2014 GMC Terrain Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 12, 2014

The uniform may be military-grade, but the GMC Terrain's softer side shows up in its excellent four-cylinder gas mileage and Denali luxury.

The GMC Terrain is the rugged-looking crossover companion to vehicles like the Acadia, Sierra, and Yukon. It's back for the new model year with virtually no changes, which means the proto-military look, the good four-cylinder fuel economy, and the nicely arranged interior accommodations are still intact. With changes to one of the major safety testing regimens, though, its previous top scores have sagged a bit this year.

Related to the Chevy Equinox under its skin, the Terrain is a standout in the crossover world thanks to those very crisply creased fenders. It's not as reserved or simply drawn as the Ford Edge, Toyota Venza, or Honda CR-V--it's all blocky and masculine, with a nod to HUMMER tossed into every corner. The military-grade details are no miscue--they're meant to distinguish the GMC from the mechanically similar Chevy Equinox, and they're meant to make a visual plea for guys who play games like Halo and have to run the school carpool instead of running for cover.

That army of newly minted dads (and moms) needs comfort, too, so the Terrain's interior is correctly mismatched with the sheetmetal. It's a contemporary hangout, with a shield-shaped set of controls framed in low-gloss metallic trim, all capped by a hood over the  7-inch touchscreen that runs the standard Color Touch infotainment system. It's all tastefully in tune with the rest of the GMC lineup, especially the Acadia--and especially as a Terrain Denali, where it wears a woodgrained steering wheel, a red-stitched dash pad, and leather.

The Terrain is a five-seater, but it's a fairly big one. Without a third-row seat, the Terrain might strike some family shoppers as less useful, but we've found the Terrain quite comfortable, even for four adults. GM has carved out good space inside a tidy package, and fitted the Terrain with very comfortable front bucket seats and a rear bench with enough support. The rear seat slides over an eight-inch span so passengers or cargo can get higher priority, and the seats fold to boost storage up to 31.6 cubic feet. However, the Terrain's cargo floor is high for its class, and the seats don't fold completely flat. All versions have a big, deep glove box, a storage bin over the center stack of controls, and an armrest storage bin deep enough to hold a small laptop.

Review continues below
For performance, the Terrain challenges drivers to pick a direction. All versions sport a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine outfitted with direct injection. It turns in 180 horsepower and EPA fuel economy of 22/32 mpg in front-drive models, a mile per gallon less on each side when all-wheel drive is fitted. Any Terrain can be upgraded to a new 301-hp, 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6 that earns 17/24-mpg gas mileage (or 16/23 mpg with AWD).

Both engines are teamed to a six-speed automatic, which is refined most of the time, with only an occasional judder under quick power changes. Dig deeply into the four-cylinder's powerband, and you'll probably find it has plenty of urge for almost every need; the V-6 is necessary only if you're always filling all the Terrain's seats, or maxing out the six-cylinder's 3500-pound towing capacity. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive an option. Wind and powertrain noise are admirably low in the six-cylinder models, but four-cylinders have noticeable drivetrain whirs and ticks--one of the classic soundtracks to today's direct-injection engines is a ticking as fuel is delivered, and it's pretty evident here, though the four-cylinder gets a noise-cancellation system that's meant to cut down on perceived cabin noise.

Excellent safety scores are part of the Terrain profile. The NHTSA gives it four stars overall, though the IIHS no longer calls it a Top Safety Pick despite "good" ratings in all completed tests. Along with curtain airbags and stability control, a rearview camera is standard--and necessary, since the Terrain's styling creates big blind spots. Denali models have standard blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts.

All Terrains come with standard climate control; AM/FM/XM/CD sound with a USB port for media players; keyless entry; a power driver seat; and ambient lighting. Also standard is a touchscreen-driven Color Touch audio system with IntelliLink, which connect smartphones to the car's audio system, enabling Bluetooth voice control and streaming music from sources like Pandora. Options include remote start; a rear-seat DVD entertainment system; and a navigation system with hard-drive map and music storage.

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2014 GMC Terrain

Styling

The GMC Terrain's latter-day HUMMER styling won't be loved everywhere, but its toned-down cabin will.

Art history hasn't looked favorably on Brutalism, the blocky, concrete-infused theme that defined early-1970s landscapes. But GMC has.

The HUMMER division is long gone, but it lives on in spirit, thanks to the GMC Terrain (and now, the 2014 Sierra). The angular, vaguely militaristic forms that outlined the H2 and H3 haven't missed a beat--they've just been wrapped in Transformers vinyl, like the smaller Chevy Sonic and Spark. The Terrain has zero tolerance for soft curves and easy transitions--it's all bluff, bolt upright, without a bow. It's easily as polarizing as the HUMMER lineup was in its day, but the Terrain seems to have evaded the unfortunate overt linkage to politics.

The box-car look is macho and wholly distinctive compared to its Chevrolet Equinox kin, but inside, the GMC Terrain defaults to corporate memes--and it's fine. It has a somewhat V-shaped center stack, housing audio and climate controls. The stack is flanked by large vertically oriented vents, and it's the centerpiece of the design. Other details and trim look chunky, with the same cloudy metallic surfaces that are now used inside other GMC vehicles.

