Review: 2010 GMC Terrain - a tale of two engines

2010 GMC Terrain – Click above for high-res image gallery

GMC's "Professional Grade" tagline works best when it's being used to upsell truck shoppers into Sierras instead of Chevy Silverados, but even wider mass-market success comes from snaring folks who couldn't care less about payload. And while the Yukon has its place at the table for some families, the thirsty brontosaur's broad appeal vanished with the disappearance of super-cheap gasoline. Hence, traditionally truck-focused GMC has crossed over, so to speak. The three-row Acadia was the beginning, and while the trucks are still there for those who want or need them, if you're shopping for a family car, the nice man in the tie would like to show you something different: the 2010 GMC Terrain.

View 21 Photos

Photos by Alex Nunez / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

If you're thinking, "It's just a Chevy Equinox wearing a GMC costume," you're basically right. It shares its architecture, powertrains and even its suspension tuning with the Chevrolet. Unlike the bad old days, however, when this would have been a naked badge swap and little else, the Terrain's external appearance differs completely from the Chevy. In fact, the casual observer (i.e. the average car shopper) would never guess they share so much under the skin. And the shared stuff's nothing to complain about, anyway.

We actually had the chance to spend a couple of weeks with two Terrains – one a top-trim four-cylinder Terrain SLT-2 with a base MSRP of $31,300 and the other a V6 version of the same model. The four-cylinder Terrain also included the optional stereo with navigation ($2,145), rear-entertainment system ($1,295) and some other minor options for a grand total of $35,780. The V6 model was more modestly optioned with just the bigger engine ($1,500), a cargo management system ($245) and trailering equipment ($350) for a grand total of $33,840. The least expensive front-wheel drive four-cylinder Terrain SLE-1 starts at $24,250, so this shouldn't necessarily be considered an expensive CUV unless you've got an itchy trigger finger with the options.

Upon its introduction, we flat-out disliked the GMC Terrain's styling. After spending a couple weeks with Terrains parked in the driveway, however, our stance has softened somewhat. The blocky, truck-y look has a little Lego-meets-Tonka thing working in its favor. While the Terrain SLT-2 includes a chrome trim package in its bag of goodies, it's not overwhelming; we'd even say it's handled tastefully.

The things that we aren't really crazy about are the swollen fender flares. Frankly, they're a bit much, and they help emphasize the rather sizable gap between the 18-inch wheels and the top of the cutout. Maybe it's supposed to imply the sort of suspension travel associated with an off-road-capable SUV, but that would be silly. Butchy looks aside, the Terrain – even when equipped with all-wheel drive – is a pavement-pounder designed for the mall, not Moab. Optional 19-inch chrome wheels ($900) would likely fill things out better, but you have to buy a V6 model to get them, and they do leave a dent in your wallet. Given that most of the folks we spoke with enthusiastically approved of the Terrain's looks, pregnant fenders and all, we're probably dwelling on styling minutiae that the prospective Terrain buyer doesn't care about.

Inside the Terrain, its Chevy Equinox genetics are far more evident. Is there differentiation? Yes. Is it extensive? Not at all. The primary gauges are presented a little differently, and the Terrain uses red illumination in its information center and radio displays, but the the basic layout is the same. The instrument panel's "wings" extend out from an orderly center stack that's identical to the one in the Equinox. The Interior plastics are a good quality and well-textured. Auxiliary and USB jacks are there if you prefer to use a portable device for your tunes, and the standard two-dial radio remains intuitive to use. It's worth noting, however, that the supplemental audio system buttons all look very much alike and aren't distinguishable by touch, so you'll have to glance at them if you need to do something that the wheel-mounted controls don't handle. The climate control interface, located right below the radio, is easy-peasy. The center console storage bin is also deep and roomy enough to be of good use, and it's further supplemented by a shallower compartment atop the dash, as well as the regular glovebox.

If you pony up the (absurd) $2,495 that's required for the audio system with navigation and a 40-gig hard drive, you get a seven-inch touchscreen display and a more cluttered set of additional buttons for the radio interface. While it's nice that the color nav-o-tainment display also shows you the backup cam's view when you throw the rig into reverse, we advise that you do yourself a favor, skip the pricey high-zoot stereo and save yourself a couple grand. The backup camera is standard equipment on all Terrains, after all (it's displayed in the rearview mirror on models without nav), and you can pick up a quality portable GPS (or a solid GPS smartphone app) at a fraction of the cost for the times you really need one. If you need to regularly hypnotize children while driving, a neatly-integrated two-screen backseat entertainment system is available, but it's not exactly a bargain at $1,295. At least you aren't required to buy the nav stereo to get it.

Since our tester was loaded, the front seats and rear bench were covered in black leather with red accent stitching. We spent enough time sitting in traffic going to and from New York City to vouch for their overall comfort, too. The buckets for the driver and front passenger aren't aggressively bolstered, but they're nicely supportive nonetheless. Meanwhile, in back, the bench has 200 millimeters (7.87 inches) of travel, meaning that if you slide it all the way back, your tall friends will have more than ample legroom and won't want to kill you for denying them the always-coveted shotgun. Also, this helps you minimize, if not completely eliminate, front-seatback kicking from your fidgety preschooler strapped in the booster behind you. While the back seat is technically set up for three passengers, be advised the middle spot lacks a headrest and is flatter than the two outboard positions, which are far more pleasant.

