Pros: Powerful V6; quiet and comfortable ride; impressive fuel economy; bold styling; sliding second row; good storage space

Cons: No third-row seat; vague steering feel; underwhelming dynamics

While some classify the GMC Terrain as a compact crossover, others say it's a midsize. The truth is, the Terrain enjoys the best of both designations. It offers fuel economy fit for a compact and the roominess of a midsize utility. Add to the equation a trucklike appearance, and the GMC Terrain becomes a truly compelling package.

The Terrain delivers on many fronts, much like its almost identical counterpart, the well-rounded Chevrolet Equinox. Both crossovers are competent people haulers emphasizing comfort, fuel economy, refinement and roominess - all things held in regard by those shopping for a family vehicle. But the Terrain sets itself apart with distinctive trucklike styling elements such as a prominent grille, oversize wheel arches and squared-off body panels.

However, the Terrain's rugged name is not indicative of any kind of off-road capability. To the contrary, the only terrain that the Terrain is truly suited for is asphalt. Although plenty competent on pavement, this is not the crossover to take into the wild. The Terrain's all-wheel-drive system is fine for handling harsh weather and road conditions, but it's less than ideal for treading a muddy trail through the woods.

For 2012, the Terrain adds some notable technology and safety features. Among these is a standard touchscreen stereo. The Terrain's newly added safety options include a lane departure warning system and a new camera-based crash alert system - intended to help avoid front-end collisions - that GM says is an industry first.  

Comfort & Utility

The Terrain's cabin is airy, attractive and amply contented. And it's also very similar to that of the Chevrolet Equinox. It touts the same twin-cockpit design that can be punched up with an optional two-tone color scheme and red ambient lighting. GMC has made the Terrain's interior a bit more upscale than that of its Chevy sibling with more soft-touch surfaces, higher-quality materials and a wider array of standard features.

Seats are well-padded with lots of leg- and headroom in both rows. And the reclining 60/40 split rear bench can move forward and backward up to eight inches. This sliding feature helps to better accommodate tall back-seat passengers or expand the rear cargo space.

With a maximum cargo volume of 64 cubic feet, the Terrain makes room for plenty of luggage or gear. It's not the largest cargo hold in the segment, but it's very usable.  Even with the rear seats up, the Terrain easily makes room for a couple of large suitcases.

The Terrain is available in four trim levels: SLE-1, SLE-2, SLT-1 and SLT-2. SLE-1 brings such standard convenience features as a blind-spot mirror, cruise control and power height adjustments for the driver's seat. The SLE-2 adds eight-way power for the driver seat and automatic climate control. The uplevel SLT-1 includes remote start, seat heat and leather upholstery, while the range-topping SLT-2 trim adds a power liftgate and a sunroof.

When properly outfitted, the Terrain offers families a near-luxury midsize crossover experience.

Technology 

The 2012 GMC Terrain gets a number of technology features starting with the base model's Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-view camera and a touchscreen sound system interface with USB port. Higher-end stand-alone options include voice-command navigation with digital music storage and a twin-screen rear DVD system.

Newly available is GM's IntelliLink smartphone integration system. This technology is operated via the Terrain's touchscreen stereo interface and harnesses Bluetooth to stream audio from Internet-based music sources like Pandora.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Front- and all-wheel-drive Terrain models are equipped with a choice of two engines. There's a standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder making a sufficient 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. Energy is managed by a 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 20/29 mpg with all-wheel drive.

The more powerful 3.0-liter V6 is optional for all models except the base SLE-1. Output stands at 264 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive.

In terms of towing capacity, the four-cylinder Terrain has a limit of 1500 pounds, while the V6-powered model can pull up to 3500 pounds.

Safety

Standard safety comes from six airbags, OnStar emergency telematics, ABS, stability control and traction control.

To elevate occupant protection, the V6-equipped SLT-2 model also offers optional lane departure warning and forward collision alert systems.

Driving Impressions

First and foremost, the Terrain delivers a comfortable and quiet ride that's well suited for daily commuting or long-distance road trips. GMC has gone to extra effort to make the Terrain's cabin as free from exterior noise as possible. A plush, well-shielded driving experience is what the majority of family-centric buyers want, and the Terrain delivers.

The Terrain really isn't fun to drive, though: its handling is lackluster, and its steering feels numb and disconnected. There's even noticeable body roll in corners.

As for power, the 4-cylinder Terrain is a fine choice for everyday driving. Power delivery is smooth and steady throughout the rev band. The only time it may come up short is when the Terrain is loaded down with passengers and cargo.

The V6-powered Terrain is noticeably more powerful. Off-the-line acceleration feels good and strong, as do passing maneuvers on the highway. But this engine takes a beating on fuel economy

Although the Terrain is not ideal for going off-pavement, it is an able towing vehicle. With a combination of the V6 and the optional trailer package, the Terrain is capable of towing a small boat.

Other Cars to Consider

Honda CR-V - The CR-V offers more cargo capacity and has standard all-wheel-drive. Both vehicles provide comfortable transportation for five.

Toyota RAV4 - The RAV4 is sportier, offering more power and significantly better handling. It also offers optional three-row seating and more cargo space. The Terrain's ride is more comfortable and quiet.

Ford Escape - The Escape has more high-tech features and the availability of a hybrid model. But the Terrain's sliding rear seat gives it more interior versatility. Both vehicles yield comparable fuel economy.

Kia Sportage - The Sportage is sportier and more fun to drive than the Terrain. But the Terrain offers more cargo room and a roomier second-row seat that slides and reclines.

AutoTrader Recommends

The Terrain variant that makes the most sense is the SLT-1 trim matched with the 4-cylinder engine. This second-from-the-top trim level offers the best value of the four available models. It comes equipped with features such as remote start, seat heat, leather upholstery, a touchscreen audio system and a backup camera, among other premium amenities, without breaking the bank. We also suggest that you opt for the available navigation and blind spot warning systems. The 4-cylinder engine provides adequate power combined with excellent fuel economy. For those living in colder regions, all-wheel drive is highly recommended.   

author photo

Shamit Choksey has a love for automobiles that worked into an early career writing and developing cop shows for network television. Later, diving even further into the world of wheels, he became a writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS/Discovery Channel series "MotorWeek." These days, Shamit lives in Southern California, serving as a media consultant and journalist within the automotive industry. Incidentally, his wife and two sons are not impressed by any of this.

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