The new Denali edition mutes some of the brighter details. The grille is mesh; the metallic trim is satin in texture. The cabin wears a soft pad on the dash, stitched with red thread, and the steering wheel has a section of dark woodgrain implanted across a top arc. Denali badges and a unique color palette are the only other details that separate it from the rank and file.

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2014 GMC Terrain

Performance

Better ride and handling arrived with last year's Terrain; drivetrains diverge at the junction of economy and towing.

The GMC Terrain gives buyers a choice of two very different driving missions: one tipped toward highway fuel economy, the other geared toward throaty V-6 oomph.

No matter which Terrain trim level is selected, the base drivetrain pairs a four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic. The 2.4-liter four has direct injection and active noise cancellation, for a net of 180 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time somewhere in the 9-second range, unladen. Blazing performance? Well, no, but the slick-shifting gearbox has a sport mode--which you'll have to activate on the shift lever, not from a cool set of paddles. You'll be doing it a lot, as you forage through the four-cylinder's low end in search of torque. Leave it alone to shift for itself, and it performs ably enough, smoothly enough--but don't engage Eco mode unless you want the torque converter to lock up sooner and shifts to come later, slipping a mickey into the Terrain's responses.

The current 3.6-liter, 301-hp V-6 arrived on the scene as an option just last year, and it's shared with the much bigger, much heavier Acadia. The lighter Terrain lights into its tires with the six--it's a terrific engine that raps out a muscular burble, and drops 0-60 mph times in the 6.5-second range. It's right there in BMW X3 range, and so is the top tow rating of 3,500 pounds (or 1,500 pounds with the four-cylinder). Here, though, gas mileage doesn't hit 32 mpg highway, and shift responses aren't quite as slick, possibly a consequence of the transmission's early-lockup converter, or of its relatively simple, optional all-wheel-drive system.

Depending on which engine you choose, you'll end up with a completely different steering system; the four-cylinder models have a new electric power steering system that helps save fuel, while V-6 models have a tried-and-true hydraulic one. We tend to like the hydraulic one a little bit more, but the electric system is now one of the better units, with a nice, settled feel at speed. Brakes are good, and overall the Terrain has an on-road poise that you might not expect for such a buff, trucky-looking vehicle.

All Terrains received new dual-flow shocks last year; the dampers use oil under pressure to mute road impacts, and promise better firmness on smooth pavement and more supple behavior on awful stretches of road. We drove the 2012 Terrain just prior to the newer version, and can attest to the improvement, at least over the bad roads: the fractured feel and harsh bottoming-out of the '12 Terrain in some circumstances was nicely rounded off by the new model. It's now much more competitive with vehicles like the Ford Edge, where ride quality has been less of a concern. It's worth noting, for bargain shoppers, that only the Chevy Equinox LTZ V-6 gets those uprated shocks.

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2014 GMC Terrain

Comfort & Quality

The GMC Terrain has one key feature missing from some competitors: a sliding second-row seat.

On the larger end of the compact-crossover spectrum, the GMC Terrain has one handy feature most of its competition omits--or doesn't have the space to offer.

Slide into the driver seat and the plus-sized interior is obvious. The Terrain has wide seats with mild bolsters, and a power driver seat and tilt/telescoping steering so that most drivers will find a good position behind the wheel. It also scores with about a half-foot of head room, no matter if it's a metal roof overhead, or the glass one found on most versions. The center console is wide but the Terrain doesn't stiff its passengers on knee or leg room.

The Terrain's sliding second-row seat flexes the space offered up to rear-seat passengers or cargo. It doesn't free up the space for a third row, but it makes the most of the available interior volume. Moving on an eight-inch track, the Terrain's second-row seat can create almost 32 cubic feet of cargo space, or when it's folded forward entirely out of the way, nearly 64 cubic feet. If the load floor were a little lower, and the fold-down seats completely flat, we'd call it a complete victory.

All Terrains also come with an oversized glove box, a covered storage binnacle above the center stack, a laptop-sized center armrest storage bin, and two-tier storage within the doors.

Whether you choose durable fabric or the quality-feeling leather, interior build quality and comfort is not an area for complaint in the Terrain, but some trim pieces disappoint with a hollow, hard plastic feel. GMC has replaced the former storage bin atop the dash with a plastic hood over the LCD touchscreen, which makes the screen difficult to control, at least along its top edge, but it does replace that former bin's brittle lid and dubious value. On Denali editions, the dash cap is trimmed in soft-touch plastic and stitched with red thread--a little Pontiac in feel, but sweeter to the touch.

The four-cylinder gets its own nifty touches. There's a special active noise cancellation system that works through both the built-in audio system and a few dedicated speakers. It lets the engine run at its most efficient rev range, while blocking what engineers call a "booming" resonance into the cabin.
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2014 GMC Terrain

Safety

Visibility isn't great, but the Terrain's crash-test scores are.

Unchanged from the 2013 model year, the latest GMC Terrain carries over what could be its most salable asset: its good crash-test scores.

