2011 GMC Terrain: Introduction
Making assumptions about a person simply because of their past history is a sure fire way to blind yourself from the ability to see them as they are today. People change and so do cars and carmakers. If you judged the merits of the 2011 GMC Terrain based on memories of the ironically quite forgettable GM compact SUVs sold up through the 2009 model year (known as the last generation Chevy Equinox and Pontiac Torrent) then you would be missing out on what is easily one of the best compact SUVs on the market today.
Road testing compact SUVs is not usually the most exciting job an auto journalist faces, but the 2011 GMC Terrain was such an unexpected surprise that we found ourselves driving it for fun and even showed it off to a group of BMW owners at a child’s birthday party - and they liked it. So how did GMC suddenly cook up a compact SUV that impressed owners of vehicles from a brand that practically guarantees at least a little bit of a superiority complex?
We could have convinced them with a test drive but didn’t do that as we didn’t want to get snooty all over the leather seats in our fully loaded SLT-2 model or take away any attention from the birthday girl’s fabulous party.
Although the aforementioned two year old was unavailable for a comment about the Terrain as she was busy stealing everyone’s vanilla ice cream during her party, the thing that most obviously sets the Terrain apart (and above) all of the compact SUV competition is the quality, design, comfort and style of its interior. And everyone liked the Terrain’s macho, slab-sided exterior styling because it wasn’t like other compact SUVs which so often look like blobs of suburban malaise.
Now, there is nothing more depressing than driving a poorly packaged, cheap feeling, ugly, formless, boring to drive and downright soul sapping compact SUV and we have tested more than a few. We still remember how hard it was getting through a week with the Nissan Rogue, VW Tiguan, Jeep Liberty and don’t get us started about the Ford Escape which is the last gaping reminder of how bad Fords used to be at the turn of the millennium when that recall magnet was launched.
2011 GMC Terrrain: Exterior
Before the 2011 GMC Terrain and the similarly stylish 2011 Kia Sportage, no one apparently had thought about adding real, unique (and to a certain degree polarizing) exterior styling to the compact SUV segment. Sure, the current CR-V, RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson look nice, but no one is ever going to really have a strong opinion either way about how your ride looks if you buy one.
General Motors has a long history of platform sharing models so they could be sold by more than one brand in its arsenal, but usually the only differences came down to grille, name and for a rather unfortunate ten years or so at Pontiac—their signature plastic body-side cladding. Fortunately, with the demise of Pontiac, Saturn and Oldsmobile, so died this practice at GM.
So when GM decided to build a compact SUV platform for Chevy and GMC this time around, they finally got the concept of platform sharing down perfectly. Just by looking at the 2011 Chevy Equinox from the outside, it's hard to tell that it shares a platform, engines and (thankfully) same gorgeous interior with the 2011 GMC Terrain. These two SUVs are truly visual polar opposites from the outside which was a daring and bold move especially considering GM’s cautious history in that department.
The 2011 Chevy Equinox is definitely the more conventional looking SUV but it is svelte to the point of being feline and has the visual appeal of a tall wagon. The 2011 GMC Terrain on the other hand, looks like it enjoys getting into bar fights with Toyota RAV4 and spits on larger SUVs in supermarket parking lots just to show dominance. We suppose you could say that from a styling perspective, the Terrain owns the alpha dog vibe totally.
We really liked the in your face styling of the Terrain. Sure, the intense and almost tank-like visual style of the Terrain won’t appeal to everyone, but it fits the rough and tumble image of the GMC brand perfectly.
The Chevy Equinox should, by dint of its brand, have more widespread mainstream appeal, but if you want your compact SUV to make a statement, go for the 2011 GMC Terrain. In case you are wondering what statement it makes, we’ll tell you. It tells the hypermiling Toyota Priuses going ten miles under the speed limit in the fast lane to move over and get the heck out of the way. Actually, we don’t really think the Terrain would just say “heck” but this is a family SUV review so we won’t resort to foul language.
2011 GMC Terrrain: Interior
This is easily the 2011 GMC Terrain’s true trump card when it comes to class leading refinement and stands as the edge it needs to stand out head and shoulders above the pack of carnivorous compact SUVs feeding like hungry piranha off each other fed by a tasty helping Amazonian River chum. Yes, we watch too much Animal Planet.
The cabin of the 2011 GMC Terrain SLT-2 we tested featured luxuries like leather upholstery that is unrivaled in quality and texture in its class and even though our fully loaded tester V-6 powered test model stickered at a hefty $38,895 this quality is still in evidence in more basic models closer to the Terrain’s $24,500 base price. Yes, that MSRP is approaching luxury suv territory, but we swear this compact SUV can pull it off.
