I have a long history with mid-sized GMC utilities. I had a first year four door Jimmy back in 1993, another Jimmy in 2000 and a 360-based Envoy in 2002. All were mid-sized utilities which were based on a truck frame and powered by some version of a six cylinder engine. The GMC Terrain replaced the Envoy in 2009 as a crossover vehicle based on the GM Theta platform, and while I've had extensive experience with the Theta derived Cadillac SRX, I'd never actually driven the Terrain.
The first thing that stands out about the GMC Terrain is the styling. Love it or hate it, you're unlikely to ignore it. I think it's massive angular design theme is masculine and distinctive. It's a Tonka truck come to life. or the Brave Little Toaster as a Transformer. A massive grille with red GMC lettering, exaggerated wheel openings and slab sided body panels, combined with a very squarish roofline give the Terrain a highly distinctive silhouette. Highly detailed headlamp assemblies and chunky chrome door handles, mirrors and roof rails added to the look. Not to me missed are the 18 inch chrome wheels. It's certainly a car whose design statement is unapologetic. And the market seems to like it- sales have steadily increased each year since it was introduced. No one in the parking lot will mistake it for a Lexus RX.
The styling theme continues on the inside. The test car had a jet black interior which was just that- black leather trimmed seats with subtle red stitching, a few silver painted accents on the dash, but otherwise an ocean of black leather, vinyl and plastics. While some of the textures didn't seem totally premium to me (are you listening, dash pad?) the overall effect was smooth and masculine, and not overdone in any way. The seats were comfortable and supportive to boot, and having driven several of these over the years, I will say that the overall interior, while again not luxurious, is far superior to what was offered a couple of generations back. And a shout out for the rear seat, which benefits from the most generous rear seat leg room I've experienced in a midsized crossover.
My test car was an SLE Level 2 (base price $31,260) which benefited from the long list of interior featured included in the Level 2 package- tastefully stitched leather trimmed bucket seats, spit folding rear seat, leather wrapped steering wheel, 8 speaker upgraded audio with Bluetooth and XM Radio, memory driver's seat and even front seat heaters. Of course, the usual gaggle of power conveniences were included also, as well as a power sunroof and a power tailgate.
The stanndard engine on the Terrain is a 2.4L four cylinder producing 182 HP, but our test car was equipped with the upgraded 3.0 litre DOHC V6 engine ($1500), along with the Cargo Package ($350), Trailering Package ($350), and GMC's Intellilink, a 7" color touch screen which GMC describes it as "Hands free smartphone integration with Bluetooth, streaming audio, and voice activated audio controls." Easy to use and it even has Pandora Streaming audio- clearly it's the best bargain of the entire option list at $100. Including freight, the Terrain listed at $34,255.00 and the only major option missing was navigation.
Once behind the wheel, I was immediately familiar with the 3.0L "high feature" V6 from driving the 2011 Cadillac SRX. The engine produces 264 HP and 222 lb/ft of torque, so it's powerful without being a rocket ship. It's paired to a six speed automatic transmission, and EPA rated at 17 city/ 24 highway. I made a run to Orange County and back and got 24 on the way down, and a very satisfying 27 on the way back. In fact my overall mileage for the week was just over 20, which I consider very acceptable.
If I had to choose one tern to describe the overall driving experience, it would have to be smooth. The engine idles imperceptibly, the transmission shifts are silky smooth, the ride is boulevard smooth. The unitized platform and the four wheel independent suspension help see to that. It's not a performance car nor did I enter any autocross competitions, but overall it is a comfortable cruiser. I certainly found no objections in the ride and handling department, and was especially pleased by the amount of road feel in the steering- it wasn't a typical novocain feel, nor did it feel like a truck- again, a nice smooth balance was achieved.
All in all, I think GMC made the transition to a crossover quite nicely with the Terrain. The lowered center of gravity and improved handling and ride make for a better overall vehicle for passenger use. So if you're looking for a midsize crossover that's smooth, capable and comfortable without breaking the bank or looking like it belongs to the soccer mom set, you might check out the GMC Terrain. It's got a lot to offer.