Visibility from behind the wheel is fine straight ahead, but the Terrain, like so many other new vehicles, suffers from thick A-pillar disease, which can be annoying in some situations. Likewise, the view back is hurt by a combination of the full-sized headrests on the rear bench and the elevated beltline that's so common on SUVs and crossovers nowadays. Fortunately, with the Terrain, all trim levels include the backup camera we mentioned earlier, which is really becoming an indispensable feature on a steadily growing variety of modern vehicles.

As a grocery-getter, the GMC Terrain is basically as good as anything else in this class. Practically speaking, there's plenty of room for your stuff. Behind the rear seat, you'll find 31.4 cubic feet of cargo space. Flip the 60/40 split bench down and total capacity expands to 63.7 cubic feet. This puts the Terrain behind popular compact CUVs like the Honda CR-V (35.7/72.9) and Toyota RAV4 (36.4/73.0), but fairly close to its cross-town rival, the Ford Escape (31.4/67.2). Oh, and if you were wondering, the Chevy Equinox's cargo numbers are essentially identical to the Terrain's. Access to the cargo area in our test vehicles came via a power tailgate, whose opening height could be set at different levels via a dial in the cabin.

Driving the Terrain is pleasant, if not particularly exciting. The ride is comfortable and car-like without being wallowy, and despite its blockiness and heft, the Terrain exudes competence and confidence when exercised on curvier routes. It's no performance vehicle by any measure, but it's a respectable handler, and it should meet or exceed the expectations of anyone looking to use it as the suburban runabout it so obviously is.

The standard 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder is direct-injected, making 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is standard, and you can change gears manually via a rocker switch on the shifter. Our tester also had all-wheel drive. Surprisingly, we dig the four-banger. Despite giving up 82 horses to the optional V6 (we'll get to that in a moment), it's the better engine. Four-cylinder Terrains have shorter gearing than the V6 models, and the 2.4L with AWD has the shortest final drive ratio of all Terrain models, at 3.53:1. This means that despite a curb weight in excess of 4,000 pounds, the base-engined Terrain still feels reasonably sprightly in everyday driving. The electric power steering (V6 models have hydraulic assist instead) is short on feel, but let's be honest, the average car-as-appliance driver won't even notice or care (Car turns? Steering good!). For our money, we'd put up with the electric steering, as the four-cylinder Terrain was good for between 20 and 21 mpg overall in mixed use. We were pretty cavalier about using the 2.4-liter Terrain's "eco" button, too, employing it maybe half the time. The efficiency-sapping all-wheel drive system, however, kept us from ever breaking the 30 mpg average mark on the highway, though front-wheel drive models can hit up to 32 mpg on extended drives, which is remarkable for a vehicle of this size.

For an extra $1,500 you can step up to the 3.0-liter V6. It's also direct injected and is rated at 264 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed auto is employed once again. V6 Terrains are easily identifiable from the outside by their muscular-looking dual exhaust tips (they're coming off a single transversely-mounted muffler, though). From the inside, V6 Terrains are also readily identifiable by how surprisingly disappointing that powertrain is. Steering feel is better with the hydraulic assist, and the V6 is smoother than the four, but beyond that, we couldn't see ourselves forking over the extra dough for the six-cylinder unless we explicitly needed the 3,500 pounds of towing capacity it affords. (The four-cylinder GMC Terrain can pull 1,500 pounds, by comparison.)

This isn't the first time we've felt let down by this particular V6; it bummed us out as the base engine in the 2010 Buick LaCrosse, too (Buick has since axed the 3.0 from the 2011 LaCrosse entirely). The same basic criticisms apply here. Any power advantage the six has over the four-pot is undermined by its taller gearing (the final drive ratio on V6 models is 2.77:1), which doubtless contributes to its lack of immediacy compared with the four-cylinder. It's not like you get particularly memorable fuel economy as a result, either. We averaged mid-teens with the V6 in combined driving. Incidentally, such numbers were eminently achievable with the old port-injected 3.6-liter V6 offered as the step-up engine in the last-generation Chevy Equinox and Pontiac Torrent – and that engine had more personality than the new, direct-injected 3.0-liter.

Obviously, if you're looking at the Terrain, you should test drive both engines and see which you prefer. Just don't assume that the two additional cylinders the V6 has over the base engine makes everything better. Different, yes, but not necessarily better. Overall, however, the 2010 Terrain is a very solid effort from GMC that can hang with just about anything else in the crowded field of compact to mid-size SUVs and crossovers, even if it isn't the type of professional grade hardware that this brand usually boasts.

View 21 Photos

Photos by Alex Nunez / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own — we do not accept sponsored editorial.

Share This Photo X