Buick has entered the minivan segment for the very first time with the 2005 Terraza. This offering is seen as a draw for new and younger buyers. Indeed, the Terraza name well might get the attention of those same suburbanites who leaf through each issue of the Crate & Barrel catalog and then deploy their credit cards. However, whether the Terraza appeals beyond the just-looking stage remains to be seen; the Terraza's fancy features can't mask its ancient roots.Let's start with the high points. Chief among them is the tan-and-mocha leather interior of the CXL model we tested. (Buick's name for this dcor scheme is Cashmere, but we fear printing that word too baldly, lest the reader think the deck-stitched upholstery is pashmina.) Matching carpets are tasteful, and the plastic surfaces are attractively textured. Wood inserts and brushed-metal accents highlight the cabin.
The instrument panel presents modern gauges inside metal bezels. Ergonomics are satisfactory; in fact, the stalk-mounted cruise-control system surpasses that offered by Cadillac. There are plenty of cup holders and map lights, and several handy seatback storage pockets for headphones and other items. The overhead center console and rail system also has snap-in pockets for storage of CDs and DVDs, and there's even a first aid kit.
Two models are offered: the CX ($28,825) and CXL ($31,705). Front-wheel drive is standard, and the General Motors StabiliTrak vehicle control system is optional. Versatrak all-wheel drive is available on both models. Power-operated sliding side doors are standard. So is an overhead, rear-passenger DVD entertainment system with infrared wireless headphones.
Our well-equipped Terraza CXL came with all-wheel drive, dual-stage front airbags and a sensing system for the right-front passenger, optional side airbags, rear parking assist, and OnStar. It also included eight-way power front seats with two-position driver's seat memory, dual-zone climate control, and rear air conditioning. The very good audio system features a six-disc CD changer and MP3 player, and of course there are controls on the steering wheel. Our Terraza CXL rode on all-season touring tires mounted on attractive 10-spoke, chrome-plated, 17-inch wheels. A roof rack of brushed aluminum added functionality and class. We enjoyed the optional XM satellite radio that allowed us to listen to the Bluesville channel and learn all about Lightnin' Hopkins's first trip to the recording studios in California. The two-stage, heated front seats and remote starting served us well during a cold, snowy week. The grand total for all this came to $36,290. Sticker shock is going to be a factor with the Terraza, because it's trying to go shoulder to shoulder with the best from Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota.
Does it offer comparable value? It rides and handles well enough. The fully independent front and rear suspension features cast aluminum control arms and keeps the Terraza poised. The Versatrak AWD system makes the power steering rather heavy at low speeds, but we ran this van during a snowy week and gratefully benefited from its sure-footedness. With power disc brakes at all four corners, the Terraza stopped surely. Automatic rear level control compensates in case of a heavy load.
In the powertrain department, though, the Terraza is on the woeful side. It shares the engine and transmission used in the Saturn Relay. This 3.5-liter V-6 is lazy, and the four-speed automatic transmission is unambitious. The accelerator pedal has an abrupt tip-in that makes the minivan lurch forward, but that's not to be mistaken for real power. And the column-mounted shift lever virtually precludes any manual control while the vehicle is in motion. (Say, for example, that second gear is desired in order to take advantage of engine braking on a snowy downhill slope; when we moved the lever back to high gear, we went too far and hit neutral.) Top competitors have moved their shifters to the center stack, which is ideal in a minivan.