In past years, the GMC brand has become synonymous with big-engined, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. Nothing wrong with that sort of thing, but it isn’t exactly helping GM’s post-bankruptcy image that they dumped the smaller, more efficient Saturn line, and kept the hulking truck behemoths. The brand new GMC Terrain is seeking to change the badge’s reputation, and it does a fair job at it.
The new Terrain is a CUV which stands for, depending on who you ask, either Crossover Utility Vehicle or Compact Urban Vehicle. Regardless of the acronym, its essentially a smaller SUV, a big change of pace from the brand that brings us the Yukon Denali. This little guy (comparatively) is actually a pretty good vehicle though, and, based on vehicular merits alone, could be a force to be reckoned with in the marketplace.
The essential architecture of the Terrain is taken entirely from the Chevrolet Equinox. This is not a bad thing, as the Equinox is a pretty good car, but it does risk the redundancy effect that has plagued the Chevy and GMC truck/SUV lines for years (does anybody really care about the difference between a Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup, aside from the front grille?). Anyway, the styling of the Terrain is the most apparent difference from the Equinox, adopting a much more aggressive and truck-like styling. It’s not incredibly great, nor is it bad. It’s all a matter of an individual’s taste, though the front grille is a bit too large for this author’s liking.
On the engine front, the Terrain has the same engine options as the Equinox, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder standard or a 3.0-liter V6. This is one of the stumbling blocks for the Terrain, as other CUVs have larger engine options with more power (in addition to their baseline four cylinders). For example, the Ford Edge, which will likely be one of the Terrain’s big rivals, has a 3.5-liter V6 that is more powerful and faster, and has the same fuel economy, 17 city / 24 highway. The Terrain’s only saving grace is that it achieves this rating with a full-time AWD, while the Edge is FWD (the Edge does have an AWD option, but that drops the fuel economy a few mpg). Also, the Terrain runs on regular gasoline while the Edge requires premium, so there’s a bit of fuel cost savings there.
The best part of the Terrain, by far, is the ride quality. When creating a crossover vehicle, designers have to sacrifice some of the car-like handling in favor of at least modest off-road or bad-condition driving capability. The GMC Terrain does have some off-road ability, largely thanks to the AWD, but the road drive is very smooth and very controlled. There isn’t any of the excessive body roll common in some CUVs, and the ride is easily comfortable enough to keep a family of four without complaints on a 3-hour roadtrip (the optional rear seat DVD players help with this, of course).
If you are going for a long drive, though, make sure to setup the controls exactly how you like them before you set off, though. The Terrain features a touch screen interface on the dash, but it almost seems an afterthought. It’s pretty far away from the driver, so if you don’t have long arms it’ll be out of reach. Also, its nestled within a whole bunch of buttons, so you won’t be able to find exactly what you need by feel. Similarly, the manual +/- shift option is out of the way and hard to use, but most drivers won’t be using it except on an off-road hill where you’re going slow anyway, so that’s not much of an issue.
What the 2010 GMC Terrain accomplishes is a design promise that has largely been unfulfilled by the General Motors brands of late. It doesn’t have the biggest engine or the most power, nor does it have the best designed interior, nor does it have the prettiest external styling. But, though it isn’t the best, it is above average in all those areas, and whatever faults it has, they are balanced out by other mitigating factors. The Terrain has a starting price of $30,000, which is a little bit high (the four-cylinder Ford Edge starts at $27,000), but not so high as to turn off all drivers. The Terrain won’t win any design awards, but it is a solid, well-made car that delivers.