One thing I hate in a car is incongruous design. If something looks like it doesn't belong in the car or is out of step with the car's design aesthetic, it bugs the OCD part of me. Although there was plenty to dislike about the Ford EcoSport in general, its glossy-cased touchscreen display stuck out from its black matte surroundings like a sore thumb, really grating on me.
The GMC Terrain, on the other hand, is consistent. Everything from the all-black exterior (including black wheels and black trim) to the well-thought-out interior works cohesively as a whole. For a mainstream compact SUV, this is a good thing.
Built on the same GM Theta platform as the Chevy Equinox and the late Saturn Vue, the Terrain starts at $25,000 for the base SL model. As is usually the case with review vehicles, the model I drove came in at a much higher price point, in this case, $40,500 for the all-wheel drive SLT. The SLT trim itself gets you 18-inch aluminum wheels, leather-trimmed seats (heated in the front), an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, roof rails, and remote start. Add about $1,200 for two Driver Alert packages, another $1,500 to upgrade from a 1.5L four-cylinder engine to a 2.0L turbo, $1,150 for the infotainment package, another $1,250 for various interior upgrades, $795 for the Black Edition, a few more modest upgrades, and the result is a nicely specced vehicle. The Denali trim is also available if you want all the luxury GMC has to offer.
The default engine configuration is the aforementioned 1.5L DOHC 16-valve, four-cylinder turbo capable of 170hp (127kW) and 203lb-ft (275Nm) of torque. Diesel enthusiasts [ooh, this is going to draw the flames—Ed.] can spring for a 1.6L turbodiesel, which cranks out 137hp (102kW) and 240lb-ft (325Nm) of torque. Our Terrain came with the 2.0L power plant, which churns out 252hp (188kW) and 260lb-ft (353Nm) of torque. Both of the gasoline engines are paired with a nine-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission; the diesel comes with a six-speed. It was also AWD, which is not standard but a $4,800 upgrade.
Hows it look?
From the outside, the Terrain is unmistakably GMC. It's suitably rugged looking and has the massive truck-like grille on the front with the huge, red GMC badge. I am generally not a fan of monochromatic cars, but I have to admit that the all-black Terrain cut a sharp profile against the gray Chicago winter skies. At 182.3 inches (4.63m) long, it's comparable in size to the Jeep Cherokee and about halfway between the Ford Escape and Edge.
GMC's solid design carries over to the Terrain's interior. It's all black there, too, but with some chrome and carbon-fiber-looking trim on the doors. It's not really a forward-looking design, but it's one that manages to feel both comfortable and upscale. I appreciated the lumbar support offered by the six-way powered seats, but the seats themselves were too shallow for my tastes. I would have appreciated slide-out thigh supports à la the Volvo XC40. At 29.6 cubic feet (838L), there's plenty of cargo room, but some of that comes at the expense of taller back-seat passengers. With the back seat folded down, there's a whopping 63.3 cubic feet (1,792L) of cargo space.
The view from the driver's seat is good, although the truck-style front end had me guessing where the actual front of the car was throughout my time with the Terrain. Visibility out the back windows is compromised slightly by a sloping roofline and large C pillars. GMC has done a good job putting everything within easy reach of the driver. Steering wheel controls are well thought out, with driver assist functions on the left, instrument panel and voice control on the right, and radio controls on the back. My only complaint is that the rubberized buttons on the steering wheel felt cheap and out of place compared with the rest of the interior trim.
A GM infotainment system I dont hate?
My only exposure to GM infotainment has come from the Buicks I reviewed earlier this year and a Cadillac rental back in January, and I was not at impressed. By contrast, the IntelliLink infotainment system in the Terrain is minimalist but well thought out. There's a simple touch interface for radio, phone, and GPS, and the interface is clean and uncluttered. Directly under the 8-inch touchscreen are some basic audio controls. The climate controls live on the next level down, and climate adjustments appear briefly on the display as you're making them. Android Auto and CarPlay support are standard.
Instead of a gear lever, there is a row of buttons on the center console below the climate controls. That saves space in the center for a pair of cup holders, drive selector, and a couple of other controls. The overall effect gives the Terrain an open and uncluttered feel, which is a welcome change of pace from manufacturers that cram buttons into every last nook and cranny.
On the road, the Terrain rides very nicely. The suspension cushions passengers from nasty bits of pavement, and acceleration is what I would call "fast enough"—you're not going to set any speed records, but you'll get enough oomph from the engine to make a quick merge into traffic. GMC's active noise cancellation shuts out a lot of the road noise, leaving a ride that was quieter than I expected. I found the Terrain to be surprisingly maneuverable in tight quarters, something I always appreciate given the tight turn into my garage from the alley. At higher speeds, the Terrain feels more SUV-like, and I found myself approaching curves on winding country roads with some caution.
GM's driver-assist technology works as expected. Unlike other most other cars with adaptive cruise control, there is just one button for cruise control. If you want adaptive cruise control, you'll be prompted to press the cancel cruise control button to turn it on, which is an odd design choice. Lane-keep assist will nudge you back in your lane if you drift onto the shoulder, but it won't keep you centered. There is a row of red lights that projects onto the windshield like a heads-up display to warn you of imminent collisions and the like. Instead of annoying warning beeps, GM offers the option of having your seat vibrate, which I appreciated.
The Terrain is rated at 23mpg by the EPA: 26mpg on the highway and 21mpg in the city. In my usual mix of long and short drives, I averaged 20.9mpg.
My only complaints about the Terrain are small potatoes. The LED interior lights are dim on dark nights, the storage areas in the doors are shallow, and, as I mentioned above, the front seats are too shallow for my tastes. On the other hand, the Terrain offers a ton of cargo space, a quiet ride, and a smartly designed interior. The main sticking point here is price: at $40,000, the Terrain is priced a few thousand dollars more than a similarly equipped Honda CR-V or Subaru Forrester. I really enjoyed driving the Terrain and think it's a well-thought-out take on the compact SUV. I don't know that I like it $5,000 more than the competition, however.
Listing image by Eric Bangeman