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.
Big, square headlight casings accentuate the tough look of the Terrain.
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.
GM uses direct injection technology in the Terrain to maximize engine efficiency.
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.
The shifter has a rocker switch set into it for selecting gears in manual mode.
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.
The backup camera includes trajectory lines, useful for many parking situations.
That hydraulic steering unit is reasonably tuned, delivering decent road feedback while moving the wheels with ease. And in crowded San Francisco, the turning radius wasn't untenable, conforming further with this car's urban comfort. To help with reversing, GM includes a rearview camera complete with trajectory lines showing where the car will go depending on how the wheels are turned. The Terrain may be the least expensive car we've seen using this type of advanced rearview camera.
Next generation nav
The rest of the cabin tech is equally modern. Below the LCD at the top of the stack falls a cascade of buttons and knobs. For selecting audio, using the Bluetooth phone system, or entering destinations, there is a round multidirectional button front and center. But as the LCD is also a touch screen, for most actions you get top choose which you want to use. The LCD is a little bit of a reach, so most people will go for the multidirectional button, although that can be little tedious, especially when entering letters from the onscreen keyboard.
The nav system's maps are bright and clear.
The touch screen displays the navigation system's maps with very good resolution, using bright, well-defined colors that are easy to read. In 3D mode, it shows a few landmark buildings, but doesn't offer the ridiculous detail of maps found in Audi's latest nav system. The Terrain's navigation system incorporates traffic information, showing incidents and popping up alerts about traffic jams on the road ahead. These alerts include an option to calculate a detour, always a useful feature. But unlike other systems that restrain how lengthy of a detour to calculate, this one seems to have no limits. We were amused when, having been alerted to a traffic jam on a bridge, the system calculated a 46-mile detour. Our destination was just a little over a mile away.
With route guidance active, upcoming turns are displayed with easily comprehended graphics on the screen while voice prompts use text-to-speech, reading out the street names. A monochrome LED on the instrument cluster also shows turn instructions, so the driver doesn't have to constantly glance at the LCD. Most destination entry options are disabled while under way, and we didn't find the voice command system particularly capable. However, as the Terrain is a GM vehicle, it incorporates OnStar. When subscribed to its navigation service, you can have an OnStar operator look up a destination then send it to the car's navigation system.
Along with traffic, the navigation system shows weather.
The navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive, which means quick calculation and map refresh, along with onboard music storage. In fact, we were impressed that it rips CDs and copies music from MP3 sources, making it easy to quickly transfer a sizeable music library to the car. The stereo parses the MP3 tags, allowing music selection by artist, album, and genre. This stereo also offers iPod integration with a similar interface, through a USB port in the console. That port will also handle USB drives. We like how the CD slot, almost an anachronism in a car with a USB port, sits low on the stack, unmarked and barely calling attention to itself.
Rounding out the cabin tech is a very basic Bluetooth phone system. GM has been slow to adopt this technology, as OnStar offers a hands-free-calling service. Features are woefully limited for Bluetooth, as there is no in-car phone book. The only option for placing calls is to dial the number by voice or with the touch screen.
Given that, even optioned up as our vehicle was, the price stays in the low 30s, the 2010 GMC Terrain looks like an indication that GM is getting back to what made it one of the biggest automakers in the world. The Terrain feels like a quality vehicle and can be well-equipped for a very reasonable price. We like the modern, direct injected engine tech, although would like to see better mileage squeezed out of the V-6. The transmission could use some refinement, but it's not a deal-breaker.
We may not be crazy about the SUV style of the Terrain, but many will appreciate the tough-looking squared-off fenders. The cabin styling is particularly nice, a big step up from past efforts, although the ergonomics of the navigation and stereo interface could use improvement. This new generation of cabin tech from GM is nice to see, as it incorporates modern features that keep the company competitive with the rest of the world. The Bluetooth phone system is the weakest link.
|Model||2010 GMC Terrain|
|Power train||Optional direct injection 3-liter V-6|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible single CD player|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, USB drive, onboard hard drive, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Pioneer 8 speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$32,620|