GMC Terrain — Making up for lost time

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It seems over the past 12-to-18 months that every time we jump into an all-new General Motors vehicle for the first time we sit in wonderment after just a few miles behind the wheel.

Mostly we wonder, what could have been?

Where would GM be today had it started to turn its giant ship around two or three years sooner?

The auto industry is a product driven business and after a few miles in a new crossover such as the GMC Terrain, we can’t help but feel that if these 2010 models would have hit the market sooner, General Motors — even with all its non-production problems — might have avoided bankruptcy.

Many of GM’s new products are vastly superior to most of the vehicles they are replacing. They are, in fact, on a par in nearly every measurable way — price, content, build quality, interior design, exterior styling, and every day livability — with the best the Americans (Ford in this case), the Japanese, Germans and South Koreans have to offer.

We think the Terrain — and its platform sibling, the Chevrolet Equinox — compete very nicely with the likes of the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, the Ford Escape and Edge, the Nissan Rogue and Murano, the Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe.

We couldn’t say that about the previous Equinox and other like vehicles because GM for too long was producing too many look-alike and mediocre products that didn’t resonate with the car-buying public. And when hard times hit, survival became impossible.

We like to think GM’s turnaround started a couple years back with the Chevy Malibu and the newest iteration of the Cadillac CTS. Its big pickups and SUVs have been world class and good enough to compete, but those big-vehicle segments sank in the great automotive depression. The GM car and small crossover segments are just now being fueled with products that should win over customers.

One of those new, attractive products is the Terrain.

First, and most importantly perhaps, is the vehicle’s overall persona. We wanted to drive it. We even invented two or three trips just to get extra time behind the wheel. We were never disappointed, never let down. Simply, the Terrain just felt good. And that’s a great selling point since most shoppers only spend minutes driving a car while evaluating and deciding. Love at first sight, so to speak.

Not many GM products have given us this level of driving enthusiasm in recent times outside of the Malibu and the obvious such as the Corvette and the performance version of the CTS. But this Terrain, the first time out of the driveway got our attention and we boiled it down to one word – wow!

The Terrain joins the just-under-mid-sized cadre of crossovers, the hottest segment in the market. It’s a two-row, five-passenger modern station wagon with a hatchback and a high-riding stance sitting on a 112.5-inch wheelbase and with both 4-cylinder and V-6 engines and all-wheel drive available.

Cargo capacity measures a family-sized, weekend-chore 31 cubic feet behind the seats, and 64 cubic feet with the second row seats folded.

For comparison purposes, the RAV4 rides on a 104.7-inch wheelbase with cargo capacity of 36/73; the CR-V rides on a 103-inch wheelbase with cargo space of 36/73; and the Ford Escape rides on a wheelbase of 103 inches with cargo room of 28/66.
But trumping the competition’s negligible advantage in cargo hauling is the Terrain’s 2.4-liter engine making 182 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic. It hangs in with all the competition, including the Escape hybrid, with an EPA highway rating of 32 mpg in two-wheel drive format.

We think the 4-cylinder should satisfy most needs offering quiet, energetic performance capable of taking the crossover from 0 to 60 in around 8.5 seconds.

Also mitigating the Terrain’s just-average cargo area are rear seats that can be moved fore and aft an astounding eight inches, creating when necessary, limo-like leg and foot room in the second-row.

If your needs include towing a boat or hauling a full load of passengers and cargo on a regular basis, the Terrain can be outfitted with a healthy direct-injection 3.0-liter V-6 making 264 horsepower and mated to a six-speed automatic. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds. The four-banger will tow 1,500 pounds.

Terrain prices range from $24,995 for a base SLE-1 front-wheel drive with a 4-cylinder to $33,245 for a top-line SLT-2 with a V-6 and all-wheel drive. The V-6 can be added to any trim level for $1,500.

The Terrain has a more macho look than most modern curvaceous crossovers, upright and brawny with beefy, squared-off fenders and wheelwells, and an in-your-face chromed three-bar GMC family grille. That may not be to your taste, but we figure enough people still like the rugged SUV look. Honda, which rarely makes mistakes, went for that look in its new mid-sized Pilot.

But the Terrain was locked into the truck-like appearance to keep the GMC truck brand image intact, even in a car-based crossover. We think its eye-catching and just downright handsome.

The same styling theme was used in the interior, and designers pulled it off with a striking no-nonsense center stack and steering wheel, large gauges that are easy to read, and a large information center between the tachometer and speedometer enclosures that can be configured with a large digital speedometer readout. Large cupholders are well placed and there are several storage cubbies, one very handy for a cell phone.

There are four trim levels and all are well equipped including the base $25,000 SLE-1. Standard equipment includes full power accessories, cruise control, power front-seat height and lumbar adjustments, air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system with CD and satellite radio, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, antilock brakes, stability control and side-curtain airbags.

One notable standard feature on all models is a backup camera integrated into the rearview mirror. We applaud GM for this safety touch.

But on the downside, the bean counter era is still in evidence with only a one-touch down window on the driver’s side and no one-touch up feature.

Our test vehicle was a SLT-1 with the 2.4 liter 4 and the 6-speed automatic with all-wheel drive. The bottom line was $34,170 but our Terrain was loaded. Options on our vehicle included a cargo management package ($245); an upgraded audio system with navigation, a seven-inch touch screen, auxiliary jack and a 40 gig hard drive ($2,145); a tilt and sliding sunroof ($795); a programmable power liftgate which really made rear access easy ($495); trailer-tow equipment ($350); and carbon black metallic paint ($190).

Thirty-four grand sounds like a heck of a lot for a compact crossover, but with its long list of standard equipment and the noted extras it is near reasonable (except for the extra charge for the paint).

Now if you can bite the bullet and believe that the “Professional Grade” truck people at GMC can get their arms around a car-based unibody CUV you’ll find that the Terrain is a class act.


Base price: $24,995; as driven, $34,170
Engine: 2.4-liter twin-cam 4
Horsepower: 182 @ 6,700 rpm
Torque: 172 foot-pounds @ 4,900 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.5 inches
Length: 185.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,798 pounds
Turning circle: 40 feet
Luggage capacity: 31.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 64 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 mpg highway, 20 mpg city
0-60: 7.5 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Toyota RAV4, Ford Edge, Chevrolet Equinox

The Good:
• Quiet and stylish cabin
• Roomy passenger space
• Class-leading fuel economy with 4-cylinder

The Bad:
• Still some bean counter corner cutting

The Ugly:
• Cargo space on the small side for segment