The GMC Terrain is a perfectly reasonable crossover, but it wouldn't be high on my list of cars to recommend.

Why the harsh treatment?

The Terrain shares its underpinnings (and much of its interior bits and pieces) with the Chevrolet Equinox, a vehicle we've been outspoken about over the last month. The long and short of it: we love the Equinox but not the Terrain.

Why such a contrast for two vehicles that are, at the heart of the matter, so very close?

When A Chevrolet Is Premium, It's Hard To Differentiate
GMC used to stand for something that had a little extra. The brand had been designed around more robust (physically and in terms of content) versions of Chevrolet products. And for a long time, when Chevys were simply value-based cars for the proletariat, this distinction made sense.

But with the new-age Chevy featuring nearly all the trimmings that a buyer could want, does the GMC Terrain make sense? It's difficult to see the point.

Check out the features that you get standard in the GMC Terrain that you can also get in the Chevy Equinox:

  • Choice of the same direct-injection four- and six-cylinder engines
  • Six-speed transmissions
  • Fuel range of up to 600 miles with the 4-cylinder engine
  • "Multiflex" seats that allow for easy reclining
  • Six standard air bags, including head curtain side air bags

In order to make sure there actually is more there there, the only huge differentiator we can find between Equinox and Terrain is that the GMC offers a backup camera as standard (it's an option in the Chevy), different interior colors and surfaces and, of course, a much different exterior.

When AOL Autos drove the Chevy Equinox a few months back, I wrote:

"We've just returned from a week with the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox and we're happy to go on record as putting it up there with all that good stuff. You might think we're crazy, but it's not difficult for us to get excited about a vehicle like a crossover (that strange union of an SUV and a car). Since nearly every manufacturer makes one these days, they tend to get a lot of attention. But the reality is that most haven't been that inspiring. In fact, GM has been in the crossover game for years, too, but nothing they produced ever came this close. The Equinox changes all of that."

Sure, breathless stuff for a crossover vehicle. But the Equinox is that good. It's got a great combination of a simple design, an approachable price point and a serious fuel economy story.

The GMC is more expensive, has a polarizing exterior design and an interior treatment that loses some of the Equinox's luster.

Design That Polarizes
Do you like the look of the Terrain? You're welcome to have an opinion, because every single person we talked to about the car noted design as the first thing they mentioned when we gave a sampling of friends some test drives.

"I think it looks tough, which is good," said a 24-year friend of ours who works in Detroit.

"It's trying to be something it's not," said a different 24-year old friend from Detroit.

Whatever GMC tried to accomplish with their design, we think the end result is that some people are going to like and some people won't.

Our opinion? Making a small car appear tough and broad-shouldered usually ends up feeling artificial. We feel the same way about the Terrain that we did about the Dodge Caliber, which had a similar I'm-big-even-if-I'm-small mission: it seems to be trying too hard.

Moving inside, the interior design of the car is a mirror image of the Equinox, save for some surface treatments. The one big difference buyers will notice is that the Terrain's interior lights are red, while the Equinox uses a blue-green color. The Equinox ends up looking like much more of a premium vehicle due to this, while the Terrain's red lights and flourishes of chrome are a bit jarring.

Chevy Guts
For all our complaints, the Terrain starts life from the same embryo as the Equinox, which we highly recommend.

Thankfully, if GM is going to continue to "badge engineer" two products from one platform, we thank them for starting with a good one. The Equinox and Terrain ride on a long-wheelbase version of the Theta platform.

The things about the Terrain that we appreciate should not be overlooked:

  • Incredible fuel economy of a vehicle of this size: The Terrain can go well over 500 miles (in either engine). Mileage for the highway is 32 MPG for the four-cylinder.
  • An interior to be proud of: Our comments about the red lights aside, the Terrain's interior finishes are impressive, even at its price point. There are a few things we'd change, but not many.
  • High quality "feel": Door thunks, hatch lift hydraulics and the overall weight of the Terrain feels solid. It does not feel cheap in any way.


In the end, we'll take the Equinox over the Terrain. If the design suits you, though, and you want a GMC badge, the Terrain is a nice little crossover.

It just gets overshadowed by a less-expensive sibling.

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