When I first heard that I was going to be spending some quality time in a 2011 GMC Terrain, I'll admit to feeling a certain extra amount of excitement. Although often derided as a badge-engineered Chevrolet Equinox, the Terrain has managed to carve out a surprisingly healthy niche for itself as the entry point to GMC's Professional Grade lineup.
The smallish crossover found 60,519 new customers in 2010, its first full year on sale, and while that's nowhere near the kind of volume seen at the top of the segment, it's well above the kind of numbers earned by vehicles like the Dodge Journey, Mazda CX-7 or Hyundai Tucson. The Terrain's momentum continued into this year, too, with the vehicle selling 13,559 units through the first two months of 2011, representing a 67.6 percent jump in sales'”which included a 76 percent boost in retail customers in February.
I was particularly hoping to get a four-cylinder Terrain, because I was eager to test out its high-efficiency I4 engine for myself. The EPA lists the front-wheel-drive I4 Terrain as capable of 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway/26 mpg combined, giving it a serious advantage over the competition.
The Best-Laid Plans, Etc., Etc.
But when the friendly folks from GM's Professional Grade division left a 2011 GMC Terrain in my driveway recently, I encountered a shocking sight. And no, it had nothing to do with the vehicle's chiseled exterior design'”which I actually think works quite well on the Terrain. And it wasn't related to the crossover's rather impressive interior, where there was perhaps more style than substance, but certainly plenty of the former. It wasn't even the price tag, which clocked in at a robust $38,775, some $13,535 over the base MSRP on a four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive Terrain. That's a bargain compared to an optioned-up Nissan Murano.
No, what threw me for a serious loop was the information found a bit lower on the Terrain's window sticker: Holstering both all-wheel drive and a 3.0-liter V6, the vehicle showed an EPA line of 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway/19 mpg combined.
Let's put that into context, shall we? The Terrain's bigger brother, the GMC Yukon, is a full-size body-on-frame SUV that's nearly a foot-and-a-half longer than the Terrain and, when both are configured with all-wheel drive, roughly 1,600 lbs. heavier. It also packs a 5.3-liter V8 under the hood, as compared to the Terrain's 3.0-liter V6. Yet those two vehicles still get essentially the same EPA line, with the Yukon going 15/21/17.
Looking back at the Murano, along with the other "Key Competitors" from the Terrain's info sheet, we find the Nissan at 18/23/20, the Ford Edge reaching 18/25/20, the Hyundai Santa Fe rated at 20/26/22 and the Honda CR-V leading the way with marks of 21/27/23.
That means the Terrain has the bizarre distinction of offering both the best fuel efficiency in its competitive set and the worst.
The Heavy Burden of AWD
The Terrain arrived late in the afternoon yesterday, and I've spent all morning writing, so I've only driven it about 10-15 miles at this stage. And while that's not much to go by, I can honestly say the Terrain has so far exceeded my expectations in most of the standard measures of the car reviewer's report card. Fit and finish are excellent, the ride is solid and composed (and quiet), and while the interior materials may sometimes feel a little flimsy, they sure look nice. Plus, considering the high levels of content, you get a high-value package for your money.
But there's just no getting around its poor fuel-economy ratings'”nor those of AWD rivals like the Murano. It's just an obvious fact of physics that adding all-wheel-drive systems means adding weight, and that's going to cut down on efficiency. Yet on the other hand, AWD also can be a significant safety enhancer, which means customers are to some extent forced to choose between safety and efficiency in the Terrain, and really with all vehicles that offer AWD as an option.
I suppose the good thing is that the Terrain at least gives you that option.