2013 GMC Terrain Performance

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Performance

Midway through its life cycle, the GMC Terrain gets a new V-6 engine in the 2013 model year, and it's a big leap forward in horsepower and refinement.

It also gives shoppers a much clearer choice between the six and the standard four-cylinder--which can be ordered on any Terrain, whether it's an SLE, SLT, or even a Denali.

The 2013 GMC Terrain has a frugal four or a very strong V-6; the ride's more comfortable now, thanks to better tuning.

The four-cylinder is a 2.4-liter, with direct injection and active noise cancellation. In the Terrain, it puts out 180 horsepower, and mates with a six-speed automatic transmission, one with a sport-shift mode that toggles through gears via a lever-mounted rocker switch. The four-cylinder isn't a blazing performer, and it's not meant to be, but it is refined enough, and quick enough, to be a strongly recommended powertrain. It's ideally suited to the kind of driving most owners will put it through on a daily basis, even if it's occasionally laden down with extra cargo and more passengers, where the somewhat thin low-end torque will make itself known. In times like those, drivers will know after experimenting, not to engage Eco mode--where the Terrain's automatic slows down its shifts and lowers its torque-converter lockup speed, injecting more sluggishness into the effort.

The upgraded V-6 engine replaces last year's 264-horsepower, 3.0-liter six with the same 3.6-liter, 301-hp V-6 that's found in the seven-seat Acadia. With the same six-speed automatic, it's a terrifically quick engine, with just as much or more engine noise--only, it's not an unexciting drone, but a muscular burble backed up by 0-60 mph times in the 6.5-second range. That's somewhere in base BMW X3 territory, and so is the Terrain's top tow rating of 3,500 pounds (or 1,500 pounds with the four-cylinder). Even with the ratcheted-up power, this engine still gets the same gas mileage as the old six.

The Terrain's six-speed automatic isn't quite as adept at managing shifts as we'd like. Especially with the four-cylinder engine, it tends to lag when shifting, taking its time to lock up fully, in the name of fuel economy. It could be a factor of its relatively simple all-wheel-drive system, which

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 get new dual-flow shocks this 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. Luckily, we had last year's Terrain on hand, 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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