It already looks the part, but the GMC Terrain acts rugged, too, when it's hurled into stationary barriers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) puts the Terrain at an overall score of four stars. Individual tests give it four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side-impact protection and for recently added (but not yet included in scoring) side-pole test.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the Terrain as "good" in all its completed tests. In the past that's earned the ute a Top Safety Pick award, but the IIHS now only doles out that honor to vehicles that have been subjected to its new small-overlap crash test.

Some of the Terrain's safety is due to the requisite equipment--six airbags, stability control, and anti-lock brakes. GMC now also fits a standard rearview camera to the Terrain, which helps overcome its many blind spots--some of which are created by its fixed rear-seat headrests, which can't be removed or folded down to free up more rearward visibility. We'd also recommend adding on the available rear parking sensors.

The newest technology comes standard on the Denali, and is available on other models: blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts, which sound the warning when cars or other obstacles move across lanes behind the driver into possible blind spots; a lane-departure warning system; and forward-collision alerts.

The Terrain also comes with six months of free basic OnStar service, which includes connectivity with the RemoteLink app--it has destination-to-car mapping ability, and access to status reports on various vehicle functions. GM also now has FamilyLink, an opt-in service that lets parents track a vehicle when underage drivers are behind the wheel.

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2014 GMC Terrain

Features

A new infotainment system is colorful and simply laid out; navigation's not too costly as an option.

It's a close cousin of the Chevy Equinox, but the GMC Terrain has more standard equipment and a richer set of optional features--something to keep in mind as you step up the price ladder into the $40,000 Terrain Denali range.

All GMC Terrain crossovers--SLE, SLT, and Denali--come with a plush set of features, including air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; fog lamps; a rearview camera; a power driver seat; ambient lighting; and an AM/FM/CD/XM audio system with three months of service and a USB port for media players; and tilt/telescoping steering.

GMC Intellilink is standard, too. It's the connectivity kit that mates the Terrain's touchscreen and Bluetooth to most smartphones, enabling voice commands or control of car functions through steering-wheel controls or touch commands. Intellilink has control of the Terrain's phone and audio systems, and the optional $795 navigation system too. It's not quite as adept with voice commands as some other systems, but it has its own nice touches: IntelliLink will import addresses from phone contacts along with the corresponding telephone numbers, and it will tap that data for navigation. That streamlines the address-entry process considerably.

We'll remind you here to test your smartphone for compatibility before you buy. Intellilink mates up with most, not all, smartphones. It works with the Apple iPhone--and still, we've experienced glitches with its standard Bluetooth audio streaming. We've seen lag in the detection of music titles and album cover art, which lingers through several songs. On occasion, the forwarding controls stopped working until we switched to another media and back into Bluetooth streaming again.

Stepping into higher trim levels on the Terrain brings more features, such as automatic climate control; a premium Pioneer sound system; heated front seats; and a sunroof. On the options list, GMC also offers remote start; leather upholstery; and a headrest-mounted rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

On the Denali edition, most features are standard, and a power passenger seat is added, along with a soft-touch dash cap, wood steering-wheel trim, and satin-metallic trim on the mirrors, sill plates, and taillight surrounds. Denali buyers still have a choice of four- or six-cylinder engines. Eighteen-inch wheels come with the four, while V-6s get 19-inch wheels. All told, a loaded Terrain Denali V-6 passes the $40,000 mark which overlaps the price tag on GMC's larger, seven-seat Acadia crossover.

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2014 GMC Terrain

Fuel Economy

The four-cylinder Terrain has great highway EPA ratings; even the V-6 versions are competitive in gas mileage.

The only GMC to be offered with a four-cylinder engine, the Terrain crossover is not surprisingly, the best GMC for gas mileage.

That's true if it's ordered with the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, at least. Available in any trim level of the Terrain--from SLE to Denali--the four-cylinder is designed with all kinds of fuel-saving technologies that stretch its highway mileage to more than 30 mpg. Among those features: direct injection, and an 'Eco' button which, when engaged, causes accessories like the air conditioning compressor to be a little more conservative, has the torque converter lock up a little earlier, and makes the transmission a little more reluctant to downshift.

The net result is a crossover that's at least part miser, especially in its size class. The four-cylinder Terrain earns an EPA-estimated 22/32 mpg, a figure better than all the other mid-size crossovers except its corporate cousin, the Chevy Equinox. Adding the Terrain's available all-wheel-drive system doesn't ding fuel economy too badly: it still is rated at 20/29 mpg.

Once you choose the Terrain's optional V-6, the numbers take a big fall. The 3.6-liter V-6 makes much more power, but that leads to gas mileage estimated at 17/24 mpg--or even 16/23 mpg when all-wheel drive is fitted. Those figures are more in line with the seven-seat Acadia crossover--not a surprise, since the drivetrains have so much in common.

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October 10, 2015
2014 GMC Terrain FWD 4-Door SLE w/SLE-1

Excellent choice for what should be the last car I will ever buy

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I have owned my 2014 Terrain for a year now. I am always amazed that I only have to fill it up once every two weeks. This car has excellent gas mileage. I love the interior and it has so much style inside and... + More »
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