The Terrain is GMC's smallest and biggest-selling SUV. GMC must think it can reach even more buyers by outfitting it with its top Denali trim for 2013. We last drove a Terrain when it was introduced as a 2010 model and we can see some important upgrades in comfort and performance.
Appearance: The Terrain is one of those designs that can polarize potential buyers; there's nothing sleek or soft about it. It sits high for a small SUV and is stocky, with pronounced fenders. It makes Peter think of a Tonka truck — it's a little SUV that thinks it's a big one. Our tester had all the bright and shiny trim GMC has to offer: The 19-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels shone nicely against the Carbon Black Metallic paint. The Denali gets GMC's mesh grille and adds satin chrome trim in every area possible: windows, exterior mirrors, roof rack, side molding, door handles, skid plate and liftgate. Too much of a good thing? We don't think so.
Performance: Our tester came with the much-improved 3.6-liter, 301-horsepower V-6. It's a big improvement in muscle and refinement over the previous Terrain V-6, which felt anemic. We were pleased to have the all-wheel drive, which, along with traction control, gave us a stable ride during recent storms. GMC also has upgraded the suspension. Peter drove it to Tallahassee and his back can attest to the softer, more comfortable ride. The 6-speed automatic will let the engine rev high when you need it, which is good for highway merging. It also has a manual shift mode that uses a toggle switch on the side of the shift lever. It's easy to overlook and is probably unnecessary unless you're towing. Peter found the steering to have a split personality: light in most driving but sluggish at lower speeds.
Interior: The cabin is more upscale than other Terrain trims, with red accent stitching, plus wood and chrome accents on the doors, console and thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Most surfaces are soft-touch, with a few plasticky pieces (such as the hood over the nav screen) breaking the upscale illusion. The console and controls are well-placed and practical. The seats are well-padded and comfortable, with an eight-way adjustment for the driver. Peter liked all the electronic safety gadgets and found them to work well to the point of being overly sensitive: blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and forward collision alert. Lyra doesn't like the nanny devices and found the alerts annoying. Peter moved his daughter back to college and was able to load all of her stuff by putting down one side of the 60-40 rear seats. (We wish the rear folded flat.) The Terrain has 63.9 cubic feet of cargo space.
Our 3 favorites
Legroom: The second row has plenty of it, for all but the tallest passengers.
Cargo cover: There's a rear shade that is removable.
Grille: I've always like GMC's bullet-hole chrome design.
Power liftgate: Opening is adjustable and programmable.
Ride: It's softer and more comfortable with dual flow damping and AWD.
Engine: A much more capable V-6.
The bottom line: If you like the Terrain's rugged look, then it's worth your consideration in the competitive small SUV class. Sure, the Denali has a high sticker price, but there are four other trim levels as well as powertrain options.