2012 GMC Terrain: High-tech goes mainstream (test drive)

In the fight for the small SUV market, GMC is angling for the win by adding a lot more weaponry.

The 2012 GMC Terrain
The 2012 GMC Terrain GM

GMC is General Motor's fastest growing brand, due in part to its popular crossover, the GMC Terrain, which attracts families that want the size and cargo capacity of a small SUV, but don't want or need third-row seating. To meet customer demand, it doubled production of the Terrain since 2010, and plans to lure more buyers away from competitors such as the Ford Edge--and even upsell current Chevrolet shoppers--by adding additional technology options and give consumers bigger bang for their buck.

Redesigned in 2011, the 2012 GMC Terrain is a slightly dressier version of its mainstream fraternal twin, the Chevrolet Equinox. With a more aggressive exterior, bolder badging, and a lot more chrome, the GMC Terrain attracts a tonier buyer used to a little flash, and looking to turn a few heads on the road.

The differences between the two vehicles are subtle, but they have a big impact. The sheet metal around the fenders of the Terrain is decidedly angular and gives the vehicle a rugged appearance. The oversize GMC badge on the chrome grill is easily readable from 100 feet away, and it's complemented by the chrome on the headlamps, side-view mirrors, and the optional 19-inch wheels.

Inside the car, you may notice that the interior--especially around the instrument cluster--appears more refined. The LED lighting elements on the control panel and entertainment system are GMC's signature red rather than blue. The dash has a softer touch and feel, and its sweeping design gives the front row a greater perception of space, notes marketing manager Hugh Milne.

The 2012 GMC Terrain is available with either a 2.4-liter engine that achieves up to 32 mpg on the highway, or a 3-liter engine that produces 264 horsepower.
The 2012 GMC Terrain is available with either a 2.4-liter engine that achieves up to 32 mpg on the highway, or a 3-liter engine that produces 264 horsepower. GM

Kicking the standard audio system up a notch is IntelliLink , a next-generation vehicle voice-activated infotainment system that seamlessly integrates some smartphone applications with the touch-screen display. Pair a mobile device, and along with Bluetooth voice-control of dialing, the system replicates approved entertainment applications, such as Pandora and Stitcher, on the LCD screen. The interface is familiar and intuitive, and the customizable system lets you decide which apps, if any, you want on the home screen, and you can arrange the icons according to your preferences.

This means that you can access your favorite music apps without fumbling for your phone, or even taking your hands off the wheel. IntelliLink's voice recognition is powered by Nuance, and the system offers 50 or 60 commands that cover all the basics such as calling people in your contact list or changing music stations, but it still has a little way to go to catch up to Ford's 10,000 natural language voice commands. However, GMC still has live OnStar operators to help you out with directions, emergency issues, and even dinner or hotel reservations, which even Apple's Siri can't do.

But even if you let that free one-year subscription to OnStar lapse and you don't opt for the $100 IntelliLink add-on, you won't be in a technical wasteland. In all 2012 GMC Terrains is a 7-inch touch-screen audio system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity. The touch screen is intuitive and makes it easy to dial up your music preferences and access contacts. It's also the display for the standard rear-view camera to let you see what's behind your vehicle when it's in reverse. Adding navigation to the entertainment system costs you only $795.

A camera-based crash avoidance and lane-departure system is available on the 2012 GMC Terrain.
A camera-based crash avoidance and lane-departure system is available on the 2012 GMC Terrain. GM

New for 2012 is a camera-based crash avoidance system that debuted on the GMC Terrain. What's unique about this safety technology is that it uses a high resolution camera instead of lasers to monitor the driver's distance from other cameras, which makes the feature more affordable for families. A tiny camera is mounted behind the rear-view mirror on the windshield, and it captures 14 frames per second. Using image processing algorithms, the system analyzes the images to detect vehicles in front of the SUV. The system takes into account the driver's speed and steering inputs to determine crash risk, and warns the driver it detects that he is driving too close, or if he's in imminent danger of a front-end collision. Although the crash avoidance technology doesn't intervene, it does precharge the brakes to help the driver stop faster.

As part of the the crash avoidance system, you get a lane departure warning system that tracks lane markings also using the camera. If the driver drifts out of the lane without using the turn signal, the system will audibly alert the driver and flash lights on the instrument panel. The warnings are designed to be grab your attention but not be irritating, which would cause drivers to turn the system off. Other radar-based systems typically cost a couple thousand dollars, but this feature is available for only $295 on SLT-2 trim models equipped with the V-6 engine.

The 2012 GMC Terrain is available with the IntelliLink infotainment system that integrates and displays smartphone applications on the touch-screen display.
The 2012 GMC Terrain is available with the IntelliLink infotainment system that integrates and displays smartphone applications on the touch-screen display. GM

But there are limitations to the technology. The crash avoidance system works only at speeds greater than 25 mph, and the lane departure warning system kicks on above 35 mph. The cameras need an unobstructed view, so you'll need to make sure snow and dirt don't build up on the windshield. And on packed snow, the camera probably won't detect lane markings.

With a robust technology offering in the front row, it would have been nice to see some of those features bleed into the second row. Heated seats are available for the driver and front passenger seat, but aren't an option in the rear. Not every family will miss it, but I would have preferred to see a 120-volt outlet for charging gaming systems, computers, or mobile devices instead of a 12-volt outlet. Or even better, I would have loved multiple USB outlets. Of course, you can always spring for the optional dual rear-seat entertainment system.

But on the plus side, the second row bench slides forward and backward 8 inches to make it easier for parents to reach their kids or give rear passengers more legroom. Another interesting technology feature is the power lift gate with programmable height, which is great for shorter drivers. Drivers in extreme climates will appreciate the optional remote start capability that lets you warm up or cool down the vehicle before entering it.

The GMC Terrain offers 31.6 cubic feet of storage in the cargo area.
The GMC Terrain offers 31.6 cubic feet of storage in the cargo area. GM

The 2012 GMC Terrain is offered with either a 2.4-liter engine with 182-horsepower or a 3-liter V-6 engine with 264-hp paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available with either engine. In my test-drives, the Terrain equipped with the V-6 engine had a better handling thanks to hydraulic steering. Vehicles equipped with the 2.4-liter engine get electronic steering, which I found "loose," especially on straight roads.

Rising gas prices means that a lot of buyers will likely opt for the 2.4-liter engine regardless of how it drives because of its advertised 32 mpg fuel economy on the freeway and 22 mpg gas mileage in the city. The Terrain equipped with a V-6 engine achieves up to 24 mpg on the city and 17 mpg in the city. But keep in mind, both options are E85 FlexFuel capable, which could come in handy if fuel prices go through the roof this summer.

With two fuel-efficient engine options, impressive standard equipment, and an affordable next-generation infotainment system, the 2012 GMC Terrain has a lot more to offer than a lot of five-seat SUVs on the market. Its biggest competition could end up being with Chevrolet, which offers some of the same features on the Equinox, but at a slightly lower starting point. Of course, you won't get all that chrome.

MSRP: $26,370 - $36,410

 

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