Quick Drive: 2012 GMC Terrain SLT AWD V-6

By Winding Road Staff

February 01, 2012

Two things about this vehicle set me off. For one, I really am not a fan of this 3.0-liter V-6/six-speed-automatic powertrain. Sure, this vehicle is faster than the last four-cylinder Terrain I drove, but only marginally. Off-the-line and high-end power are lacking, although mid-range punch isn’t bad. I will say that it doesn’t sound particularly inspiring. This V-6 just didn’t feel fast enough to warrant ordering it over the four-cylinder, especially when that model is $1500 cheaper and nets considerably better mileage.
Where the all-wheel-drive four-pot can snag 20 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway (admittedly not great numbers on their own), our all-wheel-drive V-6 will only hit 16 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway. To put that in perspective, a 5.0-liter, 412-horsepower Ford Mustang GT can snag 17 in the city and 26 on the highway, while an automatic Chevrolet Camaro SS with it’s 6.2-liter V-8 is good for 16 in the city and 25 on the highway. Let me repeat that: the GMC Terrain V-6 with all-wheel drive has lower fuel economy than a 426-horsepower, V-8 muscle car. And before people start shouting about weight, GM’s own press documents list the Camaro SS automatic at 3902, while the Terrain is listed at 3798 pounds (although to be fair, the listed weight for the Terrain calls it a base model, so the V-6 and all-wheel-drive likely add 100 to 200 pounds).
The Terrain, while not being the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class, is still a pretty competent and comfortable vehicle. Just make sure you get the four-pot.
—Brandon Turkus, Online Editor
The Terrain is pleasant enough to spend time in, and has a distinctly American feel to it. It’s big, roomy, and comfortable. It just lacks the stonking engine it needs to get and stay going at a good clip. I prefer the six-cylinder over the four, though, for the sake of acceleration and at-speed passing maneuvers. I’d be afraid of a V-8, for what it would do to the fuel economy. There is, however, a solution for both problems I’d like to see implemented.
General Motors’ eAssist mild hybrid system is being introduced to more vehicles. It helps with propulsion, especially on the low end, where the Terrain is slightly is lacking because of its mass and AWD. It also improves fuel economy without making the car feel at all wimpy. I think GM’s hybrid powertrains feel pretty refined and smooth, and might add to the GMC’s semi-premium feel. I don’t work for GM, so I don’t know what the cost/benefit equation would be for the manufacturer. I think, though, customers might be willing to pay a small premium for slightly more shove and fewer trips to the pump (or even just the responsible image that goes along with it), especially with a tried-and-true hybrid system in place. Just don’t overdo it with the badges, guys.
I feel like, especially in Michigan, this segment of ute gets a pretty good reputation among the mainstream driving crowd. People like that it's an American brand, that it offers a lot of seating and cargo room, and that it can get around just fine in the snow. It’s the kind of car that, when you run in to the convenience store for something, the clerk will often compliment your set of wheels. Not bad for an everyday, meat-and-potatoes type of vehicle.
—John Beltz Snyder, Senior Editor
I actually found the performance feel of the V-6-equipped Terrain to be pretty spirited, though only relative to other products in this medium-sized crossover class. The GMC isn’t fast outright, that’s true, but I appreciated the noticeable extra torque of the V-6 versus the I-4. Better still the ride is firmer than you’ll find with most crossovers (a good thing in my book), and the steering isn’t of the one-finger-light variety.
Brandon’s point about fuel economy is valid, but I’d counter that the extra bump in towing power (rated for 5000 pounds versus 3500 pounds for the four-cylinder), is probably worth it for a decent slice of this buyer group.
Considering the price points are so close, I’d probably opt for the Terrain over its Chevrolet relative the Equinox, nine out of ten times. The interior and exterior styling of the GMC is just more interesting to me, though I’ll grant that the square wheel arches are a bit polarizing when compared to the bland-ish good looks of the Chevy.
Terrain is actually among my favorite entries in this non-premium CUV segment—only Mazda’s CX-7 really stands out as a rival that I would closely cross-shop if it were me plunking down the down-payment dollars. Even there I’d have to seriously weigh the balance of fun-to-drive-ness against the better overall size and packaging of the GMC.
—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief
Cabin is quite comfortable, with wide, soft leather seats
Isn’t affected much by bad weather or poor road conditions
Interior space is generous; overall size feels “just right” in this class
V-6 fuel economy and performance are disappointing
Feels somewhat special, but not particularly unique
Hyundai/Kia offer better value, and the Mazda offering is a bit more fun to drive