First Drive: 2010 GMC Terrain

Don Sherman
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To align its menu of trucks and people movers with rising interest in smaller, more fuel efficient transportation, GMC has broomed the hoary Envoy in favor of a fraternal twin to Chevy's Equinox called Terrain. This brings an efficient four-cylinder engine into the lineup, highway mileage topping the crucial 30mpg barrier, and a fresh load of tantalizing creature features.

RIGHT SIZED FOR TENUOUS TIMES

From GMC's point of view, Terrain is a compact. That assessment references the huge Acadia and Yukon XL residing across the showroom. However, Terrain is considerably larger than the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4 that dominate the small SUV category so, in the greater scheme of crossovers, it's a midsize.

DESIGNED BY A RECOVERING CORVETTE ARTIST

Blocky proportions, a chunk of bling at the leading edge of the hood, oversized headlamps, and exaggerated fender flares seem contrived to make Terrain appear larger than it is. GM's crossover vehicle chief designer John Cafaro Jr., a major contributor to the C5 Corvette, calls the look "tailored toughness." Riding on a 112.5-inch wheelbase, Terrain is half a foot shorter and two inches narrower than the Envoy it replaces but more than 10-inches longer than a Ford Escape. While this sounds large enough to squeeze in three seating rows, GMC resisted that urge. With three other models in the lineup offering team-hauling capacity, Terrain is secure in its role as a five-seat crossover.

In spite of the genetic makeup shared with Chevy's Equinox, Terrain's exterior is sufficiently distinctive that there's little chance the two will be confused on the street. Chevy bow ties are worn over body color grille bars while GMC's red ID badges sparkle inside chrome presentation frames.

Terrain's unibody has a single piece side stamping to assure tight, consistent door gaps and panel fits. High-strength steel is used for enhanced stiffness, resistance to squeaks and rattles, and to save a few pounds of weight. Six air bags - including side curtains that protect all outboard occupants during a lateral collision - are standard along with ABS and StabiliTrak electronic stability control.

PROFESSIONAL GRADE CABIN

Entering the Terrain involves a climb up over thick door sills even though there's no real attempt here to provide off-road prowess. Like most crossovers, Terrain's powertrain sits sidewise and focuses most of its energy on propelling the front wheels. When the optional all-wheel-drive powertrain is selected, the rear wheels go to work only when necessary with torque delivered through a Getrag-supplied computer-controlled coupling positioned downstream of the 6-speed automatic transmission.

An especially handy interior feature the Terrain received from Equinox is a MultiFlex rear seat that slides nearly eight inches fore and aft to trade legroom for cargo space on demand. Unfortunately, the split rear cushions are stuffed to the point they don't fold fully flat when it's time to haul a new big screen home from the mall.

Offered in SLE and SLT trim levels with a slew of optional upgrades, Terrain is available with two grades of cloth or perforated leather upholstery. The uplevel instrument panel pads are neatly molded and stitched with contrasting thread. There are storage areas aplenty and the center armrest is configured to swallow a laptop computer. HVAC, entertainment system, and navigation controls are logically arrayed and clustered at a convenient height above the center console.

The most notable faux pas is a button on the shifter for manual gear changes. This feature will see little use because the lever is located too far aft for handy reach and there's no redline indicated on the tachometer.

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