Jason Kavanagh, Senior Vehicle Test Engineer
Platform sharing is badge engineering's younger, more sophisticated sibling. Done right, platform sharing can create drastically different vehicles from the same pile of metal bits arranged in generally the same fashion.
Then again, there's no need for drastic changes when the starting point is sound. Slap a fake nose and glasses on a 2010 Chevrolet Equinox and what do you get? The 2010 GMC Terrain.
Fortunately, the Equinox is a fine place to start, as it's quite the accomplished compact-ish SUV.
The biggest difference between these five-passenger crossover stablemates (a.k.a. station wagons) is also the most obvious. Extensive sheet metal changes give the Terrain much blockier, more squared-off styling than the soft-curve Equinox. The soggy jowls on the Terrain's face are a bit forced — OK, they remind us of the cartoon character Droopy the Dog — and its tough-truck box-flares clash with the proportions of the terrifically tacky chrome 19-inch wheels and tires. To our eyes, the Equinox got the better end of the designer's pen.
There's no denying, though, that the twins' styling will appeal to the sensibility of different consumers, which is the whole point. So, well played, GM.
Aside from aesthetics, there are differences in the way equipment is bundled and priced. For example, a back-up camera is offered as standard on the Terrain, a pretty cool deal as there's a wide blind spot formed by the C- and D-pillars.
This content issue between the two muddies things up, but ultimately a Terrain costs more than an otherwise equivalent Equinox. Our Terrain tester (an SLT2 AWD model) starts at $31,745. Equipped with options like a 3.0-liter V6 engine, premium audio with navigation and a few other baubles, the total comes to $36,885. A comparable Equinox would cost a few Benjamins less.
Success in Cabin
The Terrain's cabin is nearly a dead ringer for the Equinox's, which is to say smartly styled with surfaces that look inviting to the touch. Our tester sports a two-tone interior treatment that adds life to the already dramatic-looking cabin. Sunny days reveal the folly of the pale gray plastic band at the cowl — it tends to wash out the view through the windshield. Likewise, the cheap-looking plasti-chrome accents on the console and gauge surround cast reflections into your eyes.
Call it quibbling, though, as on the whole the Terrain's interior is an inviting and well-appointed place. There are heated leather seats, automatic headlights and climate control; a power liftgate; plus the center stack's warm red backlighting complements the neat and logical clusters of controls. The backseat area is outstanding, offering ample legroom with reclining seatbacks and a floor that's flat from door to door.
A Suitable Everyday Companion
Its handling offers no surprises on either end of the excitement continuum. Though the Terrain's grip on our skid pad is meager at 0.74g, its 63.7-mph speed through the slalom is a meaningful step up from the 60.2 mph of the entry-level Equinox we tested. This is not an SUV that strives to provide rewarding tactility in the spirit of contemporaries like the Nissan Murano.
Still, the Terrain's driving experience is cooperative and exhibits no bad manners whether you're plying a parking lot or bending through a freeway on-ramp. Its suspension absorbs choppy pavement pretty well, and the stiff structure imparts a real sense of refinement and composure. It's better finished than a RAV4 and offers a more functional backseat besides.
Our tester's low-profile 235/55R19 Hankook tires appear to have a bit more stickiness than the standard 18s, as the Terrain's 127-foot stop from 60 mph betters the Equinox we tested by 5 feet.
Powertrain Effective but Not Perfect
Our test vehicle's optional, direct-injection 3.0-liter V6 gives a solid bump in power over the base model's inline-4. Indeed, the 264-horsepower bent-six helps the Terrain move out well at full throttle, accelerating to 60 mph from a standstill in 8.3 seconds (8.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like at a drag strip) and completing the quarter-mile in 16.3 seconds at 86.5 mph.
Unlike the larger-displacement V6s found in the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano, the Terrain's mill is down on torque at low engine speeds and comes on boil noticeably around 4,500 rpm. It's not a pretty-sounding engine when you give it the wood, either. Get into the cruising groove, though, and the engine settles down to barely a whisper.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Terrain doesn't feel all that eager at part throttle. The Terrain's smallish V6 is certainly a factor, as is its ample 4,211-pound as-tested weight, but the six-speed automatic transmission deserves a lot of the blame. It's overly slushy at low engine speeds and eager to shift into and remain in the taller cogs of the gearbox in the interests of fuel economy. Not the best pairing for the engine that needs revs to deliver the goods.
Opting for the V6 over the four-cylinder increases the Terrain's towing capacity from 1,500 to 3,500 pounds, but as there's no tow-haul transmission mode, we can't say for sure whether it has the smarts to perk up its shift schedule accordingly.
The Terrain's 20-mpg EPA combined rating doesn't reveal a significant fuel economy advantage, either. Consider this our formal request to swap out the 3.0-liter V6 with the 3.6-liter V6, which in other GM applications has shown no fuel economy penalty despite its healthier output.
The existence of the Equinox makes the Terrain redundant, what with its corporate GMC tax and polarizing sheet metal. A sub-$30K Equinox with the four-cylinder turns out to be a heck of a package, whereas a Terrain that's optioned up to where it's knocking on $37 grand like our tester becomes a less compelling prospect.
Like the Equinox, though, the Terrain is a solid pick in the five-passenger SUV mix due to its long features list and stylishly functional cabin. Another pass at the powertrain hardware and calibration would only sweeten the Terrain's well-executed package.
Vehicle Test Coordinator Mike Magrath says:
The Sierra I get. The Yukon (and Yukon Denali) I get. They're work trucks for the Boss. For the contractors. For the foremen. The dudes who made it up from hammer-swinging to check-signing. This GMC Terrain, however, I don't get. Not for the brand. Not for the platform.
It's a nice enough CUV. Solid ride, unique sheet metal, stylish, well-done interior. But a GMC? This is professional grade. This is professional grade soccer mommery. Nothing more.
The GMC badge on this product seems less a decision based on sound data analysis, and more the acquiescence of a weak parent to a petulant child. "But, uncy-bob...Chevy has a version. I want one, too!"
Maybe if this had a real-deal four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case while maintaining this level of quality — maybe, then. But as it is, this is a sharp-looking car with solid features; a few grand cheaper and it would have made a stand-out Pontiac. As a GMC, though, it does more to obfuscate the direction of the brand than anything else.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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