Reviews

2012 GMC Terrain Driving Impressions


The GMC Terrain delivers a nice balance of attributes on the road, getting along in a fashion that complements its interior features and all-purpose versatility.

The dynamic balance tilts toward comfort, but the Terrain is reasonably nimble around town, and very easy to manage. It accelerates nicely regardless of the engine, and fuel economy with the four-cylinder is outstanding. The optional all-wheel-drive is suitable for graded trails, and it's valuable in wintry climes.

For 2012, the standard four-cylinder engine can run on E85 bio-fuel, and the high-trim SLT-2 is available with a new collision warning alert. Many buyers will find it worth the cost.

For starters, the collision alert system is relatively inexpensive ($295), and it works as well as others that cost a lot more, with less distraction. It's a bit distracting itself, until the driver becomes familiar with it, because the warning device is front and center on the dashboard. The driver sets the warning distance to an appropriate length. Once that's settled, if he or she happens to glance down at a phone or back at a toddler at an inappropriate instant, the warning system will beep loudly and flash if the Terrain is closing too quickly on another car or object. It gets the driver's attention fast, and that's really all there is to it. It's a good idea.

Both Terrain engines are technically advanced, with direct gasoline injection and sophisticated control technology to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. The 3.0-liter V6 is rated at 264 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city, 24 highway with front-wheel drive, 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive. The Terrain V6 is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds.

For an engine that supplies peak torque fairly high in the rev range, the V6 pulls from low rpm smoothly and well, capably powering the nearly 4000-pound Terrain around town in satisfying, low-effort style. It's the six-speed transmission that makes the engine ideal, with a gear for every situation and intelligent programming that can sense the difference between subtle variations of throttle input.

Sixth gear is a very tall overdrive, so the Terrain V6 cruises at highway speeds easily and quietly, loafing along at 1500 rpm at 60 mph, and 1800 at 75 mph. And still it responds quickly to demands for power on on-ramps or for passing. Ask it to pass and it downshifts twice in quick succession, but with very little shift shock, and the tach shows 4500 rpm on the way to a 6950-rpm redline. Under full throttle, there is a rush of available power, but not excessive noise.

That said, we did not notice a huge difference in acceleration with the 2.4-liter, 182-horsepower four-cylinder. Towing capacity is reduced to 1500 pounds, but overall drivability is comparable, and mileage ratings increase significantly. The four-cylinder gets an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city, 32 highway with front drive, and 20/29 mpg with all-wheel drive. Both ratings are near the top of the class.

With its own quick-shifting six-speed automatic, the four-cylinder easily powers the Terrain around town. With just a little more effort, it supplies confident on-ramp acceleration and no-downshift passing power on the highway. Its transmission has slightly lower gearing than that used with the V6, but it shifts just as smoothly and follows throttle input just as well. Especially for those who feel fuel costs will become a significant factor over the next five years, the four-cylinder powertrain is worth consideration.

With either engine, the Terrain is commendably quiet in just about every respect. It feels substantial around town, not the least bit tinny, but it's also reasonably agile, with a progressive turn-in and little side-to-side sway at normal speeds. The suspension delivers a smooth, isolated ride, as we discovered on some straight, fast and sometimes potholed Midwestern roads. Relatively little vibration leaks through the steering wheel or other touch points.

In other words, the suspension is on the soft side, but handling around town and on more demanding roads is not hugely affected by body roll or brake dive. Cornering is quite predictable and secure, enhanced by a relatively wide stance. All things considered, we think the Terrain offers a comfortable dynamic balance, appropriate for a multi-purpose SUV. It's not going to win an autocross, but the Terrain is still solidly planted and nicely balanced.

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