When GM rolled out the Terrain at the last New York auto show, it seemed the company hadn't learned a thing from recently plummeting SUV sales. Not to mention that the Terrain seemed an unnecessary addition to an already full SUV lineup. But then we got a 2010 GMC Terrain into our garage, and found the most modern SUV we've seen. If this is GMC's future, it's a good one.
Despite its big, square fenders and typical five-passenger, high-riding style, inside the Terrain is a new generation of cabin tech for GM, with a hard-drive-based navigation system showing traffic and weather, along with a full-featured audio system. Under the hood is a new direct injection 3-liter V-6, giving the Terrain reasonable power and decent fuel economy.
Unlike truck-based SUVs of the recent past, the Terrain uses a fully independent suspension, leading to a more car-like ride and handling. Our vehicle was a front-wheel-drive model, although all-wheel drive is available. Further putting our tester in the on-road category were the optional chrome 19-inch wheels. Those, coupled with the heavy bass from the 8-inch Pioneer subwoofer, suggested GM expects the Terrain to fit into the urban environment more than rugged back country.
Although the bass was powerful, delivering a good kick with the right kind of music, it didn't overwhelm more delicate highs from the layered electronic music we fed this Pioneer-sourced system. It may not have been the best audio system we've heard in a car, but it certainly equaled those in much more expensive BMW and Mercedes-Benz models.
This Pioneer audio system also takes part in the Terrain's active noise cancellation feature, which works by using microphones in the front and rear of the cabin to sample engine and road noise, then transmitting opposing frequencies from the speakers. As this system is always operating, we couldn't tell exactly how effective it was, but the cabin of the Terrain did seem well-insulated from the road, at least until we gave it a substantial squirt with the gas pedal.
Our Terrain was impelled by a 3-liter direct injection V-6, a new generation of engine from GM that works much more efficiently than previous port injection engines. But this V-6 is actually on the option sheet for the Terrain. Rather than including the engine at the trim level, as most automakers do, GM lets you replace the stock engine, a direct injection 2.4-liter inline four, with this more powerful V-6 at the same time you're deciding on color and wheels.
We can't speak to the base inline four cylinder, but the V-6, putting out 264 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque, delivers solid acceleration, motivating the Terrain forward fast enough to get a chirp from the front tires if you're not careful. At least, it delivers that kind of power when the six-speed automatic transmission wants to cooperate.
We don't have a problem with spontaneity, but a little more consistency from the transmission would have been nice. Normally it kept the engine speed low, with typical fuel-saving programming, showing some sluggishness to downshift when we mashed the pedal. Occasionally the transmission would read our inputs and other road conditions and deliver a jarring downshift when it didn't seem called for. And at other times, mostly while already at speed, we got a thoroughly satisfying push from the transmission quickly engaging a low gear for passing power.
GM includes a manual mode on this transmission, designed for engine braking. To activate it, you have to move the shifter into the M position. Selecting gears involves hitting a rocker switch on the side of the shifter with your thumb. This system gives more flexibility and control over a transmission with a low range or two.
Beyond the odd behavior of the transmission, its sixth gear and the engine's direct injection help the Terrain get good EPA mileage numbers of 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Our driving was biased toward the city, but also included trips at high speeds on the freeway and up winding mountain roads, from which we saw an average of 18.1 mpg, and never really coming close to 20 mpg, according to the trip computer. If we didn't have the V-6 option, EPA mileage would have been 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.
GM made some smart moves with the Terrain's cabin, using quality materials on high-touch areas, such as the stitched leather wrapping on the steering wheel. As our vehicle had the optional V-6, it also used a hydraulic power steering unit; Terrains with the base inline four get an electric power steering unit, a somewhat bizarre detail probably made necessary by an engineer's calculation of available power, fuel economy gains, and the luminosity of the moon.