2015 GMC Terrain Review

Consumer Reviews
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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 28, 2015

It might look like a military vehicle, but the nice interior and excellent fuel economy belie the 2015 GMC Terrain's rugged looks.

The 2015 GMC Terrain is the rugged truck brand's compact crossover vehicle. An alternative to vehicles like the Honda CR-V or Chevy Equinox, the Terrain has boxy, intriguing styling, terrific gas mileage in four-cylinder form, and good interior space for people and cargo.

This year, the Terrain adds GM's newest connectivity kit—in-car 4G LTE data that allows the Terrain to create its own private wireless network--and two new colors.

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.

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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.

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. 

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, and the IIHS gives it a Top Safety Pick award. 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.

8

2015 GMC Terrain

Styling

HUMMER would be proud of the GMC Terrain's styling; it's a lot more civilian inside.

GMC has turned a blind eye to art history's aversion to Brutalism and its blocky, concrete-infused influence on the early 1970s. We parted ways with HUMMER years ago now, but that theme lives on in many of GM's trucks, as well as the Terrain crossover.

You won't find many curves in the Terrain's design–rather, it chooses to be bold, bluff and upright lines without a bow in sight. And, while it might be as equally polarizing as the H2s and H3s of yore, the Terrain has avoided all of those negative connotations, likely thanks to its excellent fuel economy.

The upscale Denali trim may have something to do with that, too. 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.

Otherwise, 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.

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7

2015 GMC Terrain

Performance

Economy-minded drivers will do well with the GMC Terrain's four-cylinder; towing requires the V-6.

You can choose which flavor of Terrain you want: there's an efficient four-cylinder that does surprisingly well on the highway, or you can opt for a throaty V-6 with extra power.

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 recently received new dual-flow shocks; 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.

The current 3.6-liter, 301-hp V-6 arrived on the scene as an option just two years ago, 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.

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.

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8

2015 GMC Terrain

Comfort & Quality

The Terrain's sliding second-row seat is a boon for back-seat passengers and other baggage.

The GMC Terrain sits on the larger end of the compact crossover segment, giving it the space needed to be a little more comfortable than most of its competitors.

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.

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.

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2015 GMC Terrain

Safety

The Terrain's crash-test scores are good, but the NHTSA and IIHS disagree on how good they are.

Consistently good crash scores have been a strong GMC Terrain asset.

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 latter system works to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) 'basic' front crash prevention standards.

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.

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.

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 IIHS rates the Terrain as "good" in all its completed tests, including the new small-overlap crash test--which means for the 2015 model year, it's earned a Top Safety Pick award.

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8

2015 GMC Terrain

Features

Navigation is an inexpensive add-on to the Terrain's colorful, streamlined infotainment system.

New for 2015, the GMC Terrain's OnStar system now includes a 4G LTE data connection, with the ability to establish a WiFi network in the car. Otherwise, the Terrain is closely related to the Chevy Equinox, but its available features set it apart as the more premium of the two models.

Starting at the very top, most features are standard on the Denali version, 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.

Choosing the 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.

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. 

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7

2015 GMC Terrain

Fuel Economy

V-6 Terrains have acceptable gas mileage; four-cylinders are among the best-rated on the highway.

With no real changes to the available drivetrains for the new year, the 2015 GMC Terrain carries over its favorable EPA ratings from past model years. As GMC's only model with an available four-cylinder, the Terrain is the relative fuel-sipper within the brand.

Of course, that's not necessarily true if you choose the V-6. The 3.6-liter V-6 makes 301 horsepower, but that leads to gas mileage pegged 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.

Available in any trim level of the Terrain--from SLE to Denali--the the base 2.4-liter 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-rated 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.

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February 24, 2017
2015 GMC Terrain FWD 4-Door Denali

The terrain is one of the best family SUV's. Great quality and style.

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Great family and transport vehicle. If you drive smart and pay attention to how you use the gas pedal, I would Tate the gas mileage excellent. Very spacious, sturdy vehicle. Very happy with my new (2015)... + More »
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April 20, 2016
2015 GMC Terrain FWD 4-Door SLE w/SLE-1

My dream car holds up in reality

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I've always loved the assertive and unique styling of the exterior of the Terrain. After almost a year of driving mine, I love everything else about it, too. I am tall, and this car fits me perfectly; I feel... + More »
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October 4, 2015
2015 GMC Terrain AWD 4-Door SLE w/SLE-2

Not good if you have kids! NO air vents in back seat!

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Love the look and the way it drives. It's comfy to ride in. Fuel mileage is not great but not terrible (23 MPG avg) worst thing is the temperature control. We have a young baby and she freezes in the back seat... + More »
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September 1, 2015
2015 GMC Terrain AWD 4-Door SLE w/SLE-2

EXCELLENT ALL AROUND VEHICLE

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I AM VERY HAPPY WITH THIS VEHICLE. IT HAS MET ALL MY EXPECTATIONS. I ALWAYS GET COMPLIMENTS ON IT.
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August 11, 2015
2015 GMC Terrain FWD 4-Door SLT w/SLT-1

I bought the V6

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Bought my terrain on July 15th and on the 29th of July I hit a buck at 2:00am on the interstate doing 70. Never have I been in an accident with a deer. My 13 year old daughter and I came out safely. The front... + More »
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July 10, 2015
For 2015 GMC Terrain

Will never buy a GMC again.....

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I purchase a 2013 GMC Terrain Denali edition. It is beautiful inside and out but I came to realize quickly the previous owners traded it in for a Mercedes. I have owned the vehicle less than a year (after... + More »
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April 13, 2015
For 2015 GMC Terrain

Great vehicle..... Terrible powertrain (4 cyl)

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Great car, great ride and handling. Terrible 4 cyl powertrain. Poor performance, noisy, crappy fuel economy
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