Apparently, the first true SUV was the Jeep Wagoneer, introduced in 1963 … but, depending who you talk to, the Sport Utility Vehicle – SUV – as we know it was actually conceived at General Motors, which introduced the pickup truck-based Chev Carryall Suburban decades earlier, in 1935.
Originally intended to be a workhorse – schlepping workers to and fro, carrying small loads, carrying hunters into the boonies, and augmenting truck fleets – the SUV blossomed into the vehicle for everyman, comes in all shapes and sizes, and now accounts for the majority of all new car sales in North America. It has virtually supplanted the traditional four-door sedan as the mainstream vehicle for consumers and shows no signs of slowing down.
General Motors, unsurprisingly, is in the thick of this market, and offers a wider range of models and sizes than just about any other manufacturer, including the GMC Terrain, which is in kind of a category all its own.
GM tags it as a compact, but it’s neither compact nor mid-size, landing somewhere in the middle and is technically a crossover model. It shares many components with the Chev Equinox, including drivetrains.
To power this generation of the Terrain GM has mated a turbocharged 2.0 four cylinder that delivers some 250-plus horsepower with a nine-speed automatic transmission and, in this case, all-wheel-drive.
This drivetrain is kind of a departure for GM, which has traditionally dropped various V6s into rigs of this type. It works well enough, I suppose, with a nice – If slightly unwieldy – reserve of passing power.
Like any self-respecting SUV, the Terrain is chock-a-block with safety and convenience features. My Denali model had rear parking assist, a hill descent control and lane change alert.
But my personal favourite was the “Teen Driver Configuration” which allows you to, and I quote, “activate customizable vehicle settings associated with a key fob, to encourage safe driving behavior. It can limit certain vehicle features, and it prevents certain safety systems from being turned off. “
In other words, when Junior takes the family Terrain out for a spin, he has to behave himself, because … well, the car says so. An “in-vehicle report card” is also kept if he/she gets out of line and tries to fool around.
Some other observations:
- Best air conditioning system ever. Over the years, GM and the other domestics have had their share of mechanical and engineering issues, but they have always managed to install killer a/c units, and the Terrain is no exception. Icy cold within minutes, and with the Denali, ventilated front bucket seats. Even in the hottest weather, you’re chillin’.
- More road noise than usual. Whether it was the tires or just a lack of sound-deadening, the Terrain is a little loud on the highway … especially up through the floor. Not obtrusive but getting there.
- Turbo boost. If you plan on overtaking someone in a hurry, hold on, because power comes on quickly and suddenly and the Terrain wants to squirm. I noticed this was particularly true when overtaking on a hill. Hold on and keep it pointed straight.
- Useable controls and switchgear … .to a point. The sound system is easily accessed and readily understandable and changing stations/volume etc. is not a multi-step process, as is the case with so many other manufacturers these days. I still have issues with touch screen controls, but the Terrain is much more user-friendly than many of its rivals.
Unsurprisingly, all of these features come at a price: The Terrain Denali has a base price of just over $42,000, but that balloons up to just below 50 grand after the dust settles. Add various taxes and levies and you’re well into the mid $50,000 neighbourhood.
Still, the Terrain does have a high comfort level. From its beginnings as a no-frills workhorse, the SUV has become kind of a luxo-wagon, and manufacturers have loaded them up with all manner of modern conveniences and comfort features. Personally, I don’t need half of this stuff, and would prefer a modestly equipped “stripper” model with a more reasonable price tag. But, hey, that’s just me.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0 litre four cylinder
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Horsepower: 252 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 260 ft. lb. @ 2500 – 4500 rpm
Base Price: $42,200; as tested: $47,305
Fuell Economy: 8.5 L /100 km (city) & 6.0 (hwy.) Regular gas
Some Alternatives: Honda Pilot, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sedona, VW Atlas, VW Tiguan, Nissan Rogue, Chev Equinox, Ford Escape, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).