At first glance, you'd say the 2010 GMC Terrain is a truck: upright, squared-off and with beefy shoulders over the wheels that would look right at home on a Hummer or Jeep. Until the large Acadia crossover appeared, GMC had always been a purist's truck brand, maker of body-on-frame haulers and workhorses. The Terrain wears its GMC badges proudly (there are even little GMC emblems molded into the side reflectors incorporated in the taillights), but it's really a compact crossover SUV, mechanically akin to the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox.
So it falls into that class of station wagon alternatives with the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe and Subaru Forester. But GMC designers have zigged where Chevy zagged. So where the Equinox looks less trucklike than its predecessor, the 2010 GMC Terrain emphasizes truck themes consistent with the brand's "professional grade" slogan. We're even told it establishes the design vocabulary for future GMC products.
Covering the Ground
GMC is one of the four brands that survive in the new, post-bankruptcy General Motors and the Terrain expands GMC's reach into the fuel-conscious end of the new GM product catalog. It has some competition from that Chevy sister, but GM recently announced it won't be building a Buick version derived from the late Saturn Vue.
That's why the 2010 GMC Terrain boasts a very un-trucky EPA fuel economy rating of 32 mpg highway. Of course, that's the front-wheel-drive version with a six-speed automatic and the 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter Ecotec inline-4 — a thoroughly modern engine with variable valve timing and direct injection. With an EPA city rating of 22 mpg and a combined rating of 26 mpg, the Terrain has better fuel-efficiency than the Asian imports. Opt for all-wheel drive and the figures slip only a bit to 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway.
An optional ($1,500 on any trim level) 264-hp 3.0-liter V6 coupled to a different six-speed automatic delivers 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway, again besting or matching the leading competitors (at least in those cases where the competition offers a V6) and also more than doubling towing capacity from the base model's 1,500 pounds to 3,500 pounds.
With its 112.5-inch wheelbase, the 2010 GMC Terrain is one of the larger five-seat crossovers and boasts 63.9 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the front seats, or 31.6 cubic feet with the rear seatback up.
The rear seat can slide fore and aft over an 8-inch range, so the owner can prioritize passenger legroom or cargo capacity as needed. In the forward position, it also shortens the reach for parents who might need to reach a toddler in back. The one beef here is that the rear seat doesn't fold completely flat, primarily because the designers chose to use bolsters on the sides and cushion for better passenger comfort.
A rearview camera is standard equipment. With the optional navigation system, the back-up camera shows up in that display; otherwise it appears on the left portion of the inside rearview mirror. We found the latter actually more natural to use, though the picture is smaller.
Did the Terrain Move for You?
While Chevy cites the Ford Escape as the primary target for the Equinox, GMC more often points to the more upscale Ford Edge and Nissan Murano, as well as the more comparable Honda CR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe. It comes in SLE and SLT trim levels and in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models.
We drove three examples of the 2010 GMC Terrain: the base front-wheel-drive SLE1 with 17-inch wheels ($24,995 including $745 delivery); an all-wheel-drive, V6-powered SLT2 with optional 19-inch wheels, navigation system and rear-seat DVD player in the back of each front headrest (about $34,000, we estimate); and a front-wheel-drive SLT1 also equipped with the V6 but without navigation and the 18-inch wheels that are standard at that trim level ($28,195, including $745 delivery). This FWD SLT might have been the best value, though even the base vehicle didn't feel like a cheap crate. Materials and fit and finish were all to a high standard, with thoughtful features throughout.
The base model's 182-hp engine is the first four-cylinder in a GMC product since the demise of the Sonoma pickup six years ago, but fortunately it's more than adequate to the task of moving the 3,798-pound 2010 GMC Terrain. With this FWD powertrain, 60 mph should come up in well under 9 seconds. This lightest model also encouraged us to try an aggressive run through a twisting two-lane segment of road more suited to compact sports cars than most crossovers. It handled surprisingly well — so well, in fact, that we're not laughing anymore at the GMC ads that target the BMW X3. We'd still rather have the Bavarian model if we had to drive through the Alps, but GMC has nothing to be ashamed of on the handling front.
For maximum highway fuel economy, there's an "Eco" button forward of the shifter on four-cylinder models that makes the transmission less eager to shift down and more likely to engage the torque converter lockup. It's good for 1 mpg and worth remembering to engage if you're on a long freeway run, although it could prove annoying in stop-and-go situations. There's no Eco button on the V6 model, because the gain proved to be less than 0.5 mpg and the annoyance factor higher, GMC engineers told us.
While it would be hard to imagine a greater departure from GMC's long tradition of big-displacement, pushrod V8s with tons of low-rpm torque than these two engines — both of which produce their peak outputs above 6,500 rpm — the gearing and programming of the six-speed automatics and the attention to detail in engineering make the Terrain anything but a buzzbox.
With the inline-4, you get variable electric assist for the power steering. It feels better at speed than the hydraulic unit for the V6 models, although the effort is a little too light when going slowly. Also unique to the four-cylinder Terrain is active noise cancellation — there's a woofer in the right rear quarter panel that emits sound waves to cancel any booming reverberations at highway speed. Helping to keep things quiet, there's insulated glass in the front doors and windshield.
The high-end V6-powered SLT has the most bells and whistles, but the big wheels delivered a penalty, not so much felt as heard in bump-thump noises from the low-profile tires over bumpy pavement. We'd stick with the 18s rather than drop the $900 on the big chrome 19s.
The New GMC From the New GM
GMC would argue that it's been a fuel economy leader in its segment for a long while, even offering hybrid models of its bigger trucks. Yet the mpg figures for the 2010 GMC Terrain should establish street cred for a brand that previously scored near zero. The Terrain's inline-4 even runs on regular gas, while its top competitors recommend premium.
It's a pity for GMC that the 2010 Terrain arrives just a few weeks too late to capitalize on the Cash for Clunkers deals that saw many Americans trading in their big trucks — many GMCs undoubtedly among them — for smaller crossovers like this.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.