The GMC Terrain is a good CUV for hauling people and gear, and it has adequate interior room and power for its class, along with a bunch of cool electronic features: hard-drive nav system, iPod integration and a backup camera. Our long-term 2010 Terrain FWD SLT-2 also comes standard with what the sticker calls a "Pioneer Premium" audio system, but it's not one of the vehicle's strong suites.
The Pioneer system in the 2010 GMC Terrain FWD SLT-2 consists of 8 speakers powered by 250 watts. The speakers include a 6.5-inch midrange in each front door, a 1-inch tweeter in each A pillar, a 3.5-inch midrange in the center of the dash, a 6.5-inch midrange in each rear door and an 8-inch subwoofer in the passenger-side wall of the rear cargo area.
Like every sound system I evaluate, I subjected the Terrain's Pioneer setup to my standard musical test tracks to judge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also use several non-musical test tracks to check soundstaging and imaging, linearity and absence of noise. For more detail on the testing process and tracks used, check out the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.
In terms of sound quality, the Pioneer system in the Terrain is a perfect example of a middle-of-the-road branded OEM audio. While stock systems have dramatically improved over the last decade or so, most are still designed for a kind of lowest-common-denominator audio experience. It's like eating a really good frozen pizza when you can't get out for a fresh-baked pie: mildly satisfying, but far from the real thing.
Like most mediocre OEM systems, the Terrain's system booms on the bottom end and is harsh on the high end, with everything in between adequately inoffensive. While clarity and tonal balance are skewed by the over-emphasis of the extremes of the frequency spectrum, timbre, tonal accuracy and dynamics don't fare much better and the system mostly has a dull, lifeless sound.
On some tracks the system somewhat sussed out certain details in the music, like the strong up-front bass in the Joan Armatrading's "In Your Eyes" and sweet sax sound in Bluesiana Triangle's "Life's a One Way Ticket." But for every flash of brilliance there were two or more bummers, like the disembodied vocals on the Luka Bloom track "Cold Comfort" or the almost unlistenable mess the system made of Red House Painters' "Cabezon."
Even with center-channel and A-pillar speakers -- usually an indication of decent soundstaging and imaging -- the Terrain's Pioneer system handled both poorly. A drum roll at 7:40 in the Bluesiana Triangle song "Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me" that pans from far right to far left helps me determine the boundaries of the soundstage, and in the Terrain it was less than the width of the dash. (With the best system, it's actually wider than the car interior). And images within the soundstage were localized down near the door speakers and extremely side-biased.
This was easily corroborated by the non-musical staging/imaging tests, which the Terrain system failed. It scored "poor" and "fair" grades for linearity (a measure of how much detail is retained as the volume is lowered) at low- and mid-level volume settings, respectively. But it passed the absence of noise test; most systems usually do.
The disc slot for the Terrain's an in-dash CD/DVD player is slickly integrate into the bottom of the center stack. The real "head unit" is at the top, fronted by a 7-inch touch screen that's part of our Terrain's $2,145 navigation system option. The system also includes tuners for AM, FM and Sirius satellite radio and 10GB of the nav system's 40GB hard drive is used to store digital music files.
Unlike some audio systems that only allow recording from CD (Hello, Ford!), the Terrain's system also lets you rip tracks from a USB drive. And the hard drive's "time shifting" feature allows rewinding up to 20 minutes of AM, FM or Sirius content, and even works if you turn off the engine and then fire it up again before 20 minutes is up.
An aux-in jack and a USB port in the center console can be used to plug in a portable media player, which chances are is an iPod. You can plug an iPod directly into the USB port using the USB computer cable that comes with the device, or jack in a USB drive loaded with tunes instead. Either way, the system organizes the tracks into the traditional playlists, artists, albums, songs and genres structure, and with an iPod you get the additional categories of podcasts, audiobooks and composers The Terrain has a jump feature that lets you quickly navigate a huge music library, but it's still very slow. We discovered that Apple's new iOS 4.0 software made iPhones with the upgraded OS fail in the Terrain. But with the release of iOS 4.1 the iPhone incompatibility issue has been solved.
What We Say
Depending on how discerning you are when it comes to sound quality -- and whether you think the glass is half empty or half full -- the Terrain's Pioneer system will rank either just above or just below average. And while it's a good example of how most stock sound systems -- brand or no brand, optional or stock -- have gotten much better, it's also a perfect candidate for an aftermarket upgrade.
Source Selection: A
iPod Integration: B
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