The GMC Terrain is considered a compact crossover, but it doesn’t look or feel very compact. And it gets fuel mileage rivaling that of a compact car when equipped with the standard four-cylinder engine. An optional V6 brings brisk acceleration. Its blocky styling has hints of Hummer, and cabin space strives to be Yukon.
Terrain is in the same class as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and the related Chevrolet Equinox.
For 2016, GMC Terrain gets a full update, its first since it was launched as a 2010. Nothing mechanical, just revisions to the exterior (grille, hood, front and rear fascia), interior, and new features such as LED daytime running lights.
The standard engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with direct injection making 180 horsepower and an EPA-estimated 22/32 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, 1 mpg less with all-wheel drive. But there’s an available 3.6-liter V6 that makes a whopping 301 horsepower, at the price of 5 city and 8 highway mpg, with its 17/24 mpg score. Both engines use a six-speed automatic transmission. The four-cylinder gets big 18-inch wheels, the V6 gets 19-inch whoppers.
The good news is that you can get the four-cylinder engine even with the upscale Denali model. Not many manufacturers combine their most economical powertrain with their most luxurious trim, but it’s something smart shoppers often want. Some folks don’t see the need for all that power.
Safety ratings are good, with four stars from NHTSA and Top Safety Pick from IIHS. Curtain airbags and rearview camera are standard, on a long list with all the basic quality features, from power driver seat to USB port. Options (or standard on higher trim levels) include leather, wood trim, remote start, automatic climate control, Pioneer sound system, heated front seats, sunroof, IntelliLink infotainment with Bluetooth, headrest-mounted DVD system and a boatload of debatable driver warning systems with enough beepers to distract you. There’s enough available equipment to jack the price of your Terrain to more than $40k, from a base price of barely over $24k.
An Eco mode improves fuel mileage with the press of a button, by turning back the AC and slowing down the transmission and throttle response.
After six years the Terrain finally gets a makeover for 2016, but if you didn’t like its square edges before, you won’t like them now. However if you liked them before, you might like them more now. The Terrain still has a military look, it’s still macho and distinctive, although now it’s more modern.
There aren’t many curves or bends in the sheetmetal, except maybe for the new dome on the hood and the C-shaped highlights at the corners of the front and rear fascia. The overall theme is bold and upright lines. LED running lights in the front bumper on the uptrim models are an improvement to our national landscape, compared to those bright DRLs in the headlamps that we wish would all go away.
Can’t complain about comfort in a Terrain, not even with the standard fabric seats. The cabin is roomy. There’s a lot of head room, knee room and leg room. The bucket seats are wide and very comfortable with mild bolstering, and the rear bench has adequate support. However visibility out the rear is hampered by immovable headrests.
V6 models are silent inside, but four-cylinder versions hear the wind and the gears, the whoosh from the outside and the whirs and ticks in the drivetrain. Actually that ticking sound is coming from the direct fuel injection. The four-cylinder models have a noise-cancellation system embedded in the audio system, also with a few dedicated speakers.
The available IntelliLink connects certain phones to the audio system to get Bluetooth and sources like Pandora. The Terrain uses a 4G LTE data kit that enables your car to create its own private wireless network.
The four-cylinder engine doesn’t deliver blazing performance (0-60 in about 9 seconds, which is relatively slow), but it’s got plenty of urge for almost every need. It helps to use Sport mode in the slick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, when you forage for torque at the low rev ranges. No paddles, you shift with the lever, it’s fun. The transmission is refined but it judders when you accelerate. In automatic mode, it’s smooth and able enough. In Eco mode it labors to save fuel. It can tow 1500 pounds.
With the 3.6-liter V6, the Terrain can tow 3500 pounds, or maybe you fill all five seats a lot, so then the terrific throaty big engine makes sense. Its raps out a muscular burble, and drives the Terrain from zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds, which is quick, about as quick as a BMW X3. But our V6 didn’t shift as slick as the four-cylinder, maybe because it was all-wheel drive.
The Terrain has poise on the road that you might not expect from such a buff vehicle. The four-cylinder uses electric power steering, which saves ounces of fuel, while the V6 uses old-school hydraulic. The four-cylinder has a nice settled feel at speed, and we think its electric power steering is one of the better units; but we tend to like the hydraulic setup a little bit more.
The dual-flow shock absorbers use pressurized oil, designed to stiffen the ride on smooth roads and soften it on bad ones, a neat trick if you can pull it off. The brakes are good.
The GMC Terrain has a roomy interior and plenty of cargo space. The four-cylinder yields excellent fuel economy, while the V6 delivers quick acceleration performance. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive adds wintry weather capability.
Driving impressions by Internet Brands Automotive Editorial Director Marty Padgett; New Car Test Drive correspondent Sam Moses contributed to this report.