The 2015 GMC Terrain is a bulkier alternative to the small SUVs it's priced against, and that plays out in both good and bad ways.
Age always seems to play up an SUV's lack of competitiveness, but the Terrain's strengths run deep. Despite having had five years to try, competitors haven't outflanked this SUV's core talents just yet. Conversely, the Terrain's bungles are as annoying as ever, and it will take a full redesign to address some of them.
This is the sixth model year for the Terrain, which comes in six trim levels, with two available engines and front- or all-wheel drive. Click here to compare them or here to stack up the 2014 and 2015 Terrain. The Terrain is closely related to the Chevrolet Equinox, and you can compare the two here. We drove both SUVs with similar features at Cars.com's $28,000 Compact SUV Challenge, which you can see here.
For 2015, the Terrain gets some new multimedia technology, but other changes are minimal. We'll touch on specific attributes of the Terrain below; for a deeper dive, read our Equinox review here.
We drove a front-wheel-drive Terrain SLE-1.
Exterior & Styling
Blockier than its Equinox sibling, the Terrain's styling has always looked fierce to me. Still, some editors appreciate the distinction; the Terrain's protruding fenders and squared-off face hide a lot of its similarity with the Equinox. Fog lights and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard; 18s or 19s are optional. The Terrain's range-topping Denali trim gets a unique chrome grille, some additional mirror brightwork and Denali-specific 18s or 19s.
Like the Equinox, the Terrain is a few inches larger than similarly priced SUVs — popular models like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape. That could make parking a chore, especially because the GMC's turning circle ranges from 40 feet to an embarrassing 42.6 feet, depending on the wheels. (A RAV4 cuts the circle in as little as 34.8 feet.)
How It Drives
The half-size-bigger approach helps driving refinement, where the GMC cruises with a degree of ride quality and noise abatement that's a class above its peers. Still, once the road gets curvy, the Terrain's mushy brakes and wallow-prone suspension sap much fun; so did our test car's 2.4-liter four-cylinder, whose 182 horsepower isn't up to the task of slinging around the SUV's portly weight.
An optional 301-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 solves that problem and then some, giving the Terrain the sort of snappy acceleration we haven't seen since Toyota dropped the V-6 from its RAV4. It sucks fuel, though, returning just 19 to 20 mpg in combined ratings by the EPA. Four-cylinder models are rated 23 to 26 mpg, depending on driveline; many competitors, however, have surpassed even those numbers.
Aside from the Denali edition, which dresses things up with some contrasting door trim and dashboard stitching, the Terrain's interior is straightforward. Cabin materials are basic, with low-budget paneling in places where competitors have used nicer materials, like the upper door panels.
Still, GMC comes out ahead in passenger space, with large chairs and backseat legroom to spare. Cloth seats with powered driver's-seat height adjustment are standard; heated leather seats are optional, with full power adjustments for the passenger seat, too — a rarity in this class.
All that space puts the rear window at a distance, however, and bulky C- and D-pillars also hurt visibility. Check out the photo thumbnails to see more.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The Terrain badly needs a redesign for its center controls, whose jumbled shapes seem designed by Picasso. A 7-inch touch-screen is standard. For 2015 the Terrain gets 4G LTE service through OnStar with the ability to create a Wi-Fi hot spot for passengers to surf the web. Once the trial period (three months or 3 gigabytes) runs out, however, the subscription fees are steep. OnStar's claimed advantage is better signal strength thanks to an antenna on top of the car, as opposed to your smartphone, but you'll pay for it. Many smartphones can create their own hot spots that run off your data plan and service multiple devices, and my iPhone's data plan charges less per extra gigabyte than OnStar.
Bluetooth phone and USB/iPod compatibility are also standard, but Bluetooth audio streaming requires GMC's IntelliLink multimedia suite, which includes app support and voice recognition. IntelliLink comes on SLE-2 trims and higher.
Cargo & Storage
The extra room in the Terrain doesn't spill into the cargo area, where bulky wheel wells limit the volume behind the rear seats to just 31.6 cubic feet. Many competitors have more than 35 cubic feet, and the gap persists when you compare maximum cargo room with the seats folded. The Terrain tops out at 63.9 cubic feet; the CR-V and RAV4 both exceed 70.
Top crash-test scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety give the GMC Terrain a Top Safety Pick award for 2015. Click here to see all its safety features and here to see our Car Seat Check of the Terrain.
A backup camera is standard. Options include lane departure, blind spot and forward collision warning systems. The collision warning system lacks automatic braking, however, which most systems now incorporate.
Value in Its Class
The Terrain starts around $25,000, but a loaded Denali can run north of $43,000. That positions the GMC above the Equinox and most competitors, and some shoppers might even compare a Denali with entry-level luxury SUVs from Lexus, Acura, Volvo or Mercedes-Benz.
Whatever you're cross-shopping, the Terrain's comfort and refinement should compare well; likewise, the frustrations born of its bulkiness transcend the competition. Which side prevails? In Cars.com's SUV comparison, the Equinox and Terrain placed second and third, respectively, out of seven SUVs despite being the oldest cars in the test by a long shot.
Old strengths win out, it seems.
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