifting six-speed automatic, the four-cylinder easily powers the Terrain around town. With just a little more effort, it supplies confident on-ramp acceleration and no-downshift passing power on the highway. Its transmission has slightly lower gearing than that used with the V6, 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 over the next five years, the four-cylinder powertrain is worth consideration.
With either engine, the Terrain is commendably quiet in just about every respect. It feels substantial around town, not the least bit tinny, but it's also reasonably agile, with a progressive turn-in and little side-to-side sway at normal speeds. The suspension delivers a smooth, isolated ride, as we discovered on some straight, fast and sometimes potholed Midwestern roads. Relatively little vibration leaks through the steering wheel or other touch points.
In other words, 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. 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 compact GMC Terrain seats five. Its roomy, substantial cabin has enough rear legroom and interior volume for comfort on long trips. Terrain starts with front-wheel drive and car-like unit-body construction, so it's comfortable and maneuverable on the road, and loaded with technology and safety features. The standard four-cylinder delivers good acceleration and great mileage; the upgrade V6 increases towing capacity to 3500 pounds. Optional all-wheel drive, available with the four-cylinder, makes Terrain suited for just about any environment.
J.P. Vettraino and John Stewart contributed to this NewCarTestDrive.com report.