Our SLT-2 tester came with heated leather seats, power moonroof, automatic climate control, remote starting, a back-up camera, Bluetooth, USB/iPod integration, premium Pioneer 8-speaker audio system with Amplifier, XM, an power rear hatch with settings for tailgate height so you never have to worry about bumping your low hanging garage door, deep tinted glass, enough chrome to please any bling-happy rapper/suburban mom, multi-flex rear seats with 3 position recline and adjustable legroom/cargo volume and much more.
That brought us to $31,650 and the rest of the total was made up with optional extras like a cargo management system, navigation system with a 40-gigabyte hard drive built in for song storage, rear seat dual screen DVD entertainment, the upgrade to the 3.0-liter V-6, a tow package and 19-inch chrome clad alloy wheels. Just in case you thought the Terrain needed a bit more chrome. Honestly our test 2011 GMC Terrain could seriously stand tall with the Denali name—which in case you didn’t know your GMC is used to delineate high-end GMC models like the Acadia and Yukon from their lesser brethren.
Sure, there is a somewhat confusing array of similarly sized buttons on the center of the dash but all of them are clearly marked and we found every electronic gadget and gizmo easy to use and manipulate on the go. This is a compact SUV meant for family hauling and cargo hauling in optimum comfort with no compromises that we could see. Cargo volume is 31.6 cubic feet with the rear seats in place and when they fold that number grows to a very impressive 66.3 cubic feet overall with the rear seats folded. Rear legroom, thanks to the adjustable rear bench, offers plenty of legroom and comfort for two squabbling siblings over long road trips.
2011 GMC Terrrain: Driving Experience and Safety
Our 2011 GMC Terrain came with the optional 3.0-liter V-6 that is rated at 264 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque which returned smooth and effortless power with an 18.6 mile per gallon average. The 20.9- gallon fuel tank helps ensure that the Terrain V-6 provides a nice cruising range. This engine emitted a grunty and guttural engine note during full-bore acceleration but was calm and serene on motorways slogs. Overall, it’s got a terrific blend of power and refinement that helps this GMC make a case for itself even at this price. The V-6 model can tow up to 3,500 pounds—a rarity among the GMC’s clearest rivals.
If you are on more of a budget, there is always the highly lauded 2.4-liter inline-four with 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque that comes as standard equipment on most Terrain models. The four-cylinder returns an EPA average 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway as opposed to the V-6 with its 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Both models use a 6-speed automatic that is smooth and refined in a way that luxury SUV owners will recognize but not compact SUV owners.
The steering of the 2011 GMC Terrain also stands out for being incredibly linear and precise for a compact SUV and despite its tall appearance, minimizing the always diabolical SUV body roll in corners to a very Honda-like degree - or at this price, maybe we should say Acura RDX-like. Only the Terrain is more powerful and better equipped than that still impressive compact luxury SUV based on the CR-V.
Braking power is impressive and the pedal offers up firm bite and steady feel. Hopefully that will suffice for you but in case you do have an accident, take heart knowing the 2011 GMC Terrain is an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
2011 GMC Terrrain: Final Thoughts
Don’t you want to take your family on road trips to see the world in a vehicle that actually makes you feel happy when you get behind the wheel? The 2011 GMC Terrain can do that for you, we promise. To paraphrase a saying favored by some verbally advanced 2 year olds making a vow of personal honesty, “we really mean it, crisscross apple sauce.”
There are plenty of good, and even great, compact SUVs out there, but none of them currently combine such extroverted exterior style with terrific driving dynamics and an industry best interior package. The 2011 GMC Terrain is truly a proud representation of the “New GM” best exemplified by models like the best-selling Chevy Cruze, GMC Acadia, Cadillac CTS, Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal and the upcoming 2013 Malibu. The point is, the future looks bright for General Motors and the 2011 GMC Terrain is undeniable proof of that fact.
When shopping for a compact SUV, we recommend that you pick three models to test drive and the 2011 GMC Terrain (or Chevy Equinox) is a must for that short list. Although it lacks the high-end feel of the Terrain’s interior, the 2011 Kia Sportage is the only other compact SUV out now which makes a style statement. We are pretty sure from the looks of the 2011 Honda CR-V Concept that that the redesigned 2012 CR-V will be a good candidate for the third choice, but we won't have our first impressions of this model until November. The 2011 GMC Terrain, however, is on sale right now.
GMC provided the vehicle and photos for this review