One could say the Buick Terraza is a minivan that's had a little work done.
You don't have to be a participant on Extreme Makeover to appreciate how a new nose can change everything. Just ask Jennifer Anistonopoulos. She modified her name and her schnoz to become Hollywood heat magnet Jennifer Aniston. She even landed Brad Pitt (for awhile). Buick is trying to work the same Hollywood magic with its very first minivan.
With the demise of Oldsmobile, GM has handed over the defunct division's minivan, which was called the Silhouette, to Buick. Buick, in turn, has given the van a new name, Terraza; a new label, crossover sport van; and one heck of a nose job.
The resulting vehicle still doesn't give an Oscar-winning performance, but it just may be good enough to land a sitcom on the WB.
Good Plastic Surgery
With its extended snout, sky-high stance and slimmed-down lines, the Buick Terraza is more athletic-looking than your average pot-bellied Nissan Quest or Toyota Sienna. Squint and it could almost be a Chevy Suburban.
According to Buick's engineers, the Terraza's long nose serves a practical purpose. They claim it improves the van's performance in frontal impact collisions. We'll wait until NHTSA and IIHS test results are in to say for sure.
With a width of just over 75 inches, the Buick Terraza lacks the childbearing hips of competitors like the Town and Country, which is over 3 inches broader. It's also at the tail end of the pack in shoulder room and legroom. However, we barely noticed its petite dimensions, and doubt that anyone would feel hemmed in by the cabin.
Toys for Tots
With dual power-sliding side doors, Buick's van trumps competitors like the Dodge Caravan; unfortunately, they demand a substantial shove to set them in motion. By comparison, the Honda Odyssey's power doors only require a gentle nudge. One editor claimed that he'd experienced manual doors (such as those in the Kia Sedona) that were more acquiescent. And there's no rear power liftgate, so be prepared to work a little if you need access from the back.
A DVD player is standard, the perfect tool to distract exhaustingly energetic little ones during long drives. And unlike its competitors, the Terraza's integrated DVD system comes with a remote control, enabling you to make adjustments from behind the wheel.
At 7 inches, the Terraza's flip-down screen is smaller than those offered by many of its classmates (both the Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna offer 9-inch screens). However, the smaller screen offers the driver better-than-average rear visibility when the screen is in use.
OnStar is also standard, and the Terraza can be equipped with XM Satellite Radio, along with a PhatNoise system that's capable of storing mommy and daddy's MP3s. A navigation system isn't available.
Pretty on the Inside
Rich wood and gleaming chrome give the Terraza's cabin an upscale look. Most of our editors agreed that the van's interior is more luxurious than the Odyssey's, and breathes the same rarified air as the Sienna's class-leading, Lexus-like accommodations.
Getting to and from the third row is more of a hassle than it should be, however, since the Terraza doesn't offer side-to-side movable second-row seats. The Sienna and the Odyssey do, and it makes accessing the back row much easier. But we didn't have any problems configuring this van for cargo hauling, thanks to split-folding, removable captain's chairs in the second row, and the third row's removable split bench seats.
We liked the seatback-mounted storage bins, which neatly swallow everything from crayons to the DVD system's headphones, and we grew quite fond of the nifty center console trays, equipped with enough cupholders to keep a team of thirsty Little Leaguers happy.
In some minivans, these trays must be removed and stored in your garage if you want to experience the cabin without them, but the Terraza's trays are attached to the seats and just fold away. It's a setup that's very convenient. The only trade-off is that the stowed trays leave an overhang which narrows the center aisle.
There's also an overhead rail system with available snap-in storage modules for added storage. It's an innovative system, but its crudely exposed bolts and metal don't look as finished as we'd expect.
Some Things Could Be Better
Other areas also lack refinement.
The Quest features grab handles that go almost all the way to the floor, and their diameter was designed to accommodate small hands. The Terraza's handles are shorter and somewhat flat in shape. It's an awkward fit for little Becky.
And in places, the cabin is marred by hard plastic. The backs of the front seats, for instance, are unyielding, and make an irritatingly loud thwack when struck. Not good, if your kids think seatbacks are meant for kicking. And they all do.
The lack of available side curtain head airbags is also troubling. You'd think this feature would be a given in a family vehicle.
The Terraza offers Buick's QuietTuning, designed to minimize engine and road noise. We took the van for a loop with one editor driving, and two others in the second and third rows. The cabin was silent enough for conversation, though those in the first and third rows had to raise their voices to communicate with each other. One editor was impressed with QuietTuning, and said the van's interior was more hushed than her 3-year-old Odyssey's. But another editor, who has a 2005 Odyssey, opined that the Terraza falls short.
No Power to Burn
The Terraza's 200-horsepower V6 feels underpowered relative to its peers. With 255 and 230 horses respectively, the Odyssey and the Sienna pack a lot more oomph. On the bright side, those with lots of snow and rain in their lives will appreciate the van's available all-wheel drive.
Buick's family hauler is no star at the track. It lumbered from zero to 60 in a tortoiselike 12.2 seconds. The Town and Country clocked in at 10.2, while the Odyssey and the Sienna are much quicker. Braking distances were a tad long relative to other minivans, earning it an "Average" rating in this area and at 41 feet, its turning circle is wider than the Odyssey's and the Sienna's, which both do the job in just over 36 feet.
Handling is average. Steering and suspension work well, and the Terraza offers a smooth ride. But the van was burned by its anemic drivetrain, which lacks the torque to push it around with confidence.
But in the End
Including over $1,400 worth of options, our Buick Terraza CXL costs over $36 large. Buick's van is good-looking. But when it comes to toting their kids, mothers deserve more than just a pretty face. They deserve side curtain head airbags. Movable second-row seats. An assertive drivetrain. For around the same price, the Odyssey offers all these and more. Sorry, Terraza, but that's where we'd put our money if we were shopping for smart family transportation.
System Score: 7.0
Components: An MP3 CD player is standard equipment in the Buick Terraza, with sound fed to the cabin via eight speakers. Our test vehicle was equipped with optional XM Satellite Radio and an optional six-CD changer. A PhatNoise MP3 storage system is also optional.
The interface is intuitive and user-friendly. You won't need to crack the owner's manual to figure this one out, and in no time, we were darting back and forth between sampling XM stations and getting an earful from our Garden State CD. The head unit allows adjustment for bass, midrange and treble, all of which are tweaked via an easy-to-use knob.
Performance: The Terraza comes to the party with no-name amps and speakers, and it shows. Sound quality isn't horrible, but it's not stellar, either. Highs could stand a bit more sharpness, and midrange doesn't pop the way it does on more capable systems. On the plus side, bass is thick and abundant. There was more than enough bottom end to tint our Destiny's Child tracks with a pleasing rumble.
Best Feature: Easy-to-use interface.
Worst Feature: So-so overall sound quality.
Conclusion: This is an OK sound system, but it won't knock your socks off. — Warren Clarke
Editor in Chief Karl Brauer says:
Forget for a second that this Buick's name sounds like something out of a Jurassic Park sequel. And forget that it's not really a "new" minivan but a rebodied Chevy Venture — a Chevy Venture that looks like something out of a Jurassic Park sequel. You should further forget that this is Buick's first minivan, and that GM has relabeled its minivans as "crossover sport vans" (or CSVs, for the tragically hip out there).
Yes, it's easy to get caught up in the potential noise surrounding the Terraza, but if you look past all that you will find a capable minivan. As with the exterior, the interior has a "grafted on" feel, such as the Honda Odyssey-like folding center consoles and the Chrysler 300-like chrome rings around the gauges. But both the exterior and interior are better than any previous GM minivan, with a combination of style and quality that was sorely missing on the Venture/Montana/Silhouette models. If GM could have improved the drivetrain, suspension and NVH as much as it did the interior design I would be ready to overlook its "updated Venture" underpinnings.
But the General took the cost-conscious route on this "new" van. So even as I ride in the Terraza's comfortable captain's chairs and marvel at its cool seatback storage compartments I find myself wanting more power, crisper handling and a quieter cabin. And then I remember that I can have those things in the new Odyssey.
Senior Features Editor Joanne Helperin says:
One might be willing to live with the Terraza's ponderous acceleration if its safety features and convenience made up for it. But they don't.
First, the Terraza's lack of available side curtain airbags will, right off the bat, cause many safety-conscious consumers to strike this van off their list.
There are other annoyances. The electric-powered rear doors should easily open and close with a gentle (manual) tug. But the Terraza's doors require a serious yank — sometimes several, before they get the hint.
The standard DVD system is a nice touch, though the screen is small and set far forward. A bigger issue is that the disc-loading slot is in the overhead console (rather than the dash), making it dangerous for the driver to change discs and difficult for a younger child to do so.
Similarly, the air vents for the second-row seat are set too far back for the second-row occupants to reach them.
Other features that don't make sense: If the van is ordered with captain's chairs, those chairs cannot tumble all the way forward (like the Town and Country) or be positioned next to each other (à la Odyssey and Sienna). So to get into or out of the third row, a child has no choice but to pass over the feet of the second-row occupant. That's especially hard with a backpack.
Another Odyssey-inspired feature is the folding utility tray (for drinks, etc.) between both the front and second-row seats. Unfortunately, when the tray is lowered, the space remaining is quite narrow, making it quite difficult for adults to walk between the seats.
Are there some positives here? Yes. The contrasting piping on the leather seats is very attractive. The seatbacks have spacious storage bins and the cargo convenience center (optional on some models) is a great idea. The instruments and controls are straightforward and don't require a learning curve. The Terraza's price, however, doesn't make it attractive enough to overcome its shortcomings.
"Buick's Terraza is basically a repackaged Olds Silhouette. They boosted horsepower, but it translates to an almost unnoticeable power increase. The ride is firmer and markedly quieter. The instrumentation is nicer than that of the Olds, with new chrome added. Which, by the way, is much in abundance throughout the vehicle. The overhead 'rail' system for storage and DVD is done well. The DVD screen is one inch smaller than Olds', and must be loaded at the screen — a setback for those with children too small to do it themselves." — Joe G., Nov 14, 2004