The Terrain’s blunt nose, with signature GMC emblem and chrome Denali grille, makes this SUV appear longer than it really is.
The Terrain’s blunt nose, with signature GMC emblem and chrome Denali grille, makes this SUV appear longer than it really is.
Bill Griffith

When GMC introduced its Terrain SUV as a 2010 model, we tested (and liked) the basic version with the four-cylinder engine, which averaged 26.2 mpg in a week’s worth of varied driving.

Today’s test vehicle is another Terrain, but this one is in GM’s luxury Denali trim. The two vehicles look basically the same and, in a coincidental twist, both were finished in the optional carbon black metallic (a $195 option). However, they are significantly different in performance and base price ($37,100 for the Denali versus $26,660 for the base).That’s the MSRP plus $825 destination charge.

If you opt for the Denali trim, major variations are limited. You can get all-wheel-drive or front-wheeldrive, the 2.4-liter four cylinder engine or a tweaked-for-2013 3.6-liter V-6. After that, you can add navigation with Intellilink for a reasonable $750 and a pricey rear entertainment system ($1,295).

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Our test car had the V-6 ($1,750), a cargo-management package with a net and cargo cover ($235), navigation ($795), trailer package ($350), and custom paint for a bottom line of $40,425.

TheV-6 felt like it had significantly more pulling power (272 lb.-ft. of torque versus 172 for the four cylinder), but it didn’t seem all that much quicker in normal conditions. In a week of varied driving—including braving the Massachusetts Turnpike during the Thanksgiving holiday migrations—we averaged 20.4 mpg.

Both engines are mated with six-speed automatic transmissions. While the four has electronic power steering, the six had hydraulic power steering.

We paid plenty of attention to the steering, which was adequate but not as precise as I’d have liked, because I happen to be a fan of the lane departure warning (LDW) system, believing it helps keep you alert.

If you’re not familiar with the system, it emits an annoying beep if you get too close to the lane marking stripes.That includes changing lanes without signaling—one of my pet peeves in other drivers. I really try to avoid any of those warnings.

Other electronic goodies included the LDW’s relatives: forward collision alert, side blind zone alert, and rear cross traffic alert. In addition, there was the rear vision camera system you need in an SUV or minivan.

The Terrain offers comfortable seating with excellent legroom both front and rear.The 60/40 rear seats are adjustable (both back and forth and reclining), a welcome feature both for adult passengers and toddlers dozing in car seats.

The Denali trim level puts the Terrain firmly into the luxury SUV category. In fact, the only feature (not available) we’d have liked was a heated steering wheel, especially as the weather turned colder.

Where the Terrain fits sizewise isn’t as clear. You can call it a large compact SUV or slightly small mid-size—similar to the Ford Edge. The Terrain looks bigger than its 187.8 inches of overall length because of its imposing front fascia, set off nicely by the Denali’s chrome grille. However, it’s shorter overall (although with a longer wheelbase) than leading mid-size sedans such as Accord, Altima, Camry, Fusion, and Sonata.

Mrs. G liked the interior’s leather appointments, including the black leather dashboard with contrasting red French stitching, a touch that’s repeated on the seats and door panels. The red is picked up with both red accent lighting (door handles, sill plates, cupholders) and red gauge illumination.

I found the center stack setup a bit cluttered. GM has dealt with a plethora of pushbuttons by making many of them on the smallish side.

Still, the infotainment system, color touch navigation with Intellilink, was pretty much intuitive—a big plus with me. GM offers a six-month subscription to OnStar’s directions and connections with automatic crash response and turn-by-turn navigation.

Despite its OnStar affiliation, the system makes it easy to pair with your own phone, especially valuable to me as a guest driver. We also found the navigation system easy to program, and it took us on a welcome “over hill and dale” alternate route to avoid some of the worst of the holiday weekend traffic around the Sturbridge tolls.

In addition, it easily linked with Pandora for some of our favorite music to help keep the driver (that would be me) calm.

On the road, the Denali’s dual-flow shockabsorbing dampers worked well.We found the ride smooth and controlled under a wide range of conditions; it only got choppy when we hit some rough patches in dire need of repaving.

Two mornings during the Thanksgiving holiday we came out of the house to find the Terrain encased in ice.

I regret not going back inside to get a camera to photograph the Terrain looking as though it just came out of a deep freeze and headlining it a “cool” vehicle.

That’ll have to remain a mental image. Another mental image is that the Terrain wouldn’t look at all bad as a permanent resident in my driveway. However, as much as I liked the Denali’s bells and whistles, my Yankee frugality probably would cause me to be satisfied with a lower